What Service Members Should Know About EmploymentUpdated: December 23, 2022
Some 200,000 men and women transition from the military to civilian careers each year. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is on the record saying that for the first time in almost half a century, there are just as many veterans under retirement age as there are veteran retirees.
Wilkie also mentions, “…Of 20 million Veterans, 10% are women and the number of Women Veterans receiving care has tripled. The new generation is computer savvy and demands 21st-century service efficiently delivered and available when needed.”
One of those needs? The ability to enter a new workforce after spending years in the military. Whether those are the years of an initial enlistment or the last hitch for a 20-year veteran does not matter–spend that much time outside the stateside workforce and you will have some catching up to do in the resume department.
What do you need to know as a service member when getting ready to transition out of your military career and into a new set of employment opportunities? There are some important resources you should know, and some good advice you should take.
The first bit of that advice? If you are leaving military service, it is never too early to start looking. In fact, some say you should begin planning a year in advance or more for budgeting and saving purposes.
Career Path Options
The biggest choice some face in getting a job outside the military is whether to continue in the career that was built during military duty, or to start looking for a new line of work.
Not all military experience directly translates into the civilian job market. Those with experience with airframe weapons systems, combat communications, or artillery know they face unique challenges in the job market.
That said, you don’t have to try to take those highly specialized skills and literally translate them into non-military uses. You can take the skills you learned in these unique jobs–leadership, attention to detail, the ability to learn how to master new software or hardware, etc.–and sell your abilities based on them.
It is often better to do that rather than hoping that the work you did on the flightline, dining facility, or base disaster recovery team will have a direct equivalent on the outside. And that is especially true if you want to change careers.
This point of view does not mean some jobs in the military are not worth the time it takes to learn them, but rather encourages those about to retire or separate to think about the skills they have learned on duty in a broader sense.
How do you choose the right career path for you? Much depends on whether you want to diversify your skills in an existing area or if you want to start from scratch with a new type of work.
If you plan to use your GI Bill benefits and have enough of them remaining to complete a graduate or undergraduate degree, starting a brand new career path may be simpler than you think (in terms of taking advantage of your military education benefits to fully learn a new trade).
One very important job resource when planning your post-military career options is the Department of Veterans Affairs Careers And Employment assistance official page. You should get fully acquainted with the education and counseling resources offered there while you are in the planning stages of your career change.
Military Career Path Options You Should Know
When you retire or separate from the military, you have the following options open to you, including but not limited to:
- Retire or separate from the military and go back to school right away to begin studying for a new career using your military education benefits for a state-supported college, a private university, trade school or technical school, boot camps, etc.
- Leave military life and apply for Civil Service jobs, federal employment as a contractor, state, local, or municipal government jobs, or openings in the private sector.
- Enter federal, state, or local political races with your military experience as a selling point. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D) did just that starting in 2006. In 2011 she launched a bid to be elected as a Representative in Illinois’ 8th congressional district and later ran and won to become an Illinois state Senator in 2017.
- Become a civilian and apply for jobs that bring you back into the military ecosystem such as with a Veteran Service Organization like the USO, Red Cross, etc.
- Become a civilian and apply for jobs at military bases that hire non-appropriated fund employees.
- Become a consultant based on your prior military experience and career field.
- Return to life in uniform as a member of the Reserve or National Guard.
- Get certified to teach the skills you used in your military career, especially if you were involved in law enforcement, public affairs, computer security, network operations, and many other career fields.
Military Experience Translation
There are many challenges when it is time to sit down and translate your military experiences into something that a civilian hiring manager (or even a college admissions advisor) can fully understand.
Many articles have been written offering advice on how to do this. Instead of recapping all of that here (we will add some tips for doing it yourself at the end of this section) it may be best to get the help of an experienced resume writer.
There are many veteran service organizations that offer transition assistance to service members including help crafting resumes that include military experience but optimized for civilian hiring processes.
You can contact many resources including the Red Cross, USO, Veterans Of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, state veteran agencies, and the Department of Veterans Affairs itself to learn what help there is in your area for translating your military experience.
There is also help before you even leave the military. You can find transition assistance offices or seminars at your base depending on the time of year, demand, and other variables. Ask your unit orderly room or personnel flight where such transition assistance programs are held.
The VA provides many resources to help people move into their civilian lives, and most of these resources include some form of career help that may involve writing a civilian resume. The VA resources you should know about in this area include Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Chapter 31) programs and Educational and Career Counseling (Chapter 36).
These programs include resume assistance. The VA also has its own version of Transition Assistance, designed to help newly discharged veterans navigate all their benefits including resume assistance opportunities.
Tips For Writing Your Resume Yourself
There are many, many blogs and articles offering resume advice. The most important thing we can add to all of that information?
In the 21st century, some job seekers don’t fully appreciate the fact that automated hiring processes are more common than ever and many resumes and job applications are screened by an automated process before getting to a human being to review.
These screenings are keyword-based, which means the job description will have certain buzzwords that the automated review process is programmed to screen for.
If your resume isn’t tailored to match the keywords found in the job ad, your chances of getting an interview aren’t as good. You will likely have to submit a revised resume for every job you apply for to keep up with these screening tools. Don’t expect to fire-and-forget one generic resume, this is a losing strategy in the modern job market.
Here are some tips for writing a resume without the help of another person:
- Look at the most current resumes for people in your field who are working the kinds of jobs you want. Study these resumes and copy their approach.
- Do some homework on the most current hiring practices and resume screening procedures.
- Look up your old colleagues and see who has transitioned into a civilian career. What do their resumes say? What do your contacts say about how to get hired on the outside?
- Pare down your resume to the most relevant work experience related to the job you want. Don’t bother listing the fast food jobs, the non-technical jobs (when applying for tech jobs), or other unrelated work experience unless it is somehow directly relevant. For example, if you worked in management in an unrelated field, that management experience is important to show.
- Create a professional e-mail address to use in your job search.
- When translating military experience to civilian job markets, put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and ask yourself how you can describe your skills in a way that people with absolutely zero military experience can understand.
- Remember that all your leadership training, on-the-job training, management training, and field training are all valuable professional education and that education should be reflected on your resume where your management skills and training are showcased.
Employment And Social Media
Military members are used to having good discipline with the use of social media, but it may be tempting to become less so once you transition out of a life in uniform.
But don’t give in to the temptation to be too casual with your social media use. Many employers will look at your profiles and if you are interested in working in a sector that requires a security clearance, it’s best to assume that your military social media discipline should never be given a rest.
But social media isn’t just a liability in your job hunt – it can also become PART of your job hunt thanks to regionalized social media pages on Facebook and elsewhere.
Facebook job posts may appear in forums relevant to the careers you seek. Some are specifically dedicated to posting jobs, others may be networking sites that include job posts as a benefit of participation.
In any case, don’t underestimate the power of social media to help–or hurt–a job hunt. The ever-shifting landscape of online platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook mean what was useful (or useless) yesterday may be quite different tomorrow. Use social media at your own risk, but definitely use it to get an advantage on your job search.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News