How to turn your military experience into a fulfilling civilian career
Will my military skills translate to civilian life?
Yes, very much so. Veterans have been trained to be both excellent team players and strong leaders. Many vets leave the military with strong technical skills useful in the civilian life, plus an unmatched ability to work under pressure. Think of your military skills as civilian skills, with the added bonus of being able to work under tight time constraints in rapidly changing situations. “I was in charge of 25 to 50 personnel, and we provided internet for the Army,” Marquel Walker, now a civilian IT manager, told the career site TheMuse.com. “We would go to a base or any kind of new infrastructure—say, in the middle of the woods—and I would come up with planning and procedures.” Managers say the “soft skills” that veterans also bring, such as integrity and attention to detail, are just as important as technical abilities, and many managers say these skills are especially difficult to find among their applicants.
How do I explain what I did in the military?
First, familiarize yourself with corporate terminology. HR professionals, many of whom are unfamiliar with the military, often struggle to understand the roles and responsibilities service members hold during their careers. And even if HR reps think they know something about being, say, a first sergeant, they still may not be able to identify a parallel position in their own workplace. To help yourself get ahead, learn to “civilianize” your language so that you can clearly explain your role in terms that people looking to hire you can easily understand. That includes writing your résumé in a way that’s consistent with what companies are used to seeing. Refer to your “platoon” as your “team.” If you’re a medic, consider “healthcare specialist.” For help matching your military expertise to civilian jobs, check out Military.com’s useful Military Skills Translator.
What kinds of companies tend to hire vets?
Veterans are in demand across a range of industries—information technology, health care and pharmaceuticals, financial services, engineering, and manufacturing. Within those industries some companies have especially well-developed pipelines for transition into civilian life. Some have recruiters who are veterans themselves; in one survey, 64 percent of vets said that meeting a recruiter who was also a veteran was a key consideration in choosing an employer. Major companies such as Southwest Airlines, consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, Walgreens, Boeing, and The Home Depot now have specific policies and initiatives in place for hiring veterans, and onboarding programs to help them navigate corporate life. Many of these companies place a premium on the worldview the military helps nurture and have a workplace culture that, as one major company’s military recruiter puts it, “aligns with the military’s core values.”
Are there high-level opportunities?
For sure, though it may take going back to school for, say, a graduate degree such as an MBA or further training in a field like user experience. Veterans in “high demand” are 72 percent more likely to have completed an MBA. For those with the right background, there are significant career opportunities in IT. Corporate chief information officer, with a median salary of $167,200, is a particularly veteran-heavy position, according to CNN.com. “There is a reason why people use the expression ‘military-grade technology,’” military recruiter Nick Swaggert told CNN. Managers who advise sales teams on government contracts are also in high demand, especially if they have 20 years of military contacts. Top-ranking service members are also finding success on corporate boards, thanks to the National Association of Corporate Directors’ Battlefield to Boardroom program. To date, the association has helped more than 200 retired admirals and generals attain board positions in private and public companies across the United States.
What about starting my own company?
There’s a long tradition of military veterans building powerful civilian technology companies; Hewlett Packard founder Bill Hewlett worked in electronics as an Army officer. In recent years, a number of organizations have sprung up to help veterans create startups. Bunker Labs is an incubator that offers new veteran-owned businesses a free accelerator program, co-working space, mentorships, and pitch events. Headquartered in Chicago, with 27 chapters around the country, it’s helped more than 370 startups, such as Philly Esports, a creator of video-gaming tournaments. Often Bunker Labs turns for help to other veterans; “It’s the most powerful alumni group in the country,” Bunker Labs CEO Todd Connor told Fast Company.
How do I begin the transition?
The Defense Department’s mandatory Transition Assistance Program will help you get started, but you’ll need to do a fair amount of legwork on your own. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce runs a program called Hiring Our Heroes that’s definitely worth using. It offers a 12-week corporate fellowship program that provides service members professional training and on-the-job experience with veteran-friendly companies. Start networking—reach out to people in your desired career and ask if they’d be willing to meet for an informational interview. Even if their company doesn’t have a job available, they can provide important information and possibly further connections. If you are considering a federal job, the Feds Hire Vets site is a good place to turn to for resources to start your search.