In honor of Veteran's Day and because this scenario in general breaks my heart, I'm going to focus today on helping Veterans with some tips for job seeking. These tips are coming from a civilian recruiter and will help outline the challenges and communication barriers that are affecting us both in the recruiting process. Most of this will be geared toward young service men and women that joined the military soon after high school or with little civilian work experience.
1) Your resume needs to be in corporate-speak, not military jargon. 90% of the resumes I see from veterans list a bunch of military acronyms and terms that have absolutely no meaning to me. You need to work on getting your resume ready for the civilian world. And that means you need to talk to people that have experience in both worlds and can help you translate your experiences appropriately. Most state unemployment support offices have a liaison or specialist of some kind that can help you with this for free. You can also use LinkedIn and other business communities to find civilian recruiters that have military experience in their backgrounds and can help you. Most of them are happy to donate their time to a fellow veteran.
2) Attitudinal Changes. I'm not trying to tell you that your attitude is bad or wrong, but it is different and to join the civilian world, you need to make an adjustment in your thinking in how you interact with other people. When you are interviewing, you have to remember that although you come from a very structured environment where life or death decisions depend upon following orders, a strict changing of command and established protocols, in the civilian world employers are generally looking for people that think for themselves and understand how to prioritize depending on a much different set of circumstances, and that very very few decisions you are going to make will result in a life or death situation outside of specific industries (like health care).
3) Leadership in the corporate world is very different than leadership in the military. People that are leaders in the civilian world don't expect instant obedience to every decision, and in fact they look for employees that can challenge those decisions and help deliver a better product or service through questioning and respectful disagreement. That isn't to say that you should question everything directly, but it does mean that if you disagree with a leader or a process, you should explore how you might make it better or what a different approach is and then speak up. There are many individuals in management positions that may not be the best leaders, and there are ways for you to work within the organization (such as HR or mentoring outside your direct reporting structure) to address this when it becomes frustrating. When you are interviewing, you need to think of examples of experiences you had that you may not have agreed with or disliked; why you didn't agree with them, and how you might have made changes to the process if you had the chance.
4) Learn to negotiate effectively. You need to know how to compromise and when to give and take (negotiation). Performance expectations are merit-based on an individual level in the corporate world, and the bell-curve is alive and well. "Huh?" you may be thinking to yourself. In the corporate world (a bit less in industries such as health care or any collective bargaining industry), you are judged on your performance in competition with your peers. It isn't a cut-throat competition, but you need remember that although you are part of a group for the outcome of your efforts, you are being judged individually against your coworkers. And when employers are considering you for a job, part of the evaluation process is making sure you are aware of your own worth and can articulate it well to them *against other candidates*.
5) Understanding the value of networking outside the military. There is no doubt whatsoever that the military is one of the strongest professional networks on the planet, but when you are leaving the service, you need to think outside that network and find those people that will have a broader range of contacts. That isn't to say that you should ignore your valuable contacts, but the people you need to be contacting are those with ties to industry and civilian employers. Think of those people that your network knows outside of their military career. For example, maybe the cashier at the PX is married to the manager at the local Costco. Or your Commander's brother coaches a junior league soccer team in Duluth, where your wife wants to move to. That soccer coach is going to know local service providers like realtors and insurance agents, and they in turn are going to have clients that may be able to help you find connections for opportunities in the civilian world. Conversely, you have something in common with a lot of civilian manager right now in a shared military experience, and this is a way for you to form an instant rapport with them. It's the equivalent of belonging to a sorority or fraternity or an alumna of a high school or college. It's an instant bond that generally will make the other person feel good about being able to help another vet.
6) Work hard, play hard, know when to stay and when to go. The military is both a 24x7 job and also very structured in terms of shifts. You are on guard duty from 6 AM to 3 PM, then your time is your own; you are monitoring subs on the second shift, and your attention is 100% focused, then you are off (unless of course you are in a war zone, when you are duty every minute). You *are* the military in terms of conduct at all times. Being in the service isn't a job, it's a lifestyle commitment for as long as your serve. When you go into corporate America, you start a job or a career, and then when you leave your job, you change your role like you change your hat. Your life becomes your own. But here's a fact to understand: very few jobs are not somehow entwined with your everyday life. You may work from 8-5, but you may need to be prepared to stay an hour extra to answer an email and finish a presentation, or give up your evening to attend an industry event. But, by the same token, you can take an extended lunch to go sign closing papers on your new house, or schedule a doctor's appointment into your day. Your life becomes an ebb and flow of intertwined roles. But the one thing that is true regardless: what you do off the clock needs to be done with integrity and a degree of professionalism, and what you do on the clock needs to carry the same passion and conviction that you take with you to your son's baseball game or the barbecue with your folks on Saturday.
It's a tough economy, and there are tons of stories out there about how difficult it is for veterans to find jobs. Part of it is lack of jobs, but I also believe a large part of it is culture shock when leaving the military. Believe it or not, most employers sincerely *want* to hire vets. Some because it's the right thing to do; some because it is mandated by law that employers consider vets and even get tax breaks of some sort for it; others because they have found that military training makes for a great employee. But to hire you, they have to get you in the door and through the vetting process.
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