Transitioning Military & Veterans: Winning the Battle For a Job

veteran holding newspaper with...

If you are a veteran or transitioning out of the military, understand that you are facing a new--but very different--battle than you have faced before. Even if you've succeeded in a civilian job search in the past, this job market is very different.

Today's job seeker faces many more competitors than in the past, plus new obstacles to winning this battle. Fortunately, no real "enemy" is trying to kill you. But you do face many competitors and other issues that make achieving your objective more challenging.

Demonstrate your skills and experience in gathering intelligence, in planning and targeting, and in executing plans to accomplish your new "mission." View your job search as a series of planned actions focused on a well-defined objective, just as you have in your military career.

The Current Job Market "SitRep"

The situation in the job market is complicated and continually evolving. The constant changes are driven by a combination of the improving economy, the high volume of job seekers, and the increasing use of technology for recruiting.

In addition, this civilian job market contains many fewer veterans to welcome you than in the past. When we transitioned after Vietnam and earlier wars, the civilian world was filled with other veterans (often former draftees) who spoke our language and understood our value to civilian employers. Now, not so much...

Complicating this situation for everyone is the fact that the traditional job search process has been turned on its head. First, the high level of unemployment has created a tsunami of job seekers that has overwhelmed many employers. Secondly, recruiters are typically measured (and rewarded) based on their time-to-hire metrics--in other words, how quickly they fill jobs. The faster, the better.

As a result, most employers now use technology to screen that volume of applicants as quickly as possible in two relatively new ways:

1. Most large employers use automated applicant tracking systems to manage resumes and applications.

2. To speed the screening process, most employers, regardless of size, use search engines to gather information about applicants.

The emphasis on speed and these new uses of technology have created new barriers for job seekers. The process eliminates anyone who has any issues, who may take a few extra minutes to vet, or who isn't obviously a good fit for the job. There are plenty of other applicants waiting.

Leverage Your Existing Assets

The good news for military members transitioning to the civilian work force in 2015 is that much support is available for you. The Dept. of Labor provides the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to give you a basic understanding of the job search process, and every state has multiple CareerOneStop centers where free counseling is available.

In addition, if you have served on active duty for 90 days or more since 9/11, check out the educational benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Regardless of when you served, visit to see their list of military-friendly employers and schools. Understand that even military-friendly employers have standard hiring procedures that must be followed. You receive preference, but not a free ticket to bypass the standard process.

Speak Civilian

While the welcome you receive now is very sincere and widespread, those people expressing their gratitude are also less informed about what you know and what you can do than in previous times.

For example, few civilians understand common military terms and rank structure, like these:
  • Who seems more important--the major general or the lieutenant general?
  • Which seems bigger--the company or the division?
  • Which ranks more highly--gold bars or silver ones?
  • Which seems the higher rank--an officer or a chief petty officer?
If you didn't know better, you would assume that a major general is more important than a lieutenant general. In the civilian world, companies are comprised of divisions, not the other way around, so a company would be assumed to be bigger. Since gold is more valuable than silver, you would probably also assume that gold bars out-ranked silver ones, and since both are officers, the "chief" would probably out rank the non-chief, even if the rank is also "petty."

Quantify accomplishments, written in civilian terms (use a dictionary to be sure), to clearly articulate and demonstrate your value -- the number of people managed or supervised, the number of pieces of equipment maintained or managed (with the dollar value), the number of hours flown, etc. You held more responsibility at a younger age than anyone in the civilian world, and quantifying that experience and your accomplishments will be very impressive.
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