With the calendar year winding down, you might find yourself reflecting on the past 11 months. For many of you, this year has involved an active job search, or preparing to separate or retire from the military, or even a career change post-separation.
Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, let's look at some of what you've hopefully learned about transitioning to a civilian career:
- The civilian job market is very different from the military. While in the service, you likely didn't apply, and interview, for a job the way you will in the civilian workforce. Civilian employers are evaluating your skills, experience, talents, and past performance, but they also evaluate your personality, character and fit in the company. Many veteran job candidates fail to consider the emotional connection civilian employers look for when hiring.
- Civilian employers want to hire veterans, but the process is filled with challenge. While many U.S. employers desire to hire veterans and military spouses, they find the challenges overwhelming: From poorly written and jargon-heavy resumes, to challenges in communication, to difficulty finding skills that translate to civilian jobs, employers often get frustrated and their enthusiasm for hiring veterans can decrease. When a veteran makes their application, resume and "pitch" relevant and compelling to a hiring manager, the process is much smoother!
- Self-promotion is difficult for veterans. Your career in the military trained you to think in a "service before self" value set, where you accept accountability but push praise to those around you. Civilian employers, however, are looking for you to sell yourself to them so they can see your value and contribution, and make a hiring decision. While self-promotion might feel like bragging, being able to speak to your experience, talents, value, and offer to the company is a critical step in a successful job search.
- Networking is critical. Who you know and who can vouch for you is a critical part of the military-to-civilian transition. Many civilian jobs are gained through referrals and personal introductions. Being known for your skills, experience, talents and value make you desirable to employers who look for endorsements from others.
- Employers care about your personal brand. Your personal brand comes to life in your reputation – how others see you. Employers want to know that you are perceived as someone they desire to hire, retain and grow in their company. For some companies, they seek leaders with vision and courage. Other employers want to hire loyal and hard workers. Some companies look for candidates who are personable and well networked. Your skills, experience and credentials are certainly part of your personal brand, but they aren't enough. Employers want to know what you value, believe, in and will work towards.
- It's your job to know how you fit into the job, not the employer's. When the employer writes a job requirement or job description, they have an idea of the skills, certifications, training and experience they seek. They also have a sense of who will fit in with the company culture. Job candidates must study the job descriptions, and the company, to align themselves with what the employer needs. Not the other way around. Abstractly written resumes, unresponsive or lackluster interview questions, and a poor network make it hard for employers to see the fit, and they'll likely move on to evaluating the next candidate.
- Start the career transition process early. Your transition to a civilian career starts the day you decide to separate or retire. For some, this might be two years ahead of the date you take off the uniform. A successful transition requires thoughtful planning, nurturing of contacts, career strategy and patience. Starting early in the process gives you the opportunity to learn new skills, build new relationships, and position yourself with employers.
- A mentor is invaluable. A mentor (civilian or military) provides you with counsel, guidance, and a sounding board as you make the transition and grow your civilian career. Look for a mentor who has the time to commit to you, can offer skills and insight you deem valuable, and has contacts to help you grow your knowledge base.
- Your online profile is the first impression. In today's digital environment, recruiters and hiring managers scour online profiles for potential candidates. Even if you aren't in a job search, your online presence is being reviewed and assessed. Direct your online profiles to be consistent with your values and beliefs, position you as desirable to employers, and showcase your expertise and passion.
- You have a lot of control in the job interview. The job interview is a formal part of the hiring process. While the employer is setting the specifics of the questioning and the pace of the meeting, savvy job candidates know they can affect the outcome of the interview more positively by being prepared, confident, approachable, and asking thoughtful questions.