Second Career for Military Personnel

militaryJay Drake spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy. When he retired, he found it difficult to make the transition to the civilian work world.

Drake was hardly noticed as a job candidate by hiring managers, landing only two phone screens and no-face-to face-interviews. "This was surprising to me considering I was bringing more than 17 years of experience in human resources, business management, and financial administration from the military, which I was sure would translate well in the private sector," Drake says.

So, he enlisted the help of a professional to find an encore career.

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Drake hired John M. O'Connor, President of CareerPro Inc., to help him with his job search. O'Connor counseled Drake to utilize the power of his network -- and less than five months later, Drake was hired as administrative officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Plant Health Science and Technology in Raleigh, N.C.

"My network was invaluable," Drake says. "You can search the job boards all day, but a 30-minute conversation with a contact over coffee will give you more leads, new ideas, and motivation to keep going. I attended a regularly scheduled meeting of transitioning professionals, which made me stay sharp each week. My network also provided moral support. When you had a rough day, there was always someone who could pick you up and help you refocus. The best feeling is when you can provide that to someone else."

Drake's takeaway from the experience and advice to others is to build your network early; don't be afraid to use a career counselor; be helpful and positive, even when things are tough; use a local address on your résumé if you are relocating from your last duty station; and volunteer in your free time.

According to career coach O'Connor, people like Drake are a great catch for employers in both the private and federal sectors, because military personnel excel at many important skills -- including the ability to adapt to change quickly and the ability to work well under pressure.

Yet, like Drake, few are adequately prepared for the transition from a military career to a civilian one. Here are O'Connor 's suggestions for ensuring a smoother transition:

1. Use your resume as a marketing tool.

O'Connor reveals that "the military person in transition has not reinvented their resume and related it directly to the core requirements of the job they are applying for. They often remove or replace too much of their relevant military duties and do not emphasize their achievements properly. I have counseled many military people who remain too modest and too humble." (Get FREE résumé help.)

2. Relax.

At times, O'Connor says, "The interview style of an ex-military job seeker may appear rigid to a private-sector recruiter or hiring manager. This disconnect can sometimes hinder the ability to build rapport with the hiring authority during the interview." (See What Your Body Language Says About You.)

3. Stop the electronic warfare.

There is a perception that most searches must be done via email; thus, many military personnel do not proactively network. O'Connor feels strongly that "most military people have literally thousands of people that they could tap to help them engage in networking with recruiters, hiring managers, and other decision-makers."

4. Be proactive.

O'Connor advises that "military personnel should begin a disciplined job-search campaign long before they go into the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)."

5. Leverage the power of your military network.

There are dozens of online and offline networking venues for transitioning military personnel. O'Connor recommends reviewing the resources below to find associations and networking opportunities that are appropriate.

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