What Should I Do After Exiting The Military?

I’ve always had as clients military personnel transitioning into the private sector, NGOs or into government, but in the last month I’ve worked with three ranging in rank from 1st lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. None of the three really knew exactly what they wanted to do when they left the armed services, and all were quite anxious about how to do it and the many steps they felt were necessary in order to successfully transition. Partly for this reason, all three were considering going back to school for an advanced degree rather than beginning a career examination and job search involving skills that they simply didn’t have.

Going back to school (or, involving a smaller investment, obtaining certain certifications) may be a very good option, particularly if there’s an opportunity to develop or strengthen skills in a career path of interest, but if a primary reason is that it’s a less daunting path forward, and it’s simply easier to fill out an application and perhaps take the GRE, GMAT, or LSAT, the reasoning isn’t sound at all.

People exiting the military have a number of very strong factors working in their favor as they enter the job market. For those seeking government jobs, there is the veteran’s preference that insures that former members of the military have preference over non-veterans. But I also know that many employers have a positive view of the military as an excellent training ground for leaders, and a ;positive overall view of veterans for their generally attributed qualities of discipline, stick-to-it-iveness, and their ability to work well in teams, not to mention the value that many veterans have learned to place on efficient operations.

If you’re someone who has these qualities, and citable results that can be used to demonstrate them, you need to investigate fields that prize such qualities. Project management comes immediately to mind. Consulting (particularly consulting to the defense industry or DOD) is also a field that many veterans enter, utilizing skills attained during their service.

The flip side of the coin is that certain employers harbor negative attitudes towards veterans. Perhaps they’ve had unpleasant experiences with vets in the past (obviously there’s not much that can be done to correct that situation). They may feel that people who’ve spent years in the military are too rigid, too formal, and perhaps lack creativity.

Don’t be daunted by the unfamiliar steps necessary to effectively present yourself to employers. Networking is going to be a key component of the transition, so be sure to create a LinkedIn account (see my LinkedIn Primer post for a concise summary of how effective a networking tool LinkedIn can be).

Train yourself to avoid military jargon, and be sure you can crisply articulate the value you can bring to a job.

As for the important task of creating a resume, a military resume is vastly different than a civilian one: it tends to be loaded with acronyms, and is far more detailed than is required in the private sector. Also, military resume generally don’t contain a narrative that ties various positions and responsibilities together. Of course, many civilian resumes don’t either, but, civilian or military, giving a potential employer an overview of what you will help the employer achieve is paramount.