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Seven Tips for Transitioning from a Military to a Civilian Career

May 29, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Transitioning from the military to civilian life isn’t easy—and the struggle often starts with the job search. The corporate environment can be drastically different than the military life—with different expectations, culture, references, and priorities. Here are a few ways you can streamline your transition from a military career to the corporate world—starting with your resume.

Know your objective

Knowing what type of job you want in civilian life may be easier said than done. If your background in the military is diverse, you might be tempted to write a resume that’s general enough to serve for everything. But that’s a mistake. Remember that your resume will be competing with others from people who have backgrounds specific to that career—and given a choice, recruiters and hiring managers will always go with people who have more specific backgrounds. If you’re open to two or more different fields, you’ll need more than one resume.

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De-militarize your resume

Military language is full of jargon and acronyms that might make communication easier between military members—but that outsiders find bewildering. It’s important to go through your resume and eliminate any jargon or acronyms that won’t be immediately understandable to people with no military background. You’re writing for a non-military audience now—and it’s important that they understand clearly what your experience is. Don’t assume anyone on the outside will have any understanding of military terms.

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Know what the employers want

Translate your military experience into civilian terms. If you were instrumental in setting up a military training program, for example, highlight your organizational, project management, and education program development skills for a corporate training company. If you were in logistics, show how your experience getting people and equipment to remote and dangerous locations on time can translate to a corporate logistical or supply chain position. This will require research and possibly help from people in the field.

De-emphasize unrelated skills and awards

Sure, it’s great that you won a medal for marksmanship. But unless you’re applying for a law enforcement or private security job, it doesn’t belong on your resume. Take out everything that could dilute the focus of your resume away from the job you want—including awards you’re proud of but that aren’t relevant. The exception is irrelevant jobs, when removing them would put a gap in your employment history—but if they’re irrelevant, they can be de-emphasized.

Be sure your accomplishments stand out

In your resume, it’s important to explain the outcomes of initiatives and projects you led so that any civilian can understand them. Focus on results achieved—number of people trained, amount of money saved, percent of capacity increased, and other numbers are most effective in showing this. Write your daily job descriptions in paragraph format, then write your specific accomplishments as a bulleted list underneath so readers can see them with a fast scan.

Tone down battlefield experience

Defending your country is an admirable pursuit that deserves recognition and admiration. But references to actual battlefield experience can make many people on the outside uncomfortable—no matter how supportive they are. Leave out combat experience that isn’t related to your career objective in the civilian world, unless removing it would show an employment gap. If it is relevant or chronologically necessary, leave out any specific details that might make non-combatants uncomfortable.

Seek out supportive companies

Some companies, as well as traditional and accredited online schools, give hiring priority to veterans. Companies like this may be more accustomed to returning vets and may understand better how your military experience translates to their operations. Do your research and try to find some companies like this in your area of focus—their support may make them a better bet for hiring.

It’s not easy to transition from military to civilian life. But it can be done successfully—if you understand what the industry is looking for and how to communicate your military achievements and background in a way that civilian employers understand. Do some research ahead of time and take advantage of all the resources the military offers in making your transition—and hopefully it will be as easy as possible.


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