Ultimate Guide to Making a Successful Career Transition from the Military

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Military Career Transition Deciding what to do after a military career can be challenging. It can be daunting to navigate the corporate employment maze, while translating military career accomplishments into achievements that will resonate with a private-sector hiring manager can be equally difficult.

AOL Jobs recently talked to Diane Hudson Burns, owner of Career Marketing Techniques and a leading authority of resumes and career management strategies for transitioning military. Burns says, "after 20 years of military service, it can be challenging for serving members to make the switch to industry or federal employment -- it can also be a wonderful opportunity to begin a second career (as most retiring military are between 40 and 45, have a college degree and/or much specialized functional and leadership training, are well fit, and highly disciplined and organized). As a veteran, you have a wealth of skills, education, experience, and training to offer a new employer."

Here are her top tips to help make the transition easier:


Tip 1: Plan in advance of your retirement.

If you wait until the end of your service time to write a resume, make decisions about where to live, what type of job you want, and other critical decisions, you will be well behind the power curve. Rather, make the transition easier and prepare at least 24 months before your retirement date.

Start by deciding where to live, what type of job(s) you will be seeking, what salary range you will need to support yourself during your second career (remembering that you want to "Bank Your Retirement Pay and Live on Your New Salary™"), preparing a resume and other collateral job search documents that can be modified before retirement, creating accounts on major job boards, begin researching positions and companies of interest, creating a database of contacts for networking and developing a list of references.

You also need to make plans to attend your service branch's transition-assistant program.

Create a checklist of requirements and refer to the checklist often during the two years leading up to retirement.


Tip 2: Translate military experience, acronyms, jargon, and ranks.

One of the keys to making a successful transition from military is translating your "military speak" to "corporate/private sector speak." Employers and recruiters do not always understand military acronyms, jargon, ranks, and other military terminology. It is important to make the translations in the resumes, and also when networking and during the interview process.


Job Titles: For example, the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) (each branch has a different acronym for military job titles) 15T stands for Blackhawk mechanic. It is important to translate MOS/15T to Blackhawk mechanic or even helicopter mechanic or aviation specialist. Titles and offices laden with acronyms also need to be translated, for example: ODCSPER, should be spelled out: Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel.

Rank: Captain in the Army is a junior officer and captain in the Navy is a senior officer – it is important to translate the scope of leadership. An Army captain may be responsible for a couple hundred personnel, and a Navy captain my have oversight leadership responsibility for thousands of personnel engaged in global operations working at the strategic level. Army captain can be translated to supervisor or program manager and Navy captain can be translated to CEO or executive vice president.


Tip 3: Keep and build a list of accomplishments.

Maintain and update a list of accomplishments that can be incorporated into the military transition resumes and also to develop stories for the interview process. Use your performance evaluations, training and award justifications, and letters of recommendation to identify accomplishments. Your DD-214 will contain a list of awards and military training. This is an opportunity to brag: List accomplishments, special projects, and awards. Include results using quantifiable and qualify-able metrics, whenever possible.


Tip 4: Identify transferable skill sets.

If your military occupational specialty was 13B (cannon crewmember) with responsibility for "supervising, handling, transporting, accounting for, and distributing ammunition; as well as laying weapon for direction, conducting bore sighting and basic periodic tests; and supervising the operation, loading, and maintenance of the field artillery ammunition support vehicle" – you may need to identify additional transferable skill sets.

Use the O*net Military Crosswalk tool to help gather job description information. Then make a list of all of your duties – you may find that in the course of your duties you were responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of inventory including ammunition, scores of line items, a budget, and the training and performance of dozens of personnel.

All of these additional skill sets, if a regular part of your job, just may be transferable into a position in logistics or inventory management.


Tip 5: Leverage your veteran's preference when seeking federal employment.

The federal government allows veterans to apply veteran preference points to their federal application packages. Veterans can receive five or 10 points based on service time (during campaigns), disabilities, and other factors. If you are not sure of your preference points, take the test to determine your veteran preference at http://www.dol.gov/elaws/vets/vetpref/mservice.htm.


Tip 6: Create multiple resumes.

To apply for a job in 2011, you may need several types of resumes: a hard copy / presentation / formatted resume (about two pages) for use as a hard copy and as an upload attachment as a Word or PDF document; a text file resume with no enhancements (bold, underline, etc.) for use in online resume builders (either as a copy and paste into various menu-driven resume sections, or for copy and paste of the entire resume); a federally formatted resume for use with usajobs.opm.gov.

In addition, resumes will need to be modified for most job announcements -- ensuring that the resume focus is specific to the job posting.


Tip 7: Write collateral job search documents.

To accompany the resume you may need to also write various covering letters, each specific to the jobs you are applying to. It is important to write specific content within the covering letters that addresses the requirements of the jobs you are seeking.

You may also need a reference list, salary history page, development of a Linkedin.com profile for networking, and a portfolio. If you are applying for federal jobs, you may also need to write Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities essays – that may be used when you apply for the jobs, or required at a different stage in the application or interviewing process.


Tip 8: Practice for the interview.

As a service member, you may have never experienced an interview before. Planning and practice will help make the process more productive.

Begin by developing scripts for the standard and tough interview questions including your TMAY ("Tell me about yourself") response, and the "Why should I hire you?" response. Keep the responses professional, as opposed to personal, translate military speak to corporate speak, and identify what makes you unique to your competition.

Then, ask a friend or colleague to help you interview by conducting a mock interview. Make a list of potential interview questions based on your functional areas of expertise and have your mock interview helper ask you questions from the list.

Interviewing is a mix of knowledge and personality – so remember to be prepared, study the company and its culture, mission, and goals from the company's website and in the media; and smile.

You also need to be prepared for telephone screening interviews, in-person interviews with multiple interviewers, one-on-one interviews, and interviews during meals.


Tip 9: Dress for success.

First impressions are lasting impressions. Before you leave military service and begin the interview process, you need to acquire interview attire, which includes a dark blue or charcoal gray suit for men and dark blue, brown, or black skirt or pantsuit for women. Do not wear any military attire including shoes or ribbons during an interview within corporate America. At this point, you are "shedding" your military culture to some degree and making the transition from military. You are letting the new employer know that you will offer them value through your expertise and you respect them, by dressing the part.


Tip 10: Enjoy your new job and plan for succession.

Once on the new job, continue to learn about the company's culture. Change your language daily by adopting the language of the new company. Ask for a mentor or ask for regular feedback from you new boss. Continue to keep a list of accomplishments to add to your performance ratings and also to keep your resume updated.

Make decisions for your second retirement – Will you remain where you are for 20 years? Will you retire at that location – or will you need to move to be near family or for other reasons? When can you comfortable retire financially?

Making the transition from military to corporate or federal can be easy and less intimidating with advanced planning, strong networking, and early preparation of resumes and for interviewing. As you move from job to job in the military, do not forget to keep a list of references – ask for their professional and personal e-mails, in case you lose contact. These people will become your networking core and serve as references during your job search – you do not want to lose contact.

Overall, be prepared, understand the process of making the transition to corporate/private sector employment, ask questions, and enjoy your new job, as you step into your "encore career."

Next: Military Families Week


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