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Career Transition: Military To Civilian

How to transition from the armed services to civilian employment

military-to-civilian-career-transitionToday’s economy is tough for everyone. But, I discovered that it’s even more difficult for military veterans making the transition from military to civilian jobs.

Last year, I attended a Hire Our Heroes panel put on by my local SHRM chapter. One of the organizations cited as a great resource was The Value of a Veteran run by Lisa Rosser.  While the speakers were focused on how to hire veterans, it got me thinking about helping veterans make the transition.

One of the handouts was The Value of a Veteran a handbook for human resources professional. After reading the booklet I contacted Lisa who has vast experience in both the military and human resources.  Happily she agreed to offer some advice.

CI: My understanding is that one of the biggest obstacles to veterans looking for jobs is that it’s difficult for them to articulate their experience in terms of civilian positions.  What are the steps they can take to identify and promote their transferable skills?

LR:  Single biggest thing they need to do is create a master skills list, including occupational skills and transferrable skills (such as project management, leadership, problem solving, etc.)

Next, from the master skills list they need to develop two to three general resumes for different types of jobs (such as administration, management and operations) and pull details from the master list to show how they have the experience in those areas

Finally, each general resume will form the basis of a tailored resume for a specific job.  They must show accomplishments, not just a list of tasks that they know how to do.

Those steps are the hardest for military members.  They create the master skills list and then use it like an all purpose resume to apply for all types of jobs and then wonder why they are not getting any nibbles.

CI: Going back to transitioning into civilian positions, what are some tips to veterans reading civilian job descriptions and applying to jobs?

LR: They have to identify the key words and have bullet points that speak to those key words.  For example, I saw a job description for a “Plant Manager – Food Service Quality Assurance”.  One of the key tasks was to “interact with customers and their agents for product showings, plant tours and audits”.  So, the service person needs to articulate the number of military inspections conducted, command visits they led, etc. and the results of those formal and informal audits.

CI: In your handbook The Value of a Veteran, you mention that over 220,000 service members complete their service requirements and “retire” from the armed services every year. How can a veteran differentiate themselves among such a large group of qualified applicants?

LR: This is tough, because there are many qualified civilians applying for these same jobs.  Vets have to work their network – get on linked in and try to find a fellow veteran who works for the company you are interested in, or find a company recruiter who focuses on recruiting military for the company.  Some companies offer a veteran employee mentor to transitioning military – take advantage of everything offered to get an “in” with the company.

CI: What is the biggest obstacle that veterans face when competing for civilian jobs?  Are the obstacles different depending on years of service?

LR: One of the biggest problems is that they don’t customize the resume – they send the same general resume to every job they apply for

Junior members mistakenly believe they don’t have skills – “I am ‘just’ an infantryman”, so they don’t highlight the strong transferrable skills they do have.

Also, not having a four-year degree is a detriment these days, when it is an employer’s market and they can set the entry bar as high as they like to cull the herd.  Work on that degree while you are serving.

CI: What is the one piece of advice that you would give to every veteran looking for work right now?

LR: Start as early as possible – 12-18 months is not too early to begin preparing for your job hunt.  Preparing the master skills list, identifying possible career paths, creating the two to three general resumes and researching the companies you are interested in takes a lot of time.  Waiting until you are 30-days from your last paycheck to start this process is a bad idea.

CI: We have readers from all across the States and all over the world. Are there any online resources that you would like to recommend?

LR:  There are several valuable resources available online including:



About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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