As an employer, I have seen hundreds of applications from military personnel and can attest to the challenges you face in the civilian job market. I hope the tips I present in this post will get you started on a successful search.
Your military experience has changed you, and you are not the same person you were when you left civilian life. So it's time to assess the three basic questions of the job search: "Where are you now?", "Where do you want to go?", and "What are the steps that will get you there?"
1. Start with a good self-assessment.
- What has changed?
- Where do you want to live?
- What careers did you consider before the military? Do any still appeal?
- Is there a civilian career that directly relates to your military career?
- Do you want to pursue that or are you ready for a change?
- What skills do you have and want to continue using?
- What skills do you need to learn?
2. Make an honest assessment of any injuries you sustained. Are they temporary or permanent? How do they affect you day-to-day?
Speak with medical personnel as necessary to determine what you can and cannot do in the workplace as well as any accommodations that will help you succeed. Keep in mind that when you are in the job market with a disability, it's too easy for both you and the employer to focus on what you can't do. Make sure you focus on what you can do and let the employer know how much your rehabilitation process taught you about stamina and never giving up.
If your disability is visible, break the ice in the interview by discussing it up-front. Keep your discussion positive and don't let the disability be an excuse or a plea for sympathy. The more comfortable YOU are, the more comfortable your interviewer (and the interview) will be. Don't let your injury be the elephant in the room no one talks about.
3. Develop a career marketing portfolio (cover letter, resume, job applications, etc.) that will appeal to a civilian employer. This, in my opinion, will be the single greatest challenge of your transition. It's imperative that you move from the military mindset back into the civilian mindset. The only way to impress a civilian employer is to get out of your ego and into his/her ego.
- What does your potential employer want?
- What skills, experience, and education are they seeking?
- How can you show through your military experience as well as other parts of your life, that you have what the employer wants?
Remove jargon, military acronyms, or phrases that won't mean anything to an employer from your resume and cover letter. Try describing what you did in the military to your civilian friends and family. Do they understand your terminology? Ask them to help you translate those activities.
4. Find a way to explain the value of your military experiences and activities to a civilian employer. This is particularly challenging for individuals whose service career has focused on skills that, while highly necessary and valuable within the military, don't always translate well to traditional employers ("sharpshooting" for example). Focus on the skills you developed before you entered the military as well as those you've since acquired. For every skill you consider, ask yourself-- why would an employer care about this? And be ready to explain the value to the employer. Dig deep.
Think about what characteristics you possessed that made you good at what you did. If, indeed, it was sharpshooting-- what skills make a good sharpshooter? Attention to detail. Keen observation. Careful decision making. Ability to function under pressure.
So instead of talking to your potential employer about sharpshooting specifically, indicate that you carried out duties that required you to have strong attention to detail...etc.
5. Develop stories to convey your strengths. Most good stories are based on challenges and if the military provides one thing, it's challenge. Determine four or five good stories you can tell in a minute or so that will demonstrate how you rise to challenges or what you learned.
- Were your challenges interpersonal-- getting along with people from different backgrounds? Were they related to rank: how did you get along with those who ranked above or below you? Did you mentor new recruits?
- Were your challenges based on geography? Where were you stationed? Was it near your home or far away? How did that present challenges? What did you learn?
Focus on positive stories which explain what you learned, how you solved problems, how you were a leader (regardless of rank).
6. Network and seek all the help and support you can get. If your local veteran's office offers job-search assistance, take advantage of their programs and services. Use your contacts. Keep in touch with your friends and colleagues from the military and share ideas and job leads. Helping someone else can make you feel much better as you go through the process yourself.
7. Use the web to research organizations, job listings, and other job-related information. Here are some sites that are specifically targeted to veterans:
USA Jobs which includes a special veterans resource center
Military spouses who have to relocate
Job Applications.com has links to lots of job applications for a variety of careers.
For more tips, read through previous postings on my blog, even if they're not targeted to veterans specifically. You'll find ideas for storytelling, marketing, staying positive, etc.
This Memorial Day weekend post is dedicated to my late father who served as a chaplain in the Navy during WWII on two hospital ships, the USS Solace and the USS Tranquility.
Copyright 2009 Katharine Brooks. Follow me on Twitter. Like me on Facebook.