Finding a job after the military can feel like an uphill battle. We’ve put together a set of steps to take that will help you land the post-military career you have in mind.
Before you transition, you must prepare. Here are 6 steps to take before you leave the military to have a successful transition.
1. Identify your marketable skills.
In the excitement and anticipation of entering the civilian world, it’s easy to imagine that employers will throw jobs at you because of your former-military awesomeness. That kind of mentality is tempting, partially because there are people who will actually tell you those things and because it conveniently lets you off the hook when it comes to working on your transition.
But employers aren’t interested in hiring veterans because of patriotism, they want veterans because employees who can do the job, and who also have discipline and integrity, will help their company do better. The starting point is “can do the job,” and you’ll have to convince an employer you can do that before you’ll get any goodwill from your veteran status.
The bottom line? Sign up for TAP classes as early as you can – even a year or more before your EAS. Their instructors will help you define your job skills, identify jobs where you can claim to have experience, and teach you the lingo of job hunting so you can make a case for yourself beyond, “I’m a veteran!” Until you get into TAP, you can visit sites which spit out civilian equivalent jobs for your particular rating or MOS. Use TAP as the introduction for your job search skills, which you will likely need to develop while you still get a steady paycheck from the military.
2. Narrow your focus by deciding where you want to be, or what you want to do.
When you first decide to transition, or “put in your papers,” the possibilities seem endless. And for many veterans, thinking about what they could do is an easy way to avoid the hard emotional work of figuring out what they want to do.
As soon as you decide to make the transition, you should do some soul-searching with your family and loved ones about what’s important. It may be a certain kind of job, or a next level of education, or a specific location. Use that goal as a means to narrow your search for your next job or your education.
Many veterans are reluctant to narrow their job search because it feels like they will miss opportunities. But narrowing the search to a specific industry or location can be very helpful because it provides focus. It often takes several months of applications before a job offer pops up – several months of learning the priorities of civilian jobs, refining your resume, and attempting interviews – so beginning the process early and practicing for the particular opportunities you want is the surest way to accomplish a fast transition.
“Keeping your options open” is usually a refusal to commit, and usually looks like a veteran who “shotguns” out a generic resume to hundreds of job postings and never gets a call back.
3. Research thoroughly the jobs in which you’re interested.
Whether you’re focused on a location or an industry, you need to have a solid grasp of the job requirements for your target positions. Employers separate potential employees from pretenders by screening applications for candidates who either clearly know the job or have clearly researched it. It’s easy to tell the difference – serious job applicants answer each job requirement explicitly, while casual ones just put out their experiences and hope the employer connects the past experience to the available job.
Employers are much more likely to interview someone they know is qualified, because they proved it in their resume, than they are to risk wasting time on someone who has impressive-sounding qualifications which may (or may not) apply to the available job.
4. If you need them, sign up to get classes or licenses.
One thing your job research might turn up is that companies prefer employees to have additional qualifications. Perhaps it’s a commercial driver’s license, or a CPR qualification, or expertise in a particular field. Padding your resume like this before you leave has several advantages: first, it’s at very low cost or even free on most military bases; second, it gives you a marked advantage over civilian peers if you “hit the street” with more qualifications than they have; and third, it shows your commitment to self-improvement. And in case you missed it the first time, these classes are discounted or free on bases, and there are people to help you access your GI benefits to pay for such things if you want – none of which is true after you leave the service.
5. Apply for jobs.
Veterans always have questions about when they should start applying for jobs. If they apply too early, employers who offer jobs might regard the wait for EAS as a deal-breaker. But if they apply too late, they may have a period of unemployment between the military and their first civilian job. How do you strike the perfect balance?
The answer is most often, you can’t. The advantage of applying early to jobs is that you can get practice tailoring your resume to specific positions and you can experience the interview process before it’s crunch time. Besides, if you are offered a job that you can’t take because you’re still in service, there’s always a chance that when you call back on terminal leave, they’ll have a spot for you.
On the personal side, companies who are interested in candidates typically give out a lot more information about the position available and the company than you’ll find in a job posting, which will help you decide if you actually want the position in the first place. So regard the applications you make when you still have (hopefully) six or more months left in service as essential practice and networking.
