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From Military to Civilian: Preparation is Key

Any career-related transition whether changing careers or transitioning from the military requires preparation.

According to the director of Ft. Meade's (Maryland) Army Career & Alumni Program, those persons who prepare 12-18 months prior to leaving the military "have the highest success rate of finding a job." The director also stated that good research and a lot of networking were also essential to an individual's success. He suggested that individuals begin by asking themselves what they want to do. By making this determination they will then be able to begin a plan towards a successful transition.

"...those persons who prepare 12-18 months prior to leaving the military have the highest success rate of finding a job."
Director, Fort Meade Army Career & Alumni

Developing a Plan

Each branch of service has it's own career or transitioning service and it's best to start your plan by taking advantage of their services. If you're an officer, The Retired Officers Association (TROA) offers pre-retirement services for military and their families. After you've determined what career you want to pursue, the next step is to determine whether you will need further training or certification for your civilian career. One reason for the 12-18 month planning period is to be able to take advantage of any education opportunities that could make your transition easier.

Taking the "Military" Out of the Search Process
The military culture, though a patriotic profession, is very strong and very different from civilian life. As you begin to network, apply for jobs, and interview, it's important to keep in mind your communications skills. You will need to eliminate any "military-speak." Here are some examples:
  • Regardless of what your present military rank is, in the civilian world you're Mr./Ms. Smith. The civilian world doesn't run on a twenty-four hour clock; so don't ask for an appointment at 15:00.
  • If necessary remind yourself that you will be pursuing a job that pays a salary, not "base pay." The benefits will be entirely different with vacation time and not "leave."

Some private sector organizations may not recognize your expertise without certain nonmilitary training and certifications. Here are some resources you can use to learn whether you need or can benefit from civilian training and certifications:

  • Here's a list of others skills or traits that are considered important in the workplace:

    * Self confidence and the maturity to accept responsibility 

    * Demonstrated leadership skills 

    * Ability to take initiative

    *Creative thinking and the ability to be flexible as well as adaptable

    * Positive attitude - a "can do" approach to the job 

    * Sense of humor in the workplace can help with day-to-day changes 

    * Ability to balance life and work

    Trade or professional organizations can assist you with networking in your field and can be a great source of information about what it takes to land a job.
  • Government (both state and federal) offices can help you determine what special certifications are required in your field.

Your Marketing Tool - The Resume

Write a focused and functional resume, one that describes your accomplishments rather than your military titles. Translate your military experience (don't use military terminology) into the equivalent corporate, nonprofit, or public sector terms that civilian employers will recognize and understand. Here are a few points to keep in mind when writing a civilian-oriented resume:

  • Translate ambiguous military job titles into civilian terms. (For example, Mess Cook = Food Service Specialist; Unit Diary Clerk = Administrative Specialist; Safety Petty Officer = Safety Coordinator)
  • If your specific work experience doesn't apply to the position you are seeking but your management experience does, list your organizational position instead of your job title.
  • Focus on your responsibilities and your accomplishments to alert civilian employers to your value as a potential hire.
  • Managers should provide details about the number and type of people you directed, what types of organizations were involved, and your areas of responsibility.
  • List your education and training in a way that it supports your job objective. For example, SNAPP II Maintenance School = Honeywell Mainframe Computer Maintenance School. Also, don't underestimate the significance of shorter courses including week-long training with classroom hours.

Two Ingredients for Success

Like any job seeker, the importance of networking is one of the keys to success. Make a list of people you want to contact such as former military colleagues, civilian friends and business contacts, classmates and former instructors, and anyone else who may be helpful to your search process. As one successful "transitioner" put it, "I used to hate networking. But in the end, the job I got, and most of my interviews, were a result of networking."

Additionally, join professional organizations to learn about the latest changes and trends in your new field of interest. Also, use your membership in these organizations to provide you access to people with experience as well as information about possible job openings. Finally, as with any career transition, having a plan along with perseverance will help you to achieve success.

Looking to make a career move?  Create a free Thingamajob account and gain access to a wide spectrum of job opportunities from Allegis Group's diverse family of staffing companies including TEKsystems and Aerotek. 

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