Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life
I have been asked for assistance many times by new veterans about job hunting and what they need to do.
I remember leaving the Army and finding a civilian job. I wasn't hired by the usual means of a job application, interview, and negotiation. I had networked myself into the company through contacts and my reputation. After being hired, I filled out the job application and on my way to work negotiated my salary. Probably not the normal way of being hired.
Since then I have been in positions where I have hired numerous folks, many of them just getting out of the service. I would often tell the new veterans to rewrite their resume and give them a few tips before showing up for their interview. Here are some things I have learned over the years and would like to pass it on to veterans who are job hunting.
Do your homework. Before you get out of the military do some research. Ask yourself these questions and find the answers.
- What career field Interests me?
- Am I qualified?
- Does my military experience translate to civilian experience?
- Where do I want to work?
- What are the wages for the type of work I want in that area?
- How do I write a resume?
- Will I receive any kind of veterans preference?
- If I am medically discharged, what kind of job can I get and can I get training and education through the VA for new career field?
Let's start with your resume. It is not the be all, end all way to a job but it will put your experience, education, and goals down to help you as much as a prospective employer. Short resumes of one page are nice, but if you have 20 years in the military, a couple of pages should be the max. Any more and it never gets read. Typically, your resume is submitted online, at a job fair, mailing it, or in person. Even if you have contacts in the company, someone from Human Resources, a manager, and a computer program may read your resume.
You are writing your resume to make it through the corporate maze. I strongly recommend you write your resume for the job, not a general one. You may want to make a few versions and tweak them for each job you apply. When writing your resume for the job, show how your experience specifically relates to the job. Key words are important to the computer that screens your resume and to those hiring you. If you are applying for a highly technical job, Human Resources may not understand everything about the job but will look for key words that relate to the job posting. If it looks like a match, they may forward it to the hiring manager. Demilitarise your resume! If you are not applying for a military contractor job, get rid of the military acronyms and nomenclatures. Odds are that no one will know what you are talking about and your resume will be discarded. Translate it to civilian terms. Let me highlight and reiterate a few points.
- Write a short resume.
- Write your resume for the job and show related experience.
- Loose the military jargon.
- Use the key words in the job description in your resume.
- Use the same format throughout your resume.
- When listing your military education, explain what the training was in civilian terms.
- Emphasis your achievements including awards and decorations.
There are many formats for resumes. I like those that are chronological by job. I can see a persons progression or lack of and see if they are job hopping or serious. Your choice on the format but you should have your name and good contact information near the top. Including these items is pretty much standard:
- Dates Worked and for whom.
- Job title and description of work.
- Achievements in that job.
- Education including specialized training (logistics, technical schools, etc. along with degrees obtained)
- References upon request or list them. If you list them make sure you have their knowledge and will recommend you.
- Don't forget to do a spelling check and grammar check.
Networking before you get out and while looking for a job is crucial. Meet you neighbors, folks at church, social gatherings, civic groups, veterans organizations, and so on. Someone will know someone in the industry that you are interested in working. Keep track of your former military buddies, they may land a job and help you. All of my subsequent jobs were obtained through networking. People that know you are more likely to hire you.
Notice I mentioned veterans organizations. I would recommend anyone leaving the military to join a veterans organization. You can just ask the members if they can help you, they will. Remember they all made the transition.
Veterans organizations recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs have service officers that assist veterans with their benefits as a veteran. If you have been released for medical reasons, they will assist you with your claim to the VA. They will also have information about retraining if you are unable to do what you were doing in the military and need a new career path. Yes, the VA will help. You earned your benefits use them.
Well you've networked, got your resume in order, and you have been invited for a job interview, what do you do now? Some more homework.
Find information on the company that's hiring. Have they just landed a major contract, is their business booming or in a slump. How big, where are they etc. Get some background on the company to show them you are interested in the company not just the job.
Be prepared to answer questions about your resume (did you inflate some things?). If you know what they are looking for, that's what you should know.
Get ready for the interview. Find out where it is and don't be late. Give yourself plenty of time to get there. Make sure you know where it is and who you see. Dress appropriately for the interview. Just because the company environment is jeans and T-shirts, doesn't mean for you to show up that way. First impressions count - a lot. Bring some extra copies of your resume. There may be others at the interview that don't have a copy for what ever reason.
Many recent vets think of an interview like a promotion board or review board in the military. Civilians don't get military bearing. Loosen up. If you are sitting at attention and snap no sir or yes ma'am, they feel uncomfortable. You may have one or several people sitting in on your interview.
Walk in, smile and introduce yourself. Generally they may ask you tell a little bit about yourself. Make it short and rehearse something before hand. I generally asked this to put folks at ease before getting into the interview. Every interviewer and interview is different.
You will probably not know the answer to every question. Don't lie, especially if it is technical in nature. Tell the truth, "I haven't much experience in that area" or "I have never had the opportunity to ...".
You will probably be asked questions that are not supposed by asked at interviews. Thinks like your age, marital status, religion and other things are not supposed to be asked. Every interview where I have been the interviewee, I have been asked inappropriate questions. Remember your military tact. Be prepared and answer where it doesn't offend anyone. Thinks like "I may be older than many here, but I bring much experience" or "I like to keep my religion private but I do worship regularly". Don't go on the offense.
You may be asked question about how you handle different situations involving other employees or what are your goals with this company. Sometimes these questions are innocent and sometimes they have a purpose relating to why you are there. You may be replacing someone who gave them a hard time or had no ambition. These types of questions may come up. Translate your military experience. You had policies and regulations to refer to in certain situations, so do companies. You also have common sense, many civilians do not.
Finally, you will be asked about what you can do, your experience and your education. They may ask you why do you think you are qualified for the job. Tell them. Tell them about your experience, education, and abilities to adapt. You have worked under the most adverse conditions, extreme stress, and with little resources but you succeeded. You always got the job done. You have what it takes. You are a team player and want to succeed and see the company succeed.
Some mistakes I've Seen
One firm I worked for needed techies all the time. The HR folks would ask me to go to job fairs to screen applicants for technical positions. I also sat in on many interviews as well as conducting my own. Probably 100, or so interviews. Here are some things that will definitely eliminate your chance for being hired.
- Showing up at a job fair or interview unkempt and dressed inappropriately (remember first impressions)
- Arguing or talking down to anyone interviewing you or while dealing with human resources.
- Ask if you can eat your lunch during the interview. Yes it has happened.
- Lie about why you were discharged from the service. Don't tell them you can't produce a DD214.
- Exaggerated resumes, where none or very few things were true.
- Asking the interviewer about their personal life, family, etc.
- The first thing you say is "How much does the job pay?".
- Showing up late. There may be several managers on the interview and they are losing valuable time waiting for you. Call!
- Texting or answering your cell phone during the interview. Yes, you would be out the door with me. I want your undivided attention so do they. Turn your phone off!
- Never talk bad about your previous employer or company.