Big Changes: Government or Military Transitioning to Civilian Work

Posted by Patra Frame

If you have spent a long career in the military or government, the change to the civilian world is often even larger than you expect. Week after week I see people who were accomplished pilots, program managers, XO’s, SMEs, — and who are truly floundering.

Many have unrealistic expectations. For example, senior federal retirees often have lost their technical skills but do not have the P&L or business smarts expected in the management jobs they want. Military retirees have breadth but often not depth of expertise for technical or management jobs they seek. And far too many of both simply are flailing around, presenting themselves poorly but hoping a company will figure out a job they can do.


1. Start with a blank sheet of paper.
Don’t write a resume, sit down and think about who you are, what you are best at, and what interests you. You probably had this advice in a transition program – and ignored it. So, this time, pay attention! Find a quiet time and spot and look inward. Write, think, write. Let it lie fallow a day or two and go back and work some more. Think about and include what you need from work – learning, respect, new tech, helping others, whatever. Add those, they are critical.

Once you begin to really understand what you want and what you need to get from your work, then you can move forward.

If you cannot do it alone, check out the classic Richard Bowles “What Color is Your Parachute?” and work through it.

2. Research, research, research
Once you have finished step one, get all your ideas into one list. You need to validate them and expand them into potential jobs. Start by talking to people who know you well. Get their feedback on your strengths. Ask for ideas based on your interests.

Take all your ideas and start learning about potential jobs. One easy way to learn about jobs which might use your skills is by a little online searching. Pick any major job board and put in 1-2 of the skills you want to use. Ignore location or pay. Don’t worry about job titles, put in specific skills. Examples: data analysis, training, non-profit, youth development, housing, security. You will get back a huge range of job postings. Go through them and pick out 20-25 which interest you. Bookmark or print these – and review them in detail to select jobs of interest.

Do the same with the big search engines – you will learn more about potential career fields this way as you will find interesting articles and research, as well as jobs.

Once you have potentially interesting jobs and titles, you can begin to learn more. Check out what they require, which employers offer them. Read up on the future of the job type and what is going on in the field. Check out specific, focused job boards, like ClearedJobs.Net.

Narrow your choices down to 1-2 and do in-depth research. Here you will learn the keywords you need to use and help you translate your experience. It is your job to show specific achievements in the civilian terms that demonstrate your value to target employers.

3. Network as if your future depends on it – it does!
Tap into the people you already know from work, professional or community groups, etc. Look for connections to people in the field. Follow experts on Twitter, LinkedIn groups, or via professional publications to learn. Your goals are to learn more about both jobs and employers, to enhance your knowledge of the field, and to make connections who can assist you in the process. These are the people who can help you be realistic in your goals as well as guide you into the hidden job market.

Remember, networking is all about human connections. It is a two-way street – be open to whatever help you can offer to each connection and you will develop far better contacts.

I have been in your shoes. I know you have a lot of value to offer and a lot more to give an employer! But you have to figure out what you want, what you offer, and where you want to work.

Be smart. Be focused. Or you will look a long time – and then change jobs 3-4 times in the next five years and wonder what happened.

Be smarter – do your ‘prep work’ and transition well!


ClearedJobs.Net HR Specialist Patra Frame

Patra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Specialist. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is an Air Force veteran and charter member of the

Women in Military Service for America Memorial.


This entry was posted on Friday, February 17, 2012 9:27 am

One thought on “Big Changes: Government or Military Transitioning to Civilian Work”

  1. Excellent, common sense, and VITAL tips! I retired after a 30 year Army career, with almost 10 continuous years as a COL commander and deputy commander; the intro paragraphs describe me perfectly. I was lucky, was hired by a retired friend who knew me well and wanted my general skills. I could not articulate my specific, technical knowledge or marketable skills to save my life. I will be following this tips over the next week or so to update my credentials!

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