3 Top Tips for Service Members Entering the Civilian Job Market


If there is one thing I know after recruiting for over two decades in the private sector and defense industry, it's that former service members populate an elite talent pool. And this talent pool is largely overlooked due to a lack of understanding of military culture and its ultimate purpose. In fact, veterans can potentially contribute a lot more to a business's success than those who never served at all. But, the biggest challenge facing veterans today is being able to articulate their skills and experiences to be seen as valuable by individuals who make hiring decisions. This is why I have dedicated my career to helping former and transitioning service members find meaningful careers after service. So listen up, Vets!

There are three common needs in landing a job. You need a good resume, you need to cleverly network, and you need to nail the interview.

Resumes Still Matter

A resume is still essential even in the age of digital and social media. It's a professional billboard that highlights what you've done, where you've been, and what you've accomplished. Consider it your new uniform. The patches and medals you earned and adorned will no longer be applicable in the civilian job market; they will no longer speak to your stature. Your experience will all be laid out on a sheet of paper in your own words.

Keep in mind that your military experience is relevant in the private sector even though the private sector does not clearly see it. Approximately more than 85% of military occupations have a direct civilian counterpart in private industry. Your mission is to unveil your skills and capabilities into civilian-speak. But let's face it; it is easier to wear your resume than write it. Don't worry too much, though. You will figure it out just like you did when you first joined the military and received your first assignment.

Your resume has to clearly define how you are uniquely qualified for the position you want. In other words, can you convince a hiring manager that you are a "force-multiplier"?

Here are some pointers to get you thinking in the right direction:

  • Does your resume start with a clear summary of your skills and qualifications?
  • Did you list what you were accountable for as opposed to what you've done?
  • Are you clearly illustrating your technical or business acumen?
  • Don't simply list what you did – convey how you did it and how good you were at it.
  • Did you make improvements?
  • Did you increase efficiency or spot glitches?
  • Did you save time and money?
  • Were you better than your peers in the same role? That is what I look for when I recruit.

Ok, so let's assume you now understand what a good resume should include. You are now probably worried about good resume format, right?

Formats vary by individual and aren't a show stopper in this tight labor market. The format you decide to use is your own. You can use bullet points, a summary format, or break it all down job by job.

Functional or chronological formats do not matter much to me as recruiter. I am too busy trying to find industry-specific terms, or "buzz words" (C++, Java, CAT5, Network Communications, and SQL work for programming related fields), to determine if you are a match with the job I am trying to fill. Keep in mind that I, and other recruiters, try to do this quickly!

Recruiters review resumes in 20-40 seconds, or leave them to search filters to sort. They are looking to weed you out – don't let them. Your goal is to get weeded in. A great resource to get you started in drafting a solid military-to-civilian is ResumeEngine.org. It is an intuitive resume developer created to assist you.

Network to Get Work

The second need is networking. This is probably the most essential thing you can do in finding a good job. You must "network to get work." Going to hiring events, networking symposiums, and registering for virtual job fairs are all standard operating procedures in landing a job. However, connecting with people is the real key to opening doors of opportunity.

One of the most effective resources today in connecting with employed professionals is LinkedIn. Now that you have a superb resume, you can use it as a guide to build a solid premium LinkedIn profile. By the way: if you are veteran you can get a one-year premium subscription for free. Find out more by going to veterans.linkedin.com. While you are there, check out the video. I think you will be surprise by what you see.

Using LinkedIn is like having a rocket-propelled professional profile. It is user-friendly and will definitely help you make some noise. Let's say you applied to a job at Verizon. You can use LinkedIn to connect with people employed at Verizon by sending them an invitation to connect. Once your invitation is accepted, you can ask questions about Verizon's culture, work environment, benefits, request introductions to others of interest, or simply find out more about what Verizon does. For the record, Verizon offers more than you think.

LinkedIn is an effective resource that connects you with people on the inside. It also allows recruiters to find you. Applying for jobs online is a solid start. But, if that is all you are doing than you are only lightly tapping on the doors of opportunity. I say knock hard and unhinge those doors by networking with the right people.

Nail the Interview

The third need is nailing the interview. The good news about landing an interview is that you now have their attention. This is your American Idol moment. What now? How you present yourself, what you say, what you don't say, and how you say it all matter during an interview.

My advice is to prepare by practicing with what I like to call mirror questions. This is where you ask yourself questions and practice in front of a mirror. If you know someone who you feel comfortable with, then have them throw some questions your way. Start with the hard ones first. These are the questions you hope they don't ask.

Here are a couple questions to try out for size:

  • Why do you think you are uniquely qualified for this position?
  • What is it about this position that appeals to you the most?
  • How does your military background make you a good fit for this role?

The point of all of this is to see how you come across to learn more about yourself. Do you say "um" a lot? Do you talk too fast or too slow? Do you blink a lot or stare too hard when you talk? Or maybe you talk with knife hands like I did.

The interview is the moment of truth. It is your one opportunity to convey who you are, what you've done, and what you are capable of doing in your own words. You got this far, so don't blow it because you failed to prepare. In the end, will you walk out confident that you are the best person for the job?

Follow me @EvanGuzman24 or better yet... Join the "Recruiters 4 Veterans" networking group and follow us @R4Veterans.

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