One of the first steps you will take when looking for a job after the military is putting together your job resume. Compiling your military experience into a civilian resume can be a difficult task, but it’s very important. We’re here to walk you through the process.
There are so many different formatting considerations to address, which makes most people forget the most important part of the resume – strategy. As a job seeker you have an emotional connection to the content of your resume, giving you a skewed perspective, however you should always consider the reader when creating a resume.
No matter how well written your resume is it will never get through the first reading if it is not formatted correctly. A typical resume is scanned for about 25 seconds, so the harder it is to read the more likely it is to get discarded. Do the hiring manager’s work for them by using a logical format with wide margins and clear headings. Style-wise, simplicity is best, with bullets points that are direct and on topic. Gimmicks like unusual fonts and colors do not impress recruiters. A good resume is no longer than two pages in an easy to read font no smaller than a 10.
2) Catalog your Accomplishments
Hiring managers want candidates that can help them solve a specific problem or satisfy a need within their company. You can’t be a solution to their problem without showing how you solved similar problems in other companies. Focus on what you did at your previous jobs not what your job was.
Start with one or two top line job descriptions then list the benefits of having done what you did. Your accomplishments should be unique to you, not just a list of what is necessary to complete the job. Never use generic descriptions of the job from the original posting. Remember, always focus on what you did in the job, not what your job was, there is a difference.
3) Market your Accomplishments
Making too many general claims as well as using too much industry jargon may just confuse someone who is looking for a candidate who can provide solutions. Instead market your accomplishments in terms of efficiency, percentages, number of employees and money saved. Work backwards by stating, “if I had not done this then that would have happened?” Marketing your accomplishments helps create a sense of confidence in your abilities and lets the hiring manager know that you made a positive impact in your last position. (Read: How to Translate Your Extra Duties to the Civilian World)
4) Target your Resume
There is no general resume that will cover all the bases for every position. Each job has specific requirements that need to be addressed in your accomplishments. If the job you are applying for is in the customer service industry and you have customer service experience, highlight those skills first in your accomplishments. Giving credence to those accomplishments in your resume that most effectively demonstrate your ability to excel in the position you are applying for is a great way set you aside as someone who is able to fulfill needs.
5) Target Your Objective
The objective of your resume is usually one or two short sentences that summarize your goal. Most objectives sound similar: Looking for a challenge where I can use my skills in position X to help with the bottom line. This statement says nothing about you and tells the hiring manager nothing. If you have only 25 seconds to grab someone’s attention then use it let him know what you really want.
Use the actual title of the position you are applying for in your objective and maybe one or two statements about how you plan on helping the bottom line by producing results in that position. This lets a prospective employer know that you are not just looking for a job, but rather a long term career with them.
If you are unemployed then getting your resume out there should be a full time job. Calling everyone you know including personal business contacts and recruiters should be at the top of your list. Setting your social media accounts to take maximum advantage of any opportunities for on-line recruiting should be accomplished prior to handing out your resume. Getting involved with on-line focus groups and blogs that deal with the industry you are trying to break into can get you valuable information, and may even reveal the hiring manager’s name for the company that you are applying to. With a well-crafted resume in hand networking can greatly increase your odds of getting an interview
READ NEXT: The Importance of an Effective Cover Letter
If you haven’t done it in a while (or ever), job hunting in the civilian world is confusing and overwhelming.
There are corporate buzz words to learn, military experiences to translate into “civilianese,” and even strict but unwritten formatting rules for your Military to Civilian resume.
To top it all off, there’s the fact that your resume is only one of hundreds or even thousands floating around the Internet … so how do you even make sure it’s read? The answer is your cover letter. These four tips will help you craft a Military to civilian cover letter that ensures hiring managers and employers will read your resume (and probably give you a call).
1. Make the cover letter personal.
The purpose of a cover letter (besides introducing yourself and your resume) is to get the interest of the employer so that he/she actually reads your resume in the first place. And the best way to seize someone’s interest is to address them personally.
