Veterans: Turn Your Military Service Experience Into a Civilian Job

Soldier saluting
By Brett Harris

A veteran typically brings a wealth of skills to the table that a civilian job applicant can't. Military service teaches leadership, teamwork, decision-making and even engineering and technology. And yet, CNN reports that veteran unemployment rates are almost always 2 percent higher than the national average, and 34 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed for more than a year after returning home.

It's not that employers aren't interested in military veterans. They just often misunderstand what a veteran applicant is capable of, because the applicant either downplays their military experience or doesn't know how to explain it. In order to enter the job market successfully, you must represent yourself well on paper and in person.

1. Set clear career goals
For both veterans and civilians, one of the biggest challenges in writing a résumé is making it specific to the industry you want to pursue. Veterans can have even more trouble with this because they come from such a wide variety of backgrounds and have a wide variety of specialties. Veteran career resources such as counselors and coaches can help you figure out exactly what kind of work you want to do and what you're most qualified for. They can also help you figure out if you need further education or training to get the job you want.

2. Make a résumé that speaks to employers' needs
The secret reality of job hunting is that most people don't have one résumé. They have several variations of their résumé that are tailored to the different positions and employers they apply for. When you're interested in applying to a company, research everything you can. Find out what skills they're looking for and what skills are needed for the position in question and then tailor your résumé to highlight your qualifications. Applying to work in marketing is much different than applying to work in accounting, and applying to work at a large corporation is different from applying to work for a small and growing business.

3. Show your personality
Employers have the same support and admiration for the military as most civilians, but the unfortunate truth is sometimes veterans can be a little intimidating. In job interviews, make sure you speak about your military career as only one aspect of your life and experiences. A face-to-face interview gives you the opportunity to show that military officers are people just like everyone else -- they just usually have more life experience, discipline and skills than the average applicant. Be proud of your veteran status and flaunt your abilities. Don't go into too many confusing details or discuss some of the more harrowing things you might have seen, but do make sure you're highlighting the positive aspects of your service.

4. Be willing to learn
Preparing for a job interview usually involves rehearsing your answers to the most common questions. You should know how to break your skills down to the most basic description and give examples of when you used them effectively. But you should also prepare plenty of questions to ask the interviewer. Show her how well you've researched the company and how enthusiastic you are about the prospect of working there. Serving in the military is a great way to show you're a team player, so your questions and answers should revolve around what you can bring to the business as a whole. No matter what your skills are, you can always improve and expand on them in the workplace.

Finding a job after you come home can be nerve-wracking. Luckily, there are plenty of VA services that can help you with your questions and start you on the path to finding the civilian life you always wanted. After serving your country, you deserve to find success.

Brett Harris is a military veteran who attended college after serving. He recommends that military graduate students consider attending military-friendly colleges.

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