Road to Success in Transitioning from a Federal or Military Career

Posted by Patra Frame

I regularly talk with retiring federal and military people seeking a private sector role for their next step. Despite the transition programs available to both groups, many have not done enough work to truly understand their options. This hinders job search and raises one’s frustration levels. These reminders, which you may know but have not implemented, are designed to help a successful transition.

STEP 1: Research

Many retirees think they will easily step into an equivalent role with a government contractor. Others want something related to some work they have done but a different role. Few understand what is actually available or what the requirements are for the roles they seek.

Research starts with in-depth self-assessment. Start by answering:

  • What are you interested in doing next?
  • What skills, abilities, interests do you want to use in future work?
  • What are your goals for the next 10, 15, 30 work years?
  • What did you like most about your current/most recent job… and least?
  • What values, culture, conditions do you need in an organization to succeed?

Start with a blank page and go through your past work and volunteer history for some ideas too. Keep records of all this work and revise it as you learn more and move forward.

Once you have some specific ideas, you are ready to look at potential jobs. Start your research on Google or a job board using titles which interest you. Ignore locations at this point. Look at 50+ listings and pick out 15-20 which most closely match your interests. Analyze these: look at the scope of work and then at the requirements. Find the most common words – these become keywords on your marketing materials. Do you match at least 80-90% of the requirements? If not, what will it take to do so? Are you willing to do that? Do this exercise with several job titles which seem to be good matches. You can also try it by entering 2-3 key skills you want to use instead of a job title and see what jobs might match them.

Once you have some specific job titles, then you can begin to look at these in depth to learn as much as possible about the work, the future of such jobs, and where these jobs exist.

The next aspect is to begin to target employers. What private sector organizations have the jobs which interest you? Where are they located? Who is hiring? You want to start with leads from the job postings you have seen and broaden out from there. Your research about who may be the best employers for you should include their websites PLUS Glassdoor/Vault review, people in your network who have worked there or know people who do and are willing to introduce you. Ask people at business/trade events and do some checking via LinkedIn and Twitter. Learn what it takes to succeed at each target employer, what their culture is like, and how they match your goals and needs.

STEP 2: Marketing Materials


You cannot write a useful resume until you have decided on a specific job target. Certainly before that you can create your master resume that has all the details for as far back as you want. But the actual resume you will share with anyone has to be written to demonstrate your value for a specific role. You will need more than one resume if you are considering different roles.

  • Use the keywords you learned in your research above.
  • Translate your past experience into the right terms and focus.
  • Include only those achievements which are relevant to the job you seek.

Following your research analysis of specific roles, create a resume that shows how your achievements in past jobs transfer to the new role. This is based on the scope of work, the requirements common to jobs which interest you. Then translate your experience into their words and interests. When you show achievements which are not relevant to the work the job requires, you lose hiring managers and recruiters attention immediately. They assume you do not really know what they want and thus cannot do their job. A resume is an advertisement, if you are not capturing their interest, you are doing it wrong.

One tough challenge for many military and federal employees is the difference between management roles they have had and what the private sector seeks. Companies want managers who have industry and technical/professional knowledge because they expect all levels of management below the CXOs to be able to do the work they manage. So they want an IT Director who knows the technologies they use in depth, for example. Few companies actually believe that one can ‘manage anything’ just by being a good manager. A second big hurdle for many is the common requirement for Program Managers and above to have profit and loss experience before they will be hired.

If you are in an agency/function where your resume must be approved in advance: Create a long version of your resume: 3, 4, or even more pages with all the details you think might be useful in your search. You can then pull out the parts for a specific resume without having to go through the approval process again. I know this seems obvious! I see many folks who have not done it and are fearful of the delays in getting a new version approved, but are not getting results with the resume they have.

Social Media

What to do on social media and where is a concern for all of us as the options change so fast. For those with clearances, a long history of being told to avoid such public information is not always overcome by more recent efforts among the security agencies to allow such use. You should know that most hiring managers will look you up on social media. Plus recruiters do a lot of searching on social media. And many in the hiring chain see such activity as a form of ‘being current’ or ‘technologically aware’.

Start with a search to see what is already out there about you. And whether someone with your name is a problematic find in search. Then learn what social media options exist, which are most common in your target field, and what you will want to consider using.

If you have a LinkedIn profile, be sure to update it to support your new career goals. Tailor your headline to the work you seek. Keep your summary short and pointed to those same goals. Write your profile and achievements using the right keywords. Be sure not to include the word retired in such profiles – you are not retiring from work, just from your past career. Don’t list your security clearance – you’re in a public forum. Then get active – join groups in your field, make connections with people you already know and others you would like to.

While LinkedIn requires some active participation to get much value from it, employers use a variety of other social media too. You may follow employers on LinkedIn but you also may find them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so forth. On such social media sites, you can be active and grow your visibility or you can just join and follow others for information useful to your needs without putting out much – your choice.

Social media also can assist you in learning about industry trends, jobs, employers, and many other aspects of the new career you seek. ClearedJobs.Net’s YouTube channel, for example, has videos on security clearance issues, employers’ practices in hiring, and job search techniques. There are excellent industry newsletters, blogs and podcasts you can find with simple searches. There are professional associations, trade groups, and educational institutions which offer blogs, newsletters, podcasts, Instagram, Pinterest, and other venues with excellent information and resources. More topical newsletters, like those by, various professional magazines/newspapers, and others are also a great way to keep learning about trends and items which can help your search be more effective. All these also provide useful bits you can use in interview questions about how you keep learning or growing.

Business Cards

Consider a business card specifically for your job search. Use a two-sided approach. On the front put your contact information. Add a ‘headline’ version of the work you seek under your name, e.g. Contracts Administrator. On the reverse put 3-5 short bullets which highlight your value. Base these on the research you have done, so that they show what an employer is looking for and grab attention.

STEP 3: Network

While jobs are generally easy to find when one is in one’s 20s or early 30s, jobs for people who are experienced or are seeking more senior level roles are not. You are going to be finding an opportunity based on who knows you and your skill set. This means you need to actively network. Start with your existing and past connections. Reconnect. Build new connections from that base via referrals and from social media and trade/professional organizations, alumni groups, and your volunteer or community activities.

Never ask someone for a job in the network building or rebuilding stage. Most won’t have them and you will become reluctant to ask for anything else. Start by asking each person you are reconnecting with or telling about your planned change for support and assistance. Be specific in your questions! Ask other retirees how they managed their transition and what they would do differently. Ask past bosses to be references in your search. Ask people you have worked with what they think your best attributes are.  Ask for referrals to people in the roles you seek so you can ask them questions. Ask for information on your target employers.  Incorporate what you learn into your marketing materials, as appropriate, and into your job search plan.

Build up your relationships by following up, by sending contacts information or links, by keeping them in the loop on your progress. Remember to say thank you for any help you receive. Also, tell anyone who refers you to someone else what you did to follow-up with that person and what has happened – close the loop.

Networking is not a miracle cure. If you are not interested in the people you are talking or connecting to, it shows and you will not get very far. Effective networking is always a two-way street and must be maintained over time. Too many of us only do it when we need something – like a job. But you can get smarter and better at it during your transition. And maintain it going forward. Don’t become one of ‘those guys’ who tell me that they have no network. You have one even if you have not recognized it. Now get out there and reconnect!

Patra FramePatra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Consultant. 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. Follow Patra on Twitter @2Patra.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 11:10 am

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