Although good resumes are specific to a particular job posting (Read: How to Use a Job Description to Your Advantage), they are also fairly impersonal. Even the catchy paragraph at the top of the resume where you establish your personal brand is impersonal. It doesn’t engage the reader by talking to him/her directly … so no matter how interesting you make it, you may not convince anyone to read it.
The easiest way to make your Military to Civilian cover letter personal is to address the hiring manager by name, if you can find it. And make sure to express interest in something business-related the company has done, such as a recent product launch or acquisition, to establish that you care enough about the company to have done some research.
It’s surprisingly easy to do this via the Internet and social media. If you can’t find the name of the hiring manager, then you can at least still express interest in the company: “Congratulations on winning XYZ award” or “I saw that you acquired ABC company — you must be very excited to utilize such-and-such capability.”
2. Sympathize with the company’s issue(s).
Because so much of a job search involves you talking about yourself, it’s easy to forget that most people don’t like listening all that much. The fact that you’re supposed to talk about your experiences, your talents and your achievements in resumes, interviews and (yes) cover letters does not make that kind of conversation any more palatable to a hiring manager or employer. You try listening to a bunch of people talk about themselves for an entire work day, and see how you like it.
Being personal while talking about yourself, as if you and your needs are the most interesting thing in the world, makes you come off like a used-car salesman. That’s not appealing. You want to come off as knowledgeable and likeable instead, and a slam-dunk way to accomplish that is to sympathize with the company and its needs. Specifically, you want to address the need hiding behind their job posting.
This takes a little guesswork on your part. But if you look closely at the job requirements, you can make out the outline of a hole or gap in their organization. If they’re looking for someone with a lot of work experience, for example, maybe they’re struggling with the technical or administrative side of a particular function. If they’re looking for someone with a specific skill set, you can bet they lack that very skill set.
Once you have identified their need (at least generally), sympathize with it in your cover letter! Something like “I imagine the increased growth of XYZ product has really taxed your customer service team” (probably their production and distribution teams as well) or “I know that integrating new people and skill sets presents unique challenges” shows that you understand a vital company issue. For many hiring managers, just that indication that you are familiar with their issues is enough for a call-back.
3. Offer yourself as a solution.
The natural conclusion to this Military to Civilian cover letter is to offer yourself as a solution to the company’s issues. This is the easiest part of the cover letter to write: simply tell a story where you solved a problem similar to the one faced by your prospective employer.
With a little imagination, you can imagine any military problem that you’ve faced matching up to civilian problems: how to deal with increased task loads (such as patrols or intelligence reports); how to develop new capabilities (perhaps in response to a mission change); how to get stuff safely and quickly from one point to another.
Remember to tell this part as a story, however. Stories resonate with people much more than facts, and your cover letter is the place to connect personally, so leave the bullet points in your resume. As a general rule, only include enough facts to demonstrate your success: “After my maintenance unit arrived in Afghanistan, our vehicle pool doubled in size. It was a major challenge, but I helped start a third shift of workers and standardized the category of maintenance assigned to each shift. Ultimately, we increased our finished maintenance actions by 175% and never failed to provide vehicles for patrols and convoys.”
4. Send a paper copy of your cover letter (with resume) directly to the hiring manager.
All your work, making your cover letter perfect, is wasted if it disappears into an online hiring portal. Even today there is something so compelling about a piece of paper — it’s tangible and harder to forget than text on a computer screen. So even when you see a job online, and apply to a job online, go the extra mile and send it in an envelope too. That way you’re much less likely to be screened by a junior recruiter monitoring a website. And there’s just something irresistible about receiving a personal letter, even for a hiring manager.
Networking with LinkedIn For a Post-Military Job
By Bryan Wolfe
Finding a job after leaving the military is almost never an easy task. Unless you’re transferring into a civilian field that directly relates to your military experience, you will need to change fields in order to enter the civilian workforce. For many people exiting the military, the transition is into a new industry or one that is similar to the old military position. Even though this change may be difficult, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of landing a job faster.
One of these is networking. We all know people who throw the term “networking” around all the time, but what does it really mean? Is there a specific plan of action that you can follow to network correctly? The answer is … it depends on you! That may not be the answer you want to hear, but there is no step-by-step networking guide that is going to land you your dream job immediately.
