For military veterans, adjusting to day-to-day life as a civilian can be challenging enough. Navigating a career path as a civilian can seem to be an insurmountable task. It isn’t, but it can be a tricky business.
Where advancement in the military is typically regimented and linear, careers following your time in the service will require adapting, often without the sort of direction to which you may be accustomed. Beyond simply finding a job, career progression can involve making lateral moves to enhance the variety of your experience; identifying and addressing skills to acquire — sometimes with your employer’s knowledge and assistance, sometimes not; and taking the initiative to meet with your supervisor about potential avenues of career development.
Whether you’re looking to find that first civilian job, find something new or advance where you are, getting to that next level might be a simple matter of demonstrating your value to an employer and finding a good fit. Here are some tips to help you thrive in the private sector.
1. Look into VR&E
Formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VocRehab), Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) — available through the Veterans Administration — offers services to help with job training, employment accommodations, resume development, and skills coaching.
In the military, networking may be frowned upon because it is essentially going outside your chain of command. As such, many veterans are uncomfortable with the idea of networking in the private sector, even though it can further your career. Don’t worry about seeming underhanded or asking for favors — networking is how most private citizens improve their employment circumstances. Ask fellow veterans, friends, and family for their help in identifying decision-makers at places you might like to work.
Reach out to those people and ask for a meeting — not a job interview, but an informational interview where you can discuss how your skills and experiences in the military might translate to employment in your areas of interest. Those connections might land you a job, a lead to another employer, or nothing more than valuable experience sitting across the table from someone who makes hiring decisions.
3. Translate to “Civilian”
Your resume and certifications need to be made applicable to your private-sector career path. For example, you may need to take an exam or recertification course to enable you to use your military training in the civilian workforce.
As for your resume, don’t assume that a civilian employer will understand a military description of the work you performed or the titles you held in the service. Have a non-military person review your resume to see if they’re confused by any military jargon that may have snuck in there. Concentrate on the skills you developed to perform your military tasks rather than getting too deep in the weeds on the details of the tasks themselves.
Also, make sure to have your paperwork in order. Have copies of your DD214 (Report of Separation) or DD2586 (Verification of Military Experience and training) available to verify your military experience to prospective employers or schools.
4. Leverage available resources
Some employers — knowing well the work ethic and collaborative abilities of employees with a military background — have specialized programs to help veterans. Many organizations and support groups exist specifically to help veterans find a place in the workforce. The federal government gives qualifying veterans preferred status over other applicants for many jobs. A simple trick such as doing a Google search for your military occupational specialty (MOS) code could yield worthwhile results, including jobs tagged for your skillset.
5. Be you
Ultimately, employers are attracted to preparation, confidence, and the abilities to take direction, work with others and step into a leadership vacuum — all attributes that your military training has given you. In conversation, a cover letter or a resume, demonstrate your character, moments when you adapted and placed team goals above your own. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate the maturity, resilience, communication skills, and life experience that your competition likely does not have.
About the Author:
Veteran Car Donations is a national organization that accepts vehicle donations to better the lives of veterans. The organization partners with a number of well-known veteran charities to help provide essential medical care, mental health services, and more.