Secrets for a Successful Military Transition

tie-690084_1280There are five steps we recommend every transitioning service member consider as they contemplate the move out of uniform: plan, adjust, search wisely, network, and manage expectations.

1. It is your transition, take it upon yourself to plan and get it done

If you are used to the mission mindset of the military, make your transition a mission. Determine where you want to be in 3 months, 6 months, a year; and map out the steps you need to take to get there. A significant amount of your transition planning should be spent thinking through what you want to be and do as a civilian. With your goals in mind, assess your weaknesses and skill gaps, and develop a viable plan to shore them up through additional education and/or training.

2. Adjust from military to corporate speak

A key to getting the job is fitting in — not only do you have to demonstrate the right skills, but you also need to adopt the right body language and speech. Here are a few examples:

  1. Be wary of military jargon. Rather than say you were the “black swan” expert, explain that you developed contingency plans for rare events.
  2. Rather than use military time, use civilian time. That is, instead of confirming an interview for 15-hundred hours, use 3 pm.
  3. No need to address your professional contacts as Sir or Ma’am. You can typically address them by their first name.

3. Find military-friendly employers

Several employers appreciate the qualities ex-military personnel bring to a civilian job. Furthermore, you’re likely to find co-workers who formerly served in the military. They can mentor you as you ease into a new working environment. For example: Proctor and Gamble, Wal Mart, Home Depot, and General Electric actively recruit Veterans and many employers have employee groups where ex-military employees help one another. For more military-friendly employers who are currently hiring, visit’s Career Center.

4. Learn how to network

In the military you are taught to be a member of a unit, not necessarily an individual. When you enter the civilian world you must learn to sell yourself. This includes using all your military and civilian connections to help you find the position you desire by pointing you in the right direction and telling everybody what a great and smart person you are. Get used to playing up your qualities, something you probably never did in the military. The most important thing is to be honest, let your friends all know that you are looking for a position, and don’t be afraid to listen to any advice they may offer. Take every opportunity to talk to others, the neighbor’s backyard barbeque may just be the place to tell that friend of a friend that you are looking for work, they may know an employer who is looking for somebody just like you.

Another way to network is through social media, learn to use social media to capture your network, but remember to do so responsibly. Be judicious, however; anything you post is a permanent record that a potential employer might review. Build a thoughtful profile on Facebook or Twitter that shows an employer that you’re someone they want on their team. Beware the profile that shows immaturity in the form of inappropriate pictures or links, harsh comments, or worse. A good place to connect with veterans and start your career search, is the Veteran Employment Center.

5. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom

In the military you may have been a squad leader responsible for the lives of others, a supply petty officer in charge of millions of dollars in inventory, or a crew chief in charge of keeping a multi-million dollar aircraft in the air. Guess what, much of that may not matter in the civilian world. Many civilian employers seek specific experience, do you know this aircraft, this inventory control program, etc.

Recognize that you are starting over, you will need to develop a reputation in the civilian world just like you did in the military. Most successfully transitioned veterans end up taking a pay cut and working far below their experience level when they first transition into the civilian sector. Once you establish your reputation, and prove to your new employer you “have what it takes” you will probably progress up the chain much faster than non-veterans.

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