So you’ve transitioned out of the military. Now what? Securing a civilian job is an important part of the transition from military service to civilian life. But it can be disorienting. Maybe you rose through the ranks quickly while you served and you undoubtedly have valuable skills to offer a company. But how do you market those skills? How do you translate your years of military experience to a successful career without underestimating (or overestimating) your potential as a new hire?
As a Recruiter that specializes in helping military veterans through this transition, I’ve seen too many veterans stumble through the process. Their experience is solid, but the civilian world doesn’t quite know what to make of them. And to compound things, veterans don’t always know what to make of civilian work life. If you’re like some of my clients, you might be looking for a cheat sheet on how to navigate job-hunting fresh out of the military. I’ve put together a few tips based on the missteps I see most often.
Manage your expectation for what it means to change industries
Hopefully, someone’s told you how valuable your experience in the military will be in the civilian world, but if they haven’t, let me assure you, your service has prepared you well. Veterans bring many qualities to civilian work that often enable them to move up quickly in their careers. Comfort with ambiguity, resilience, persistence, and passion are qualities military veterans have in spades, and they’re characteristics employers seek.
But just because your strong work ethic has been shaped by your military experience doesn’t mean you don’t have more to learn once you transition to a civilian job. The reality is that any time you change industries—whether you’re transitioning from the military or another industry—you can expect to take a step back in the level responsibilities you’re assigned, and a lower level of responsibilities naturally means a more junior title and compensation package. In most cases, you’re bringing a ton of raw talent to the table, but maybe not the industry know-how.
Taking a step back in responsibility will pay big dividends in the long run, though, and it helps set you up for success in the short term. Setting the stakes at a manageable level for your knowledge of this new industry gives you plenty of room to grow. Many of my clients are quickly promoted once they get familiar with the lay of the land, but they have to learn the ropes first.
Know how to translate your military resume in the civilian world
After you’ve right-sized your expectations, you need to translate your military experience to civilian experience or jobs. Being the battalion executive officer for your infantry is an important level of responsibility in the Army, for example, but there’s a good chance your first civilian boss won’t know what that means.
There are plenty of resources out there to help you translate military duties into language that carries wait in the business world. Take advantage of them. And be sure to document not just your years of experience or titles, but also include important projects in your resume. If you worked in operations, for example, document how many people you were directly or indirectly responsible for, the number of projects you managed at one time, the outcomes of the projects and the budgets you oversaw. This context helps an employer see your work through a more practical lens.
Do your research
Before you’re ready to kick off your job hunt, it’s best to do some market research to understand what jobs or roles you’re best suited for based on your previous experience and your future aspirations. Next, you’ll need to understand the resumes of your competitive peers. Read some LinkedIn profiles. If you can get your hands on a resume or two, pay close attention to what you’re up against.
You can also research the compensation for roles you might be applying for. Salary.com and Glassdoor.com, for example, are self-reported so they’re not going to be precise, but they’ll help you understand the ballpark.
The transition from military to civilian work takes a little bit of effort. It takes time and realistic expectations as well as an eagerness to adapt to a new work environment. But more often than not, my military clients fare much better than their competitors. If you can follow these steps to get through some of the initial hurdles facing anyone changing industries, the sky’s the limit on how much your transition to civilian work will pay off for you and your career in the long run.