Military careers end at some point. It can also be challenging to explain what you did in the military service to a civilian recruiter. Translating that experience to the civilian sector can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be. Here is what you need to know to leverage your military service career into a civilian career.


Military to Civilian Career Transitions

Deciding that your military career is done is the first step. Depending on what you did in the service, it may be particularly challenging to position yourself for a civilian job. However, the skills and experiences that you gained from military service can be invaluable in the private sector.

The armed forces offer some great free services to help military veterans to prepare for the civilian sector. These programs include services that extend beyond your job search and they can be a great resource. Each branch has its own service unit that can help with your transition, such as the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP). You can also find military transition assistance from a non-profit organization, such as the Veterans Career Transition Program (VCTP).

Even with a structured assistance program, a search for a new civilian career can be challenging. Here are some tips from our recruiters and career coaches to make your efforts more effective so that you can land somewhere faster:

Tip # 1 - Decide on Your Direction

The first step to any job search is always to figure out, generally, what types of jobs that you want to do. For some, this is easier than others as their education or experience in the service may have been building towards a particular career. For others, there may be a decision to take a broad approach to their search to explore all of the potential options.

In either case, narrowing down your job search will help focus your efforts and make you more effective in your search. Consider what you like to do, what you are good at, and what you want to be doing in the next few years. You should also think about this in terms of the next job. Meaning, don't just think about the first job out of the service. Think about what the job is after this first job out of the service. Having a sense of your longer-term direction will make it easier to define your strategy now and to identify the right types of roles to be looking for now.

Tip #2 - Network

Professional networking is essential to any private-sector job search. In fact, who you know can matter as much as or more than what you know in the civilian world. People coming out of military service won't have the same networks that their civilian counterparts do. To overcome this obstacle, start networking with people in the civilian sector as soon as you can.  Attend industry events, meetups, and webinars. Get connected with people in the desired profession or company on social media if possible. These relationships take time to build, so starting early and continuing to engage with your contacts through the job search is important.

Why is networking so important? In the civilian sector, many companies have employee referral programs. These referral programs are designed to incentivize existing employees to refer over great candidates. These programs help to engage the existing employees with the company and their job because they will like the people they work with. And, they can help save the company money in the recruiting process because there will be quality candidates referred to the open jobs. To manage these candidates, many companies will have separate systems for people with employee referrals.

What does this mean for candidates? Practically, this means that many companies will automatically short-list a candidate for an interview if they come in through the employee referral. This is true in many cases even when the person doesn't come through a separate "employee referral" system. Sometimes, all you need to do is to enter your contact's name in the "source" section of the job application. Or, it could be as simple as sending your contact your resume and they will do the rest. Each company works differently, but most will expedite the candidate that comes in through a referral. So, remember to spend as much time networking as you do applying to jobs during your military to civilian job search.

Tip #3 - Research Industries and Companies

It's important to do your research before you start applying for jobs. Understanding what industries and companies could be a fit for your skills and education gained in the armed forces can be a huge benefit to your job search and your career for the long term.

The best way to do your research of potential industries and companies is to use resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website. The BLS offers information on employment by industry, occupation, and other labor market characteristics.

You can also reach out to other veterans that have made the transition at companies of interest. An informational interview with these people can go a long way to help your job search. This is because they made the transition successfully. Talking with these people will help you to understand what worked and what didn't for them. It will also give you a good sense of whether their path is a good fit for you or not. There are sources to find these veterans through nonprofits and transition programs. But, you can also use LinkedIn to do this research to find professionals based on their job titles, education, and professional experience.

Another great resource is the Department of Defense's Transition Assistance Program (TAP) website. This website includes a military-to-civilian occupational translator that can help you match your skills/professional experience to the civilian sector. This is important because you will need to translate the military jargon to civilian lingo for your resume.

Tip #4 - Build a Strong Message

The key to any job search is a strong message. This means a resume and cover letter that establish a strong professional, civilian image.  Remember, you are competing with experienced civilians for jobs. The military can be a great asset, but it is not the only thing that employers are looking for. You need to sell yourself and your skills in the best possible light.

Keep in mind that many companies in the civilian sector also use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan, sort, and filter candidates for open jobs. If you are applying to jobs through a company careers page or any commercial job board (i.e. Indeed, Ziprecruiter, LinkedIn, etc.), then you are going through an applicant tracking system. Why is this important? All of these systems are driven by keywords and job titles. Some of these systems can be highly customizable. So, you will need to pay attention to the keywords in the job postings to get through the ATS. In fact, over 70% of applicants are rejected by the ATS and never seen by a person. Never underestimate these systems. Companies of all sizes are using them and they are all driven to look for the words on your resume. If the information isn't on your resume, you won't get past the resume bots in the civilian sector.

Tip #5 - Apply, Apply, Apply

Once you have an ATS-compliant resume, the next step to your military to civilian job search is to apply for jobs. You will have to apply for a lot of jobs. There is a lot of competition out there, so you need to be aggressive in your job search to achieve the results that you want in the current market.

In fact, the average number of applications for an open corporate position is about 250 applications. In some cases, that number can be significantly higher if the company has a strong culture or reputation. Statistics also show that the average number of job applications to get one job offer in the current market is about 100 - 200 applications. That number can be smaller with a better resume and a strategy. For example, the clients of The Contingent Plan, are currently applying to an average of 10 jobs a week and getting an average of 1 - 2 interviews out of those applications. So, that strategy and strong message can cut that number of applications down significantly.

Tip #6 - Go Direct to the Company

The best strategy when applying to jobs is always to go directly to the company whenever possible. You do this for a couple of reasons. First, the job board aggregators work so that companies can publish their job on one job board website and they push the job out to 100s of other job boards. But, those aggregators do not pull back the job once it is closed. So, there are lots of jobs out there that have been filled or closed. But, if you go direct to the company careers page, you will be able to see whether the job is actually open or not.

Second, going direct to the company job board enables you to make the most of your candidate profile. Meaning that you will control how the data is entered into the company's applicant tracking system. This means that you can fully complete all fields and set up notifications for future job alerts. This is really important because if you apply through the job board, you may not get the opportunity to fill out all of the required fields. Or, worse, the information may not come through properly from the job board to the company system. So, by going direct, you are able to make sure that the data is all present properly for the people that will be evaluating your application.

Tip #7 - Leverage Your Veteran Status

The other big opportunity about going direct to the company is that you will probably get the chance to self-identify as a military veteran. This is important in the civilian sector because many companies will have military preference programs.

Companies do this for a couple of reasons. Yes, they want to help veterans. But, all companies (regardless of whether they are defense contractors) can receive a tax credit for hiring military veterans. This work opportunity tax credit (WOTC) enables the company to effectively get paid for hiring and retaining military veterans. So, by telling the employer that you are a military veteran early (and sometimes repeatedly) you get the preference in the hiring process and they will get compensated for hiring you.


Want help with your military to civilian job search? Work with our team of professional, proven career coaches and resume writers today. Get your free consult.

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