How veterans can prepare for a civilian career

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How veterans can prepare for a civilian careerArmed Forces Day is Saturday, May 18, and many Americans will be celebrating and paying tribute to the men and women who serve the United States’ armed forces. For those who have completed their time serving, it may feel challenging to transition into a civilian job or a role outside of the military. However, there are ways to make the changeover go smoothly. Find out how veterans can prepare for a civilian career and check out advice for a successful job search.

Create a clear résumé
Some hiring managers may be unfamiliar with a résumé that includes military experience, especially one that uses unexplained acronyms, or roles and responsibilities that may not be apparently related. Avoid this problem by creating a clear, easily accessible résumé. “Craft your résumé so it reflects your military experience and connects it to your civilian employment goals (so a non-military employer can understand it),” says Suzanne Robitaille, founder of, a website on disability issues. She has written for Hire Learning, Think Beyond the Label’s collaborative blog. She says, “Spell out all acronyms, even the ones that come to you as second nature (NCOIC, SME, and SFC-P do not hold as much weight in the civilian workplace as they do in your NCOER/OER). Also, make sure that after each training listed on your résumé, you add a few bullets detailing what you learned. Finally, try not to leave any time gaps in your résumé. For example, if you were attached to a Warrior Transition Unit during your recovery, make sure to include it as your most recent assignment.”

Translate your skills
Just as it’s essential to create a résumé that clearly explains your qualifications, it’s equally important to communicate to an employer how military experience has prepared you for a business role. “Think in advance about how to equate the skills learned in the military to those that a potential employer is seeking,” says Adam Clampitt, president of The District Communications Group, a service disabled, veteran-owned specialized communications consultancy located in Washington, D.C. “For example, the military trains young servicemembers to lead large numbers of people, and that type of leadership can be of value to an employer. While being an infantry soldier may not sound like a skill you can use in a corporate setting, the leadership skills learned can be very valuable.”

If you were injured while serving or have other hurdles you’ve overcome, you may consider explaining your experience and how it’s brought you to where you are today. “Talk up your service skills,” Robitaille says. “Weave the strengths you have developed from your service, your skills and your injury into your interview answers. Wounded warriors are among the most resilient, and that perseverance can springboard your answers to the interviewer’s first question, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ After some practice, that common interview question will become your best ally. You can answer it with your passions, your hobbies, your family, your military career, your injury and recovery, and your strengths and weaknesses all wrapped into one inclusive, incredible answer. Some interviewers only ask that one question, so make sure you do practice the answer.”

Prepare for the differences of a civilian job
Just as a civilian employer may not be well acquainted with military jargon or responsibilities, you may not be expecting the different aspects of corporate culture. “Private sector jobs have different expectations than in the military,” Clampitt says. “It’s all about getting the job done in the private sector, and being flexible to fit into the changing requirements of your employer. The military is governed by policy, and change happens much more slowly. It’s important to let potential employers know that you are flexible and willing to shift with the company as needs change.”

Military personnel are able to recognize and understand the needs of current and former service members more easily than most employers. It may be a good decision to explain any work environment needs you would require, rather than leave them guessing.  “Do what feels right,” Robitaille says. “If you have a visible injury and you feel comfortable about it, it’s a good idea to be the first to bring it up or ‘break the ice.’ If you have an invisible injury that you feel comfortable talking about, be sure to explain to your interviewer how you personally have learned to cope with it. Perhaps you, like many others, have a service related traumatic brain injury with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; if you explain to your boss that you sometimes get anxious and would prefer a quiet environment with a desk that faces the doorway, it is much easier for your employer to stomach than having him or her guess your needs or fear the unknown. However, if you do not want to address the injury, don’t feel obligated to do so. Your résumé and responses will speak for themselves.”

No matter what industry or role you pursue after your time serving the armed forces, you can make smart decisions for your career by clearly explaining your past experience and how it’s prepared you for your current pursuits, and also be open with employers about your own needs from the job as well.

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