How to get a job after the military

J.T. O'donnell | LinkedIn

Today, I got this email from a LinkedIn follower:

I am transitioning from the military after serving 29 years and seem to be having some issues as I have yet to be even called for an interview after circulating my resume amongst many employers and having applied for many positions online.

I would appreciate any feedback you may be able to provide.

Make No Mistake, This is Not an Easy Transition

Those transitioning out of the military have a long track-record of hard work and measured success. They have lived by a set of rules and values that were ingrained in them from the day they stepped into service. As they step out, they have no idea just how different working in the private sector is. Even if they hear stories of colleagues struggling to find a job, they often think, “It won’t happen to me, I’ll figure it out. I survived the military. I can do this.” But, it’s just not that simple…

Step 1: Understand How You Can Be Misinterpreted

The very skills that gained you respect and admiration in the military may not be as appreciated in the private sector. There is a perception ex-military will be “intense,” “rigid,” and “difficult to get to know,” in the workplace. In short, you can be intimidating. Your posture, voice tone, and the way you answer questions and communicate can all send a message that could make those in the private sector uncomfortable. You will need to pay attention to your communication style and make sure it is conveying the right message for your new audience.

Step 2: Figure Out Where You Fit In

In the private sector, you are a business-of-one that must recognize the employer is your customer. They expect you to know your strengths and how they translate into you doing the job well. You need to share with them how you will save or make them enough money to justify hiring you. This can be extremely challenging for those who have had a long career in the military. Without any private sector experience, how do you know what types of roles and responsibilities you could do best? More importantly, what are the job titles that best describe what you did while you were in the military? Without this information, you are going to find it next-to-impossible to focus your job search in a way that will get results.

Step 3: Create Career Tools That Send The Right Message

If the employer is your customer, then your resume, Linkedin profile, and cover letter are your marketing tools. You need create them in way that sends the right message.

For example, using your military photo as your profile picture might be okay – if you are smiling. But, if it’s a serious shot, I’d have a new one taken. A picture is worth a thousand words. In the private sector, personality is one of the things you’ll be evaluated on. Having an overly serious photo can convey an intensity that will turn off some recruiters. You must consider your audience.

Additionally, sharing you have served the country is important and will be the majority of your work history, but within that you need to make sure you are showcasing the skills and accomplishments that the employer needs. As much as they want to hire you as a way to show thanks for serving our country, if they don’t see a clear fit between you and the job, they just can’t do it. It’s up to you to make sure your career tools are attractive to them. If you can’t figure it out on your own, spend time with someone who can show you how to translate your military experience into private sector terminology.

Tip: A great start is to review the skills listed on Linkedin that you can be endorsed for. Find the ones that are most used in the profiles of people who have jobs similar to the ones you’d like to land. Then, see how your skills match up and select the ones that you have to showcase on your own profile.

Step 4: Stop Applying To A Hundred Jobs Online – It’s A Waste Of Time!

This is probably the most common mistake I’ve seen. It’s assumed that because there are so many job boards and the process is straightforward, the right way to look for work is to apply to as many jobs as you can. Turns out, this is the single least effect job search method you can use.

8 out of 10 times, your application is being tossed out by an ATS (applicant tracking system), because you lack the exact experience and keywords they are looking for.

You are going to need to go around the hiring process. The solution is to identify a core set of companies you want to work for and use networking as a way to meet people who work there. You will want to set up informational interviews in the industry you are interested in getting into as well. This proactive approach will help you gain a better understanding of what these employers are looking for. It will also let you start to build a new professional network that you can tap into for advice, and hopefully, referrals to positions. Whenever you are trying to pivot your career in a new direction, you will find the only way to land your first job is by getting referred by someone who will vouch that in spite of your lack of experience, you possess the character and aptitude the company is looking for.

Step 5: Take A “Tweener” Job If Necessary

Don’t be afraid to take a job that doesn’t seem ideal, but at least gets you working in the private sector. The sooner you make the switch, the faster you can start building a gameplan to find a new, better job that suits your goals. The harsh reality is the private sector discriminates against the unemployed – even those who served our country. So, you want to get your first job in order to get a better job. As we say over at CAREEREALISM, “Every job is temporary.” Just remind yourself of that if you accept a tweener job.

Tip: Visit your local staffing agency and see if they can place you on a contract assignment. They can do a nice job of pitching you to corporations and you’d get a chance to trial out some different jobs to see what you might be interested in. Plus, if the company likes you and you like them, it could turn into a permanent position.

Here’s The Good News…

I know the above seems like a lot of work, but you’re ex-military, so I know you aren’t afraid of rolling up your sleeves and getting things done. You’ve got the kind of self-discipline that most civilians don’t possess. In fact, I find working with ex-military to be extremely rewarding because of their strength in this area. They never slack!

Better still, if you do the above, you will find yourself engaging in conversation with a lot of interesting people who will want to help you. Many workers in the private sector are extremely grateful that you served our country. If they can help you, they will. They just need you to approach them properly and have the right tools and mindset so they can feel confident in referring you.

It’s Okay To Ask For Help: It Doesn’t Mean You’re Weak, It Means You’re Smart

A career in the military can make you strong, confident, and self-sufficient. Those are all great traits to have in the private sector. But, when it comes to looking for a job, remember nobody goes to school for this. It’s not something that’s taught in the military. But, it is a skill you must develop to succeed. It’s okay to ask for help. Reach out to your civilian friends. Find mentors or coaches to assist you. Whatever you do, don’t stay locked up in the house trying to figure it out for yourself. It doesn’t work. The sooner you engage others for help, the sooner you’ll be working and be able to repay the favor. Better still, you might choose to job-it-forward and help other ex-military close the gap in their job search knowledge.

I hope this helps and I wish you the best!


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