Veterans – Military to Civilian Careers

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“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our
heroes and she-roes!” ~ Maya Angelou

Guest Post by Lyn Leis

As we honor our nation’s Armed Forces heroes this Veterans Day, I’d like to use this space to discuss some of the difficulties our returning veterans undergo in transitioning back to the workforce. Veterans possess a unique set of skills, experiences, and perspectives to contribute to future jobs, and yet its members still face significant trouble getting hired. From my experience working with veteran clients, I’d like to share a few insights:

Marketing Your Skills

I sometimes find that veterans have a harder time selling themselves on their resumes and in interviews, partly because they have spent so long prioritizing a group over their individual selves, and partly because they are not current with what employers want. It is important both to realize your particular value to an employer and to feel comfortable discussing that value.

Whether you are bringing to the table strictly your military service or a combination of service and employment history, your skills should be directly related or transferable to the position you want. Employers are prioritizing soft skills including teamwork, leadership, communication, and analytical skills – all of which you develop and use during your service, whatever your particular role may be. Think about examples of when you used those skills, and be ready to talk about them with employers. Your experience working toward the success of a team at large is highly desirable in the workplace!

Transitioning to the Workplace

The career change from the military to the workforce is unlike any other industry change. The environment in which veterans have worked is vastly different from the office or the “field” in the world of work. The learning curve in picking up professional behavior and protocol in this atmosphere can be much larger for a veteran.

To help you make that transition, in addition to career counseling and business etiquette training, find opportunities to learn from professionals in the field. On a small scale, ask for an informational interview or job shadow experience with someone in your field of interest, or in a setting that appeals to you. Consider using LinkedIn to identify these professionals, on your own or through the Veteran Mentor Network group. You may also seek more formal long-term mentorship through an organization such as American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit that connects veterans with corporate mentors.

Updating Your Resume 

Many veterans are given a resume when they leave the military. More often than not this resume is not appropriately formatted for most sectors of the workforce. It is usually in federal government style, with far too much detail for other industries (including supervisor contact information, salary, and hours worked per week). Unless you are applying for a federal government job, this format could be detrimental to your job search.

Your first task toward your job search should be to update your resume to a more typical “business” format. See my previous posts on sections to include and creating an effective resume for tips. Steer clear of using templates that you find online or through word processing programs to create your resume, as their formats may be rejected by resume scanning software. If you are looking for a program to help you begin, President Obama’s initiative, eBenefits, has a decent resume builder. However, I strongly suggest that you have a career counselor or human resources representative review it as well.

Searching for Jobs

  • If in fact you are looking to work for the federal government, USAJobs is the place to be – and check out their veterans’ offshoot, Feds Hire Vets. (Your military-prepared resume should be appropriate for these positions, but USAJobs also has a robust federal government resume builder.) However, for most other industries you should use a combination of veteran-specific sites and industry-specific sites.
  • I previously mentioned eBenefits, the government’s resource to veterans searching for jobs. This site includes many valuable resources, including a job board, resume builder, and workplace support documents. It also refers out to other services available to veterans.
  • Warriors to Work is the Wounded Warriors Project’s program to help veterans with disabilities find employment, and also includes support services and connections to employers.
  • Look for industry-specific job search boards and professional associations (e.g., idealist.org for nonprofit, or SHRM for human resources).
  • Target specific companies of interest, and consider start-ups and entrepreneurial endeavors.
  • If you earned a degree before entering the military, your alma mater may offer you job search assistance through its career center or veterans affairs office. If you’ve begun a degree program since returning, these offices are definitely at your disposal.

Brushing Up Your Hard Skills

Many career changers find that they don’t have all the industry or technological knowledge necessary to transition to their new field. Consider taking a course at a local college or through a local library, or volunteering in your new industry in the meantime.

Knowing Your Benefits

Look through all the literature to find out what resources are available to you on returning from service. In addition to some of the programs listed here, there will be other career related services, and programs that let you pursue a degree. Learn what all these benefits are, and their details and restrictions (if applicable).

If you know a returning veteran who could use this information, please share it! If you are a veteran, job-seeker or otherwise, thank you very much for your service to our country, and Happy Veterans Day!

Lyn Leis is an associate director of career & professional development at a college career services center.

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