How Veterans Can Explain Why They Left Their First Post-Military Job

(U.S. Army/Spc. Pierre-Etienne Courtejoie)

Companies love to hire veterans, especially those looking for their first post-military job. Young vets bring leadership, the ability to work both independently and as part of a team, and a host of other skills many new college graduates don't have yet.

Separating veterans in their first two years after the military do have one negative trait in their reputation: Retention. In 2016, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families found that half of veterans left their first civilian jobs within the first year. In a two-year span, that number goes up to 65%.

For many, the issue was unhappiness in underemployment, taking a job that didn't utilize their skills and abilities adequately. Underemployment affects veterans at much higher rates than their civilian counterparts: a third of veteran job seekers are underemployed, a rate more than 15% higher than civilians in the same or similar fields.

There are other reasons for leaving a job, even one that veterans find fulfilling. In a job interview, they might find the interviewer asking why they left their job, or left it so quickly after being hired. Here are a few ways to translate the most common reasons for leaving in ways that can bolster one's reputation.

1. Burnout

It's natural for a newly separated veteran to arrive at their first job and want to leave their mark, make the bosses happy and set a standard for excellence, just like they did in the military. Many will accomplish this by taking on a lot of work or working all the time. There's nothing wrong with working hard at a demanding job, but the work never ends, and without a healthy work-life balance, anyone will find themselves looking for another job.

If this is the reason for leaving, tell the interviewer you believe you thrive in an environment that embraces a healthy work-life balance and find yourself performing at your best when other areas of your life are taken care of.

2. Ethical Conflicts

Companies and workplaces, like people, have their own personalities and moods. Veterans will find that most of the companies they work for throughout their careers have strict rules and guidelines for behavior and the way they do business. The internet is full of employees reviewing companies for their ethics and procedures. You might find a job made you question your own ethics or put you in an uncomfortable position.

This is a perfectly good reason to leave a job, but badmouthing a former employer in a job interview is never a good idea, no matter how much they deserve it. Instead of listing everything wrong with a former job, list the positive qualities of the company at which you're interviewing. You may like their dedication to diversity, environmental standards or their reputation for being a top employer of veterans. What attracts you to the new company is always a better answer than a list of complaints against your old company.

3. Wanting More Compensation

There's nothing wrong with wanting more: more money, more benefits or more responsibility. Any veteran who wants upward mobility in a company but doesn't see a way forward should look elsewhere at some point in their career. It might be a mistake to leave a company too soon looking for this, but if you did, you might have to answer for it.

Luckily, this is an easy answer. Tell the interviewer you felt like you weren't growing in your old job and are looking for a challenge at a company. You want to take on new responsibilities and grow with them, personally and professionally.

4. Needing a Change

In the military, life can move pretty fast. Service members often have packed days, weeks and months. Lives are filled with deployments, professional development courses and even changes of station. Many veterans don't appreciate this kind of diversity in their lives until they leave the military. When they discover a more sedentary life in the civilian world, it can leave them feeling the loss.

Employers like stability, which is the reason why they ask why people left previous jobs. They don't want to be interviewing someone else for this job a year later. For any veteran who left a job because they just didn't want to be there anymore, discuss a new skill or passion you're developing and that this is the company you want to work for.

If you've done your research on the company and industry (which you should have for an interview), you'll be able to answer why.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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