As more service men and women return from active duty, a problem surfaces: How do I leverage my military experience for civilian careers? At this point it becomes critical to develop a personal brand and become knowledgeable of your skills and growth areas, as well as what strengths you can use to differentiate yourself from others applying for the same positions.
Andy Frame, 35, was an Army Infantryman (MOS 11B) for over 5 years and completed two tours in Iraq. Since his discharge as a Sergeant in 2011 he has transitioned to the Army Reserves, changing his military occupation to All Source Intelligence Analyst. Now, in his final semester of graduate school, the husband and father of three is realizing that it is difficult to translate Army experience into the corporate world.
“The primary difficulty I've had leaving the military is that my particular training/experience has no direct application in the civilian world. What I had always been told was the military culture goes a long [way] with employers, but with the increasing specialization and technical requirements, the cache of military service has largely disappeared. Attaching a DD214 to an otherwise unqualified resume will not get anyone a job.”
1. The first step to branding yourself for the market is writing a resume that speaks to the recruiter reading it. As Andy mentions, “The largest problem I've had is attempting to describe my experience for prospective employers.” It can be difficult to find a direct application for combat experience in the corporate setting but it is important to remember there is other knowledge, skills and abilities that have been taught and learned during a military career. As such, it is critical to position yourself, and your resume, in a way that highlights the important leadership, training, and communication skills you learned during your service. You will want to very clearly outline each of these points, and develop each KSA with as much detail as is appropriate. For instance, if you were responsible for training soldiers, how many did you train? If you were in a seniority position, how many people were you responsible for? In this way, you can showcase the important skills you have learned that are very relevant, and translate easily to recruiters.
2. Next, create a personal branding plan that differentiates you from your peers. This will be the foundation of your job search, guide responses during interviews, and the framework your personal mission statement is created from. Andy decided his personal focus is a quality educational foundation. “I knew prior to my leaving the military that a college education was paramount. My personal marketing plan focuses on that education, but addresses my time in the military as a value added. In this way I believe I can successfully separate myself from my peers and make a compelling case for HR to bring me in for an interview.” Don’t forget that your military experience makes you unique in the workforce and sets you apart from thousands of other applicants. Your varied experience only adds value to the workplace, as long as you leverage this knowledge, and show how your passion and ability will positively impact your new position.
3. It can also be extremely helpful to manage your own expectations of where you see yourself entering the workforce. As Andy describes, “…Vets [need] to recognize that they are starting over. It isn't a sign of disrespect that a civilian employer would ask any of us to take a position with generally lower levels of responsibility than we're used to, or lower levels of pay than we expect. In exiting the military only one thing is certain, we must take the necessary steps [to] adjust to the needs of the market.” Don’t discount positions that may not match the high-ranking military position you held, but instead focus your search on positions that utilize and value the skills you have acquired.
4. As always, networking is critical during a job search. Networking within the military may not be as necessary, as placements are generally made based on where the current need is. Outside the services, branding yourself properly, and sharing your brand with as many people as you can, is the ticket to finding a job. Reach out to your friends, family, social networks (a good place to start would be LinkedIn and Twitter), and see who you know in the companies you want to target by a few degrees of separation. Once you have made those associations, reach out to your contacts and make your introductions. It is well known that referrals are offered positions at significantly higher rates than similar applicants applying without a referral.
5. And lastly, don’t give up! Your military experience makes you distinctive in the workforce, and we appreciate your service. It may take a little extra time to focus your skill set and translate it to corporate America, but once you solidify your brand, you’re ready to interview.