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What Veterans Need to Know When Moving to Civilian Work

Tim Howard

Tim Howard (pictured), Pongo's IT Manager, is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He served as a police officer in New Hampshire before moving on to management roles in the private sector. In honor of Veterans Day, he addresses how members of the military can make their civilian transition easier when their time in the service is up.

Military life is not only an honorable and selfless way of serving the country in some capacity, but a unique life based very strongly upon respect between its ranks, and an organized hierarchy of command and control in which questioning authority is not the norm. The system serves a mission of protecting the country and its citizens and allies, and accomplishes this upon a foundation of teamwork, pride, excellence, and unquestionable trust.

As military veterans depart their branch of service and move into civilian life, many challenges can make this transition difficult. Two of the most common include:

  • Knowing how to translate their service experience from military jargon to business English on resumes, cover letters, and in interviews.
  • Preparing for the transition to civilian workplaces, which may have a less-rigid hierarchy and culture, and more collaboration among the "ranks."

Several military jobs correlate directly to civilian jobs, such as business analysts, pilots, police officers, and health-care providers. For example: By the time I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force, I had already been hired by a police department because my military training centered on law enforcement and security. I had also achieved the rank of sergeant, which gave me leadership responsibilities during combat operations. In high demand by police departments, these skills were integral to my being hired.

Translating Military Jargon

A big challenge for departing veterans lies in articulating their skills and experiences to prospective hiring managers. To do that effectively, they need to focus on their professional experience and capabilities, while avoiding military jargon that may be unclear to a hiring manager.

For example, a veteran might have been a Flight Sergeant tasked with being responsible for combat training and enemy threat analysis. In civilian terms, they could instead articulate their experience as a team leadership role responsible for the development, implementation, and delivery of training programs to 30 Airmen to help them develop problem-solving and strategic decision-making skills.

That's neither a fabrication nor an exaggeration, but a description that more clearly matches skills that are likely in demand for the position the veteran is considering.

Preparing for the Transition

Pursuing civilian jobs is one option for departing military personnel, but there are others. Federal government agencies often prefer to hire individuals with military backgrounds, and in many cases, a veteran may qualify for preferred status. (Preferred status is earned when a veteran is released under honorable conditions and served during a time of qualified combat operations, or if they have a service-related disability.)

One of the best ways to prepare for the transition into a civilian career is to prepare as early as possible before being discharged. Begin exploring the job market and assessing what you can do to become more marketable. That could consist of pursuing training or education, and creating a profile on LinkedIn. There are even user groups designed for military transition, like the Military Transition Assistance Program group.

Transitioning from a military career to a civilian career is a process that requires proactive effort well in advance of the veteran’s separation. However, with a little due diligence and determination, the departing veteran can most certainly transition successfully into the civilian workforce. Every branch of the service provides some sort of transition assistance to their active duty members. In some cases, departing members are required to meet with people trained to help them transition to civilian life. A couple of good online resources that provide a wealth of information to departing veterans are the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and Military.com.

If you're a veteran, what suggestions do you have for transitioning out of the military? Please share them in a comment below.

On this Veterans Day, the Pongo Resume staff
would like to honor and thank all veterans who have worked and sacrificed in the service of our nation.

RELATED LINKS

Veterans Have Help for Transition to Civilian Jobs
Tips for Veterans Trying to Crack the Job Market
A 3-Step Interview Strategy for Career Changers

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