Transition Tips


Going through transition myself as well as working with other transitioning service members I have had an opportunity to see what works and doesn’t work and heard and experienced the frustration associated with leaving the military and finding civilian employment. The following are a list of tips I have developed over the years and will continue to refine as I learn more. They are in no particular order. The tips with an * next to them have been provided by others.

  1. Plan Early, Plan Often. Everyone leaves service someday; the sooner you prepare for the transition the better off you will be. Take advantage of education benefits, build a network, and reach out to a company where you may want to work and ask them for the experience they recommend you have before you join them.
  2. Get resume and interviewing help. There are several non-profit organizations that can help with these. Your resume needs to help you stand out and highlight why a company should hire you. Your interview is an opportunity to sell yourself, something most of us are not good at and makes us uncomfortable.
  3. Network, Network, Network. People (veterans and non-veterans) who are referred to a company have a 20% chance of being hired. Applying to a job without a referral and your odds drop to 1.2%.
  4. Corporate Recruiters are not Career Counselors. Don’t expect a corporate recruiter to find a job for you. Do your own research and ask intelligent questions of a recruiter that helps you understand how your experience can best be used by a company.
  5. Find a Buddy. The transition process is frustrating and you need a buddy to help you stay positive. A negative attitude will come across in an interview and cost you a job. Your buddy can help you focus on the things that you can control.
  6. Identify References.* At some point you will need to submit a list of references, usually three. Meet with them early to explain your goals and when you need to use them provide them a copy of the job description and your resume along with bullets of what you think would be most important for them to address if contacted. (Thanks to Chris Hughes)
  7. Develop an Elevator Pitch. You never know when and where you will encounter someone who can help you find a job. You need to be able to quickly communicate this to anyone, anywhere in a way that makes you standout from other candidates.
  8. Have Realistic Expectations. Just because you lead 100 people in the military does not mean that you will get a job leading 100 people in corporate America. Unless you have skills (beyond leadership) that are directly transferable to a company, then you should expect to take a step back to gain experience that they require.
  9. Keep a Journal.* Document your application submission so you can quickly access if contacted by a recruiter. One possible tool is the Rake iPhone/Chrome App. (Thanks to Gary Steensgard)
  10. Get Business Cards. Part of your elevator pitch needs to include handing someone your business card. Keep it professional but make it easy for them to remember you later.
  11. Gather Intel. Do your research on companies where you may want to work. You need this information to decide if you want to work there and then to help get the job. Asking questions during an interview is important and you need this research to ask the right questions.
  12. Add to you Toolkit. There are programs that can help you get certified as a program manager, provide you certifications companies seek and fellowship opportunities. Get as many of these as you can so you stand out among other candidates for a job.
  13. Continue to Professionally Develop Yourself. Set aside time to read, take classes and attend events that develop you for a career outside the military. Do this even after you transition and are searching for job.
  14. LinkedIn is more than a digital resume. Share ideas through posts that may help someone gain insight into who you are. Join groups to network with others and to ask for help. Remember that everything you like or comment on may be seen by someone who can help you find a job, so stay positive!
  15. Ask the Right Questions. Most service members ask three questions regarding their next career:
       1. What will I do?
    2. Where will I do it?
    3. How much will I be paid?

    Most fail to ask…
    Is the culture of this company a good fit for me?
  16. Translate Your Skills. You need to help someone who never served understand how your experience is relevant to their company and job. HOWEVER, don’t go so far that another veteran has no idea what you did in the military. List your military title and the translation on your resume so veterans can help hiring managers understand why they should hire you.
  17. TAP is NOT Enough. TAP will begin to prepare you for the job search process but it will not prepare you for what happens beginning with your first day of employment.
  18. Don’t take the process personally. Don’t take the lack of feedback or rejection personally. Recruiters interact with thousands of people each year and can’t respond to everyone.You haven’t lost until you stop trying!
  19. Network, Network, Network. Yes, this was Tip #3 but it is worth repeating.Check out LinkedIn Group: Veteran Mentor Network
  20. Be professional. With less than 7% of the population having military experience you may be the first veteran someone has met.
  21. Stay Positive. Don’t use social media to complain about your transition. It’s not going to help you find a job. Save the complaints for when you are offline and talking to a buddy. You will stand out much better focusing on the positive.
  22. Learn the recruiting process. Companies have different processes for recruiting. Learn how they operate. On average it takes 30-60 days to fill a job once it is posted so don’t expect an answer back the day after you apply. Some companies collect all applicants before reviewing others begin right away. Here is a post I wrote that may help get you started.
  23. Find someone who has done the job. LinkedIn can be a great source for finding former employees who have worked at a company you are considering or who have even done the job. They may be able to give you insight that will help you get the job or avoid it.
  24. Take advantage of free help. TAP will not prepare you for everything you need. There are lots of non-profits out there that can provide assistance beyond what you get in TAP. In addition, there are apprenticeship programs and fellowship programs that can help with your transition.
  25. Focus only on what you can control. The only thing you can control in the interview is your behavior and your responses. Focus on listening carefully — taking notes if necessary — and on controlling your behavior and words.
  26. Present yourself as the solution. Answer questions in such a way that you are always keeping the hiring company’s requirements and goals in mind, not yours. Your answers should reflect how you fit in with this organizations aims and enhance their objectives.
  27. Prepare and Ask Questions. Questions demonstrate how well you prepared for an interview. Ask “what, how, and why” questions helps YOU to control the conversation. Get your interviewer to share information that helps you be more prepared for the next interview and eventually your job.
  28. Focus on what is important for the job. In the military it is not uncommon for leaders to ask about you personal life as well as professional but in a interview you should focus on what is important to do your job.
  29. Save Money for the Transition. Unlike civilians who can find a job and then give a two week notice, you need to give notice first which means you need to plan to support yourself after service and before employment. Know your expenses to determine when you may need a part time job.
  30. Learn about Healthcare. It is so easy when you are in uniform. The choices and costs are far more complex once you leave service. If you have a family member with special needs healthcare can be a deciding factor on where to live and work.
  31. Be Humble. The best leaders I knew in the military were humble. Your service doesn’t entitle you to anything. It’s your experience that companies want and humility is what they need.
  32. Find a Mentor. Veterati and American Corporate Partners are two places to start as you transition. Once you are hired find a mentor within the company.

Have other ideas?  Add them in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Transition Tips

  1. Great article – all fantastic ideas. I love #13!! I also encourage veterans to know their “why.” This is not the easiest thing to do – yet when we can get a firm handle on our purpose – why we are doing what we are doing – why we are choosing the career we choose etc. When we tap into the end-game results that we want to be part of – we can align with people who need what we have to share. It’s a win-win.

    • Your resume needs to help you stand out and highlight why a company should hire you. If you plan to work in the civilian market, hire a professional resume writer who knows a lot about military.

      Network, Network, Network.

  2. Great article! I think it’s also important to mention that for Veterans wanting to start their own business, it’s imperative that they have a livable income (which means different things to different people) and health insurance as they start their own business-and to realize it will take wayyy longer then you expect for your business to earn enough to live and depend on.

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