Transitioning Military: Make Yourself a Great Candidate

Posted by Patra Frame

Every day my work mailbox includes pitches from people who want to place articles on my blogs or sell me products or services. Most clearly don’t know what I do, or they’ve never read the blog they say they want to write for. I give these emails maybe two seconds before deleting. They clearly did not prepare – they just blasted out an email.

I regularly talk with military in transition who are not clear about what type of job they want. They often tell me:

  • “But I can do anything,”
  • “I can do a wide variety of jobs,” or
  • “I worry I will miss a good job because I told the employer I wanted X.”

Just as I give those who try to sell me something that is not obviously right for my business almost no time, an employer does the same with such applicants.

When you are preparing to transition, you are going to be selling yourself to potential employers. And you are going to be in competition with many others trying to do the same thing at the same time. Why would you lower your chances by not doing the preparatory work for success? A top sales person knows not only what they are selling but also who is most likely to buy it. They do research. They learn and study. Hence they sell their services or products by understanding each target’s needs and interests.

I went to a pitch by a veteran graduating from one of the programs for veterans who want to start their own businesses. He had a great idea. He was presenting well and had enthusiasm. But there were gaping holes in some of his basic assumptions, industry knowledge, technical knowledge, and financials. I watched the audience looking at each other, some even left. To the audience, he was an ‘unknown’ with an apparently random idea that did not make business sense. I am sure he did not see himself that way. I bet he saw himself as an elite military veteran with a great idea that could change the world.

You are usually an ‘unknown’ to potential employers. Employers are not willing to do extra work to understand or hire you. They have lots of other choices. How do you avoid the discard pile?

Know Yourself

What do you want to do next? What goals do you have for your future? Once you have some basic ideas and goals, start looking at jobs that you find interesting.

  • Learn as much as you can about the work first.
  • Look at a lot of job ads that have a title that interests you or are in an industry that does.
  • Is the scope of the work and the specifics of each job what you thought it would be? If you are still interested, look at the common requirements for that job – do you meet them?

Half the retiring service members I talk to want to be a Program Manager. Few seem to realize one is a PM in a specific field, like data science or supply chain management. Fewer know that in government contracting, most employers require a PM to have P&L experience. Too many do not even know what P&L is. You need to learn enough to sell yourself well on social media, on your resume, and in networking situations.

Pick no more than one or two specific career fields and positions – you cannot focus on more than that. When you have selected and understand a lot about them, you are ready to start to learn about employers that match your needs. Targeting specific employers is the fastest way to success in your transition job search. Learn all you can about each employer that interests you. Look at their website but also do some searches on them. You are looking for those whose values match your values and which look like places you can succeed.

Once you have selected 25-30 employers to target, you can begin to look for ways in:

  • Register with their veterans hiring program if they have one.
  • Follow them on social media.
  • Search for their recruiters on social media and connect with those in your career field.
  • Ask your friends for information and contacts at each.

Create a Marketing Campaign

Once you know what you really want, you need to demonstrate why you are a great candidate on your resume and your social media profiles.

  • Go through all your achievements and pull out those that show your skills and experience that are RELEVANT for the job.
  • Translate your military titles to civilian titles – yes, more research. Use those in your field whenever possible.
  • Design your resume and your profiles so that the strongest achievements that are related to the work you want are first up on each job listed.

You may have many that you remember fondly or think show how great you are. But if they do not speak to the scope and requirements for the specific job you seek, they are wasting space. Leave them on your LinkedIn profile, at the bottom of each job’s achievements if you really want to showcase them, but not on your resume.

Create a reverse chronological resume first. I have noticed this past year a big uptick in functional resumes. Sadly for you and every other career changer, almost no hiring managers like this style so they ignore such resumes. Hiring managers want to see what role you were in with each achievement. They are looking for context to help them understand it.

Design your resume to give greatest space to the most recent job or two and show your most important achievements as bullets under each. You might have 5-7 for these jobs depending on tenure, with fewer and shorter bullets for each previous job. As you change your official titles to civilian terms, make sure you build from the bottom up. Hiring managers want to see progression demonstrated through titles of increasing magnitude. Skip rank, not only do most not care, but it carries a message that you are not really ready to leave the military.

Once you have a solid resume, full of achievements tied to the work you seek, it is smart to create a one-page networking version. This is great to send after a good conversation with someone you were referred to or met, to use to remind past bosses what you did so they can serve as references, and to help people you know keep your interests in mind.

Every good marketing effort includes networking. That means human connections.

  • Start with family and friends, add in people you know from the past as well as in the community.
  • Build new connections in your field via professional groups, job fairs, and social media.
  • Give people a reason to learn about you and to help you. Help them as well.

Do not expect to make a network just for this job search. This effort is only effective if you think in longer-term career and life choices. As you build your network, ask people you already know and those you meet for referrals to people in your targeted employers, preferably in your field. Learn, learn, learn. Talk to referrals to verify and build your knowledge of specific employers as well as of the realities in specific jobs that interest you.

I recently talked to someone who had been interested in brand management and had a great resume based on real job ads only to discover in talking to some brand managers that the job really focused on one aspect more than all the others and was far less interesting after all, than it appeared.

As you confirm your interest in an employer, turn to them for an employee referral. Ask directly for a referral to someone there who is in your field and runs the function whenever possible. If you see a specific job ad for the employer, ask them for a referral for that job. Employers love employee referrals and your chance of getting an interview is more than 15 times greater than from just applying via an ad.

Learn how to use social media effectively. There is a huge amount of industry and career information available on social media that will help you transition. Skip the doom-scrolling and go for useful groups, contacts, and companies. Build your knowledge and your connections. Hiring managers and recruiters will be looking for you on social media – be sure you give them information that makes them want to talk to you. Clear out any old, messy stuff too.


Get out there and work your plan. Adjust it as needed. ClearedJobs.Net offers many resources on our website to help too. In fact, there are so many services and support available for transitioning military it can be overwhelming. Ask people you know which worked well for them in their transition. Unless you plan a year sabbatical after getting out, you need to put the work in now. The earlier you start, the better. The less time you have till transition, the more time you will need to dedicate to job search. Create your plan and get your boss onboard – no excuses. Work your plan every day until you have accepted and started that great new job. Good hunting!


This entry was posted on Monday, June 07, 2021 1:00 pm

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