As the United States continues to draw down forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and with the Pentagon under pressure to cut spending, involuntary separations for members of the military are being utilized for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The transition from the military back into the civilian workforce presents a host of challenges for the former soldiers, sailors, Marines and other personnel affected by the cutbacks.
The biggest challenge is that many people separating from the military, either voluntarily or involuntarily, lack an understanding of how to translate their military experience into terms readily understood by employers in the private sector. As a result, many struggle to even figure out where to begin their job search.
There are three major problem areas that need to be addressed:
- The lack of knowledge by the military on how to job search in the civilian job market.
- The self-effacing tendency of the military not to take credit for jobs they did well even when credit is due. Self-effacement is part of the military culture but it is the exact opposite of what is required to get a job in the civilian job market.
- Civilian employers that do not understand military accomplishments.
Those who performed well in the military undoubtedly learned self-discipline, developed a well-earned sense of self-worth and understand fully the value of a team approach to solving problems. All of these attributes are the very ones employers look for in their own workforces. They make a potent combination when joined with the technical skills members of the military are likely to have learned during their service.
Like their civilian contemporaries, former soldiers, sailors and other military veterans need to assess the job market, target appropriate industries and companies within those industries, keep an open mind and be aggressive in the job search.
Those who are able to express himself or herself in terms that are understandable to prospective employers will likely discover that any extraordinary steps in searching for a job are unnecessary. Most former military will be as competitive as non-military counterparts. Those with particularly unique or specialized skills may be even more competitive.
The trick is to be sure that prospective employers really understand what you bring to the table, in terms of both technical skills, as well as the intangible yet highly sought-after attributes that come with military experience: discipline, loyalty, leadership, etc.
Ensuring that prospective employers understand your skills and experience means abandoning the unique language and jargon that is common within military circles. When describing former duties, it is important to keep it simple and be succinct. Highlight any specific achievements, special recognition you received and be able to describe special challenges you faced and what you learned. Try to break down your responsibilities to the fundamental skills it took to accomplish them, i.e., strong communication skills, organizational skills, adaptability, the ability to process a lot of information and quickly act on that information.
Lastly, it is important to remain positive and confident about your abilities throughout the process. The job search is a frustrating endeavor that is filled with rejection. It is only natural to feel beat down at times. But you have to overcome those feelings and go into each new opportunity with a fresh outlook and positive attitude. Candidates who walk into an interview with an overt positive and confident attitude are more desirable in the eyes of the employer.