Customize it to Yourself
You need to do what works for you to build your network. Regardless of your strategy, the process takes time and hard work. This article will lay out one strategy for building your network. It’s not the be-all, end-all of job searching and it does take effort on your part, but it adds value to anyone looking for almost any type of job. It doesn’t matter if your personality is introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, this strategy will help you expand your circle of potential colleagues and will give you multiple opportunities to directly connect with people who may be able to help you on your job search journey.
There are three things I recommend for anyone who is within six months of searching for a new job: at least one polished resume that’s been edited and viewed by more than one other person who is not related to you; a flexible cover letter that can be easily modified to apply for a number of different jobs at multiple companies; and a polished LinkedIn profile.
Create Your Account
First and foremost, create your account. One tip I recommend for current service members who are close to transition is to create a private email address using Yahoo! or Gmail right away. The messages sent to your LinkedIn account will be forwarded to this private address. Veterans often lose access to old military email accounts after they separate from the service. To avoid a gap in communications and a lot of headaches, create a private email address if you don’t already have one.
Add Your Profile Picture
LinkedIn gives you the ability to add a picture to your account. Unless you are applying to jobs outside of the United States, you generally can’t and shouldn’t do this on a resume. But adding a photo on LinkedIn is a great opportunity to prove to any potential hiring managers out there that you are a real person with a real face!
This picture doesn’t have to be overly formal or taken in your dress uniform, but it should definitely be business casual. Do keep in mind that this isn’t Facebook so no photos of spouses or kids. And definitely no photos of you in circumstances that you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Keep it classy and smile! I’ve heard from multiple recruiters and hiring managers that a good photo and a smile in your profile can do wonders to enhance your likability!
Add a Background Picture
LinkedIn also gives you the ability to add a background photo. This isn’t as important and you’ll be just fine using the LinkedIn default option. However, if you have a cool picture that relates to your time in the military or one that relates to the type of job you’re after, feel free to use it here as long as it’s semi-professional.
List Your Job Title
The next important item is your job title. I recommend translating your military title to the civilian title you want here. You can use this space to put something like “Transitioning Veteran Searching for Supply Chain Manager roles,” to let everyone know you are on the hunt for a new job, but use this language sparingly.
The Summary section is a great piece of LI real estate that is often underutilized. You can use this block of text to put a summary of what you’ve done and list what you’re looking for. Take some time with this section as it can really add a lot of value to your profile. Don’t copy and paste your resume here! This is a chance for you to tell a concise story of who you are and what type of job you’re looking to get. Think of it as your 30-second elevator pitch.
List Your Experience
This section is relatively straightforward and can be copied from sections of your resume. If you’ve been in the military for over 10 years, I would recommend breaking this section down into the various titles you’ve held. Here, list your experience and translate it into civilian terms so the recruiter knows what you’ve done.
Recruiters typically don’t spend too much time reading into this, they will instead focus on job titles. If a job title grabs their attention, they might look at the details of what you did when you held that title. Remember to be specific in the titles! Don’t just say “Program Manager.” What kind of Program Manager were you – HR, IT, Personnel? Be specific and, again, list the titles you are going for in your civilian job.
List Your Education
Again, straightforward. List it along with any distinctions you earned during your schooling.
LinkedIn Endorsements… meh…
Don’t get hung up on endorsements. Don’t ask for endorsements. The big secret is – these don’t really matter… Endorsements are not the same as recommendations and they tend to be treated as fluff. They may help a little when it comes to recruiters searching for you on LinkedIn, but if you have the keywords in your profile already, that is more than sufficient. Focus on your resume and experience instead.
List Your Accomplishments
Brag a little here and list what you’ve accomplished. Again, recruiters don’t spend too much time on this area, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Select what you want, but few recruiters care about your interests. Having said that, there is a HUGE upside to interests. You can join various groups that are related to your job search field and begin your networking through them.
The absolute best way to do that is to contribute to discussions within the group, or to comment (intelligently) on articles that are posted in these groups. If you can answer questions in the Widget Manufacturing Group with authority, do it! This is a great way to get noticed and start building your connections. Don’t limit yourself to only veteran groups.
