I’m writing this blog because only a few months ago I was the one transitioning from a 10-year Army career into civilian life. Before, I was a veteran of military service, not recruiting. But over the last 6-12 months, I’ve learned so much about making the transition into civilian employment that I want to share my experience with all of you who are beginning to plan your own transition.
I’m fortunate to be doing what I want to do. I’m a recruiter for Lucas Group, a company purposefully founded almost 50 years ago to help veterans transition into civilian careers. I’d like to say that my transition was the result of meticulous planning and preparation. It wasn’t. But my experiences, combined with mentoring from my colleagues in Lucas Group’s Military Division, give me solid insight into helping those who are planning their own transitions.
What follows are five tips that I know will help you in your transition.
Tip #1: Maximize Your Training
Like me, not everyone (especially E5s and below) leaves the military with a college degree. If you don’t have a degree but are close to obtaining it, I encourage you to take the final steps to obtain that diploma. It’s no secret that doing so will help you in the short term with your job search and in the long term with your career advancement.
But not having one isn’t an insurmountable barrier to finding a great career. Military benefits, unavailable to many of your civilian competitors, are a great place to start down that path to success. The military offers financial assistance to anyone seeking certification(s) in their areas of interest. Draw upon those resources because professional certifications can help you distinguish yourself on paper and in job interviews. According to Global Knowledge, a learning services and professional development solutions provider, the five top-paying certifications for IT-related professionals are:
1. Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
2. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
3. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
5. Project Management Professional (PMP®)
There are hundreds of certifications beyond IT, including Six Sigma, environmental safety, avionics technicians, real estate appraisal and assessment, and geotechnical engineering technology. The possibilities are limitless and the benefits are generous. Take advantage of them.
Tip #2: Don’t Get Lost in Translation
Using military jargon to describe your professional experience is a big mistake. Your accomplishments become the equivalent of listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah wah wah wah wah.” Speak to your audience in language they understand. “Gun bunny”, “air bear”, “pop tart”, and “rhino” mean very different things in the world you’re leaving. Translate your service experience into business experience, providing your civilian audience with civilian narrative. Leadership, managerial excellence, technical accomplishments, and instruction and teaching are important traits to highlight in language they can understand.
Tip #3: Details Matter
We’re all proud of our work and our service to our country; the friendships we forged and the accomplishments we achieved. But many vets are reluctant to tout their own accomplishments. Don’t let your insecurity hamstring you in the competition for a great job. Drill down deeply into your work. Discuss budgets, cost savings, logistical efficiencies, soldiers trained, lives saved, and your achievement of strategic objectives. Don’t be shy about telling employers what you did and how well you did it. If you don’t, no one else will. Give employers a reason to want to hear more from you in an interview.
Tip #4: Build & Burnish Your Network
Harvard, Princeton, and Yale make no secret of the power of their alumni networks. But service men and women belong to a highly respected network as well. Do everything possible to expand your professional network and utilize it throughout your transition. As a recruiter, LinkedIn is at the top of my networking list. It has volume, quality, and a business focus. But I’ve also placed a surprising number of people from Facebook, targeting veteran’s groups there in my search for top talent. Like everything else you’ve achieved thus far in your life, social media requires diligence. Log in. Create content. Reach out to fellow veterans and potential employers. Post your information and keep the information you post up to date! Old news translates into “out of touch”. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to cross you off their interview list because you forgot to keep your content current.
Tip #5: Give Yourself Room to Grow
I talk to employers every day and can assure you that candidates who are flexible about where they’ll work are exponentially more attractive than those tied to a specific city or region. Most of the vets I work with are still early in their careers. Some are married; some are not. Many are ready to move home after (often) traveling extensively in the military. I get it. It’s nice to return home. But try and keep your options open. Home will always be there but career opportunities may not.
Not only does that flexibility make you a stronger candidate, it also helps in salary negotiation. Geographic mobility expands your opportunities and may allow you to leverage multiple job offers. Limiting your mobility while insisting on making the same—or better—money than you made in the military, is a tall order. Keep your options open and maximize your career opportunities.
Transitioning out of the military to civilian life is an anxious and exciting time. I know. I’ve just walked in your shoes and couldn’t be happier with the result. Follow these tips. They’ll provide you with a solid foundation and position you in the strongest position possible for the next step in your new career.
If you have an experience you’d like to share about your transition or are interested in working with a recruiting professional, feel free to send me a note at TKemp@LucasGroup.com. I’d love to hear about your experiences.