NEWS + ADVICE
How to Improve Your Military Transition and Civilian Job Search Results
It’s normal to be afraid of change, but even when you welcome it or look forward to it, it can still be difficult. You may be excited about what the future holds for your post-military career and future civilian life, but just because you’re ready for that next step doesn’t mean it will go smoothly because of wishful thinking.
The truth is, military transition is a proven challenge, so we’re here to offer tips with supporting data to help you minimize the risk of a problematic transition. Military-Transition.org has surveyed veterans that have already transitioned to the civilian world, which gives us insightful data to help you improve your chances of a successful transition.
To put things into perspective, 48% of veterans indicate their transition was more difficult than expected, 76% say their transition was stressful, and 52% say it was confusing1.
When you exit the military, you can’t simply join an organization as you did when you entered the military. You need to be hired. Unfortunately hiring decisions (especially those that result in your favor) aren’t typically made overnight.
59% of veterans’ transitions took more time than expected and many experience employment gaps of more than 3 months after their military service1. You’re going to need to plan ahead if you want to increase your odds of a timely and successful transition. Consider these findings and suggestions as you prepare to transition to ensure smooth sailing:
Prepare Your Transition Plan Early
It’s important to start planning for your entry into the civilian workforce before your military exit arrives. 84% of veterans agree that preparing early is very/extremely important in the transition process1. How early are we talking? The earlier you start, the easier your transition will be. In a perfect world you should start planning for your exit as soon as you start your military career, but few actually do this. While we can’t go back in time, we can start right now.
Begin by thinking about what’s next. What are you interested in? Where do you and your family want to live? What skills do you have that you can use in your next potential career? How can you keep learning and adding value to yourself professionally? How soon can you attend a Transition Assistance (TAP) class? Ask yourself questions like these to start defining what you want to do and what it’s going to take to ultimately get there.
Before you can jump into a full-fledged civilian job search, you need to take control of your transition by doing your research and planning your next steps accordingly. Simply taking a TAP class won’t get you a job. It may provide the basics of the job search process and give you tactics that can assist you, but it’s up to you to build a plan for your transition and actually execute it.
Once you’ve chosen a potential career path, research is critical. Your goal is to learn about the common requirements for that kind of job, determine if you need additional skills or education, and to also research potential employers and the kind of compensation you can expect. Take advantage of the services offered to you and really do your homework to understand all your options.
Does the career you want next typically require a degree? If you don’t start thinking about things like this ahead of time, you limit the actions you can take in advance to make your goals a reality. Only 31% of service members have a decreased risk of a problematic transition1. These individuals often have positions lined-up before their transition or require just a few months before starting post-military employment.
These individuals with better odds of successful transition tend to have higher military ranks and higher levels of education. A degree can ease your transition into the civilian workforce, while also helping you earn military promotions. So if choose to pursue a college or post-graduate degree while on active duty, try to align it with the career you want after the military to get the most out of your efforts.
Beyond qualifying for a job, you also have to apply to actually be considered. Don’t wait until your official military exit to begin applying to civilian jobs. Once you’re 3-5 months out from your transition it’s time to start applying. However, that 90-day mark is when companies will be most receptive to considering you for a particular position.
Learn to Translate Your Skills
Just because you’re equipped to perform a job doesn’t mean a recruiter or hiring manager will immediately recognize that you’re qualified for it. Your main objective in the job search process is to market yourself and help an employer recognize the value you can bring them. 83% of veterans say that learning to translate your skills is very/extremely important in the transition process1. One way to do this is to write a resume that sells yourself.
However, before you can write a resume that sells you to employers you first need to determine what type of job you’re seeking. Once you decide what job you want, it’s time to write a targeted resume that demonstrates your value for that specific role. So don’t try to include everything you’ve ever done. Delete all the information that does not directly support the job you’re after now.
As someone transitioning out of the military, you also need to be sure you demilitarize your resume by removing military lingo and acronyms. Remember when you first joined the service and didn’t understand what everyone was talking about? This is why you need to de-militarize your language and learn to speak civilian, on both your resume and in networking and interview scenarios.
You can’t assume everyone you’re talking to understands military jargon or acronyms, even in the government contracting community. By translating your skills and experience into civilian terms, you’ll be able to demonstrate to employers how you fit what they’re looking for. Help them connect the dots. Some lingo you should pick up though is the terminology of the profession you want to work in.
Start networking now, no matter how long it is before you plan to separate, especially once you know the industry or location you want to work in. 86% of veterans agree their network is very/extremely important in the transition process1.
Start building your network by contacting others who have transitioned before you and by attending job fairs, conferences, and meetups. Think about where people in your profession hang out and connect with them there. Follow experts on social media, join LinkedIn groups, or follow professional publications to help you learn about potential jobs and employers, enhance your knowledge of the field, and to make connections.
By networking with individuals who have the types of roles you want in the future, you can stay on top of trends and requirements for those positions. Your network can help you find where the jobs are, which organizations are right for you, and how to get into them. This is how you unlock the hidden job market and find out about positions that are opening up or even gain referrals. Anything you can do to get your resume to the top of the stack is invaluable to a successful job search.
As you expand your network, think about what you want from each person and how you plan to stay in contact. Networking is about a human connection. It’s a two-way street, so be willing to offer help in return whenever possible. Once you’ve developed relationships, remember to stay in touch. People move to new companies and change roles. Someone in your network may know someone at a company you’re interested in, and can provide an introduction.
Talking to individuals in your desired field can also give you an idea of what your salary expectations should be, so you don’t price yourself out before you even get to an interview. Despite having proven skills and experience, many veterans are disappointed with their initial compensation as a civilian employee1.
38% of veterans indicate their first civilian salary was worse than expected1. Civilian compensation is very different from military pay and benefits. The type and size of an organization, the function of the job, and location all play a part in salary range, so do some homework to come up with a range that fits the market and makes sense for you.
And lastly, remain patient throughout your transition. Ask yourself if the steps you’re taking are moving your military transition and civilian job search forward. If you’re not getting any traction, take a step back to reassess your efforts and pinpoint what’s working and what isn’t. Continue learning along the way and seek feedback to keep improving your transition plan.
Military transition doesn’t happen overnight. Even those who line up their civilian job before they leave the service had to put in the legwork to make things move quickly on the back-end. Regardless of how big of a head start you gave yourself, don’t be discouraged if things take time. It’s normal to make mistakes or for things to be a little stressful during the process. This is your future you’re working towards—it’s worth the energy to make the journey.
Please participate in one of the ongoing surveys conducted by Military-Transition.org.