This is a great place to start networking with other vets, but be sure to join industry groups for your target job. Again, answering questions in these groups is a great way to get noticed and to build connections in your target industry.
Building LinkedIn Connections
The key to building connections is sending out invitations through LinkedIn. Do not spend money on Premium InMails to send long messages to potential new contacts! This is unnecessary as LinkedIn allows you to send shorter messages and connection requests for free. Start networking with Linkedin by connecting to all of your friends and family. Everyone.
The friends, family and colleagues you connect to will become your first level connections; however, when you do a search on LinkedIn, you will be able to view some of their first- and second-level connections – (these people will be your second- and third-level connections). Ask these friends, family and former colleagues especially for recommendations! This is similar to a reference letter and goes a long way if someone else is bragging about you on your profile. Recommendations are much more valuable than endorsements!
Build the Relationships
Once you have a solid base (75-100 or more) of friends, family and colleagues, move on to inviting people you don’t know into your network. LinkedIn has a search feature that enables you to search for people by job title, company or industry. You can add more filters to your search, but I recommend keeping it pretty broad when you first start out. For example, conduct a search of the industry you want to enter.
To do this, click on the Search box and select “People”. A list of first-, second- and some third-degree connections will come up. You will quickly have a huge list, so start narrowing it using the available filters. Select the industry you’re interested in, and the list will shrink to only people in that industry.
Next select a location in your target job market. This will again shrink the list and bring you a targeted list of people in your industry and target location. Your list may be in the hundreds or thousands, but I wouldn’t recommend reducing it beyond this for now.
Start scrolling through the profiles, just to see who is out there in your industry and location. Look for titles like HR Manager or Director, or Supervisor of your target job. Also look at profiles of people who already have the job you want. Look at the keywords and language they use in their profile and see if you can use any of that language in your profile!
Don’t copy someone else’s profile, but use the same industry-specific language to highlight your skills and experience. You can send an invitation to almost anyone in your list. Some are blocked for various reasons, but for each one you can’t send an invitation to, there are three more to whom you can.
Sending invitations to the people on your list should be approached with some care. Don’t just hit the +Connect button on LinkedIn! It sends a generic message which everyone ignores because they know that it took zero effort on your part to send and will therefore make zero impact on your target connection!
This is so important that I’ll repeat it – do not send a generic message! ALWAYS customize the invitation and Add a Note. You have 300 free characters to work with and it’s easy enough to craft a simple yet personalized message. Create your message and copy it into a Word document so you can save it and use it multiple times when you are searching for new connections. Here’s an example of a brief connection request:
I saw your profile on LinkedIn and I’d like to add you to my professional network. Please let me know if there’s ever anything I can do for you.
This is a pretty generic message and you can modify it as you see fit. I don’t recommend asking for a job in this introductory message as it comes off as too aggressive – but I always recommend asking them to connect with you and join your professional network. One thing to keep in mind: While adding connections from a mobile device is convenient, you cannot add a personalized message to your invitation.
Close it Out
Once you’ve made the connection with the VP of Widget Manufacturing in your target location and industry, the rest is up to you! When you are connected to people as a first-degree connection, you can send longer messages and ask for advice. Again, don’t ask for a job, but do ask for help networking! Tell them that you are a transitioning veteran returning home and ask for advice on finding a job in that area and industry.
This approach makes it easy for people to help if they can and you avoid making them feel awkward if they don’t have any job opportunities available. If you approach them in a softer manner, they may be more likely to refer you to someone who does have a job available and is currently looking for someone just like you! Good luck!
This is just the tip of the networking iceberg and I invite you to contact me any time with questions! If you need help finding the right connections, I’m always happy to help veterans network their way into a job and I’ll share any tips and tricks I know that could assist you in that endeavor. If you do send me a connection request, though, don’t forget to customize your message!
Bryan Wolfe has worked as a global corporate recruiter since 2007. He is a 10-year U.S. Army and Marine Corps veteran who specializes in engineering, supply chain and IT recruitment. Connect with him on LinkedIn any time for a confidential career discussion. View Bryan’s LinkedIn profile