Transition from the Military to a Civilian Career

Transitioning out of the military and looking for a civilian job? This useful guide is designed to help you leverage your military skills to find your next great opportunity. We called on Maggie Cutler, a U.S. Vets Transition Specialist, to help us identify the best ways you can take control of your transition, feel prepared, and be successful.

Find Your Calling

Everything you’ve learned during your time in the service can actually give you a leg up when it comes to looking for a civilian job. Now that you’re on your own, your job is your choice, and you can pursue whatever career you want. This is a good thing, but it’s also best practice to carefully consider what you want to do and where you want to work before accepting any job offers. Take the time to identify your interests and consider checking websites like the ZipRecruiter blog for career guidance and help, if needed.

Write a Civilian-Friendly Resume

When writing your resume, keep in mind that the average civilian probably won’t understand military verbiage, and you should remove any words or phrases that only other vets or service people would understand. You can include your major responsibilities and specific military skills that translate well, like leadership skills, project management, or computer literacy. Above all, make sure that any skills on your resume are relevant to the job you are applying for. Your resume should be one page max in length (or two pages if you’re applying for high-level positions). You should use one standard font, like Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman, between 10-12 point in size, and use headers and bullet points to break up and organize information. Your resume should follow a standard template that includes these six basic sections: Header, Work Experience & Qualifications, Education, Skills & Awards, Training & Certificates, and References.

Get Online

The best place to kick off your job hunt in the digital age is online. Perusing job listings online also gives you quick insight into the types of jobs that are available in your area and industry. Start by building your professional online presence (for example, sprucing up your LinkedIn profile) so employers can quickly see you are a serious applicant. Then, begin submitting your online applications. You can start your search on ZipRecruiter.

Build Your Network

As with many things, there are several different ways to approach finding the right job. Applying online is certainly one, but networking is another tried and true method. Networking simply means growing relationships with people who might be able to help you advance your career, just as you might be able to help them advance theirs. It can include exchanging emails, swapping contact info, connecting each other to job opportunities, or giving advice and guidance.

Maggie says that honing soft skills, like those used in networking, is one of the biggest struggles vets face throughout the job search process. (We can probably blame boot camp for that one, where you’re scolded if you smile and praised for standing cold.) The veteran community is a great way to start building your community and network. Seek out a local Vet Club or Veteran’s Networking Meetup in your area to get started.

Seek a Referral

Don’t overlook the power of referrals. How do you meet those people? Networking. Maggie suggests a tactile approach. Your time in the service most likely taught you to create an efficient problem-solving process for anything and everything. Apply this skill to getting a referral. Create a spreadsheet or organized list of your favorite employers or industries to narrow your networking scope, and only attend events that will be valuable to you. This will help you save time and energy.

Perfect Your Pitch

It’s important to develop a quick pitch about yourself to deliver to prospective employers. Creating a pitch can be a challenge for vets, because not all civilian jobs translate to military experience. However, your skill in speaking concisely and directly will work in your favor. Your 30-second pitch should describe who you are, what you do, and how your skill set will add value to a particular company or industry. Your pitch is the perfect conversation starter and the best way for you to make the most of your time with an employer.

Follow Up

Chances are, sometime throughout your time in the military, you learned the importance of communication. Rely on this experience when sending out courtesies after meeting a new contact. It’s common practice to send a follow-up email to anyone you meet within 24-48 hours. You can remind them of who you are, reference your conversation, and ask to schedule a call to further discuss what they do and opportunities within their company.

Track Your Progress

Tracking your progress is a great way to keep yourself motivated and stay accountable to your goals while you look for jobs. Maggie suggests using a simple spreadsheet software as the best way to keep track of your progress during your job search.

Keep Moving Forward

As you look for jobs, it’s helpful to leverage the persistence and determination you learned in the military to stay motivated and keep your search moving forward. Remember, it takes a multi-pronged approach of discovering the right opportunities, building your networking, and sending out applications to have your best shot of landing the job you want.

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