Getting out of the military can be challenging. Many service members have never had to look for a job before, and it is a completely new skill to master. Knowing where to start and what advice to follow (there is plenty of bad, dated, or inaccurate resources out there) can be hard. I have worked with thousands of military job seekers and have learned a lot about what works and what does not. Here are the three most common mistakes:
1. Lack of preparation: Don’t wait until the last minute and wing it. Any good operation starts with good planning and lots if information. Getting out of the military is not a sudden thing - in the year(s) prior to taking off the uniform you should be getting ready. Start building a network – use social media tools like LinkedIn & Facebook to make connections where you plan to live. Also find resources with local alumni chapters, Veterans, and even the Chamber of Commerce (they know all kinds of people). Research the jobs you think you want to do and what it takes to do those jobs. Talk to people doing those jobs. Can you obtain any certifications or degrees while you are still in uniform that will make you more marketable? Check the job market in the cities you are considering living in. Research salaries. Get a couple of books on interviewing and practice, practice, practice. Train like you would for an important mission.
2. Lost in Translation: Repeat after me: “My resume is not my autobiography.” Resumes should not read like a DD-214, field manual, or award citation. Your resume should be more of brochure advertising the skills you have that employers find valuable. Things like leadership, training, safety, or process improvement. These are universally attractive skills for employers. Focus on the key points and assume the person reading your resume has no idea what you are talking about. You need to translate & quantify. Battalion commander? How many soldiers are in a Battalion? Command Career Counselor? What is the civilian equivalent? How many people did you counsel? Keep acronyms and jargon off your resume. If you have a 20+ year career, emphasize the most recent 10 years. It’s all about what you can do for them, not what you have already done. Translating also goes during the interview – assume a baseline of zero and explain your career without jargon.
3. Unrealistic Expectations: Too often military job seekers (due to lack of preparation) have unrealistic expectations as to what the next job will bring. Unrealistic salary expectations, shooting too high in the org chart or holding out for that “forever company” can leave you searching for a long, long time. Do your homework, know what a position is worth in your location and shoot for a job you could realistically get hired for. If it does not work out, you can always move on to another company. It’s unlikely you will spend the rest of your career at the first company you go work for, so accept a position that will help you learn and grow your career and pay you for the work that you will do. It’s ok.
If you are getting out of the military, you are not alone, and are not the first to do so. You do not need to invent the wheel yourself. Figuring out what the next
chapter of your life will bring can be difficult and scary at times, but most Veterans have managed it well and you can to. The skills that made you successful in uniform – like work ethic, ability to learn, work as a team, and focus on the mission at hand, will serve you well.
Feel free to add your thoughts and share if you think others will benefit.