Tips for Military Personnel Transitioning into the Civilian Workforce

16 Nov 2015 Bryan Shaw

Is your contract coming to an end? Are you about to ETS?

Let me guess, your calendar is full of appointments. You just cleared medical and dental, and now you’re spending countless hours cleaning your TA 50 because you don’t want any of your items kicked back. You also don’t want to pay for anything. You’re thinking “once I turn in my gear, I am home free.”

Every morning, when you go to formation, you give your buddies the countdown. You have already chosen who you’ll keep in touch with and who you will never see again. All you can think about is going home to spend time with family and friends before starting the life that you’ve been dreaming about… the life you’ve worked so hard for.

As you continue to out-process, you will take a class that will help you transition into a civilian career. In the Army, it is called the Army Career and Alumni program (ACAP). The purpose of this class is to get you ready for your next step in life. Your instructor will ask you to brainstorm about what type of jobs you’ll apply for. They’ll show you resume templates and help you create one. This is important. They will teach you to use transitional words that showcase your skills. When that happens, it’s important to remember that most civilians do not understand military acronyms like PT, TA 50, PX, HEMMT, MRAP, BCT or AIT. You will need to explain on your resume what you did in the military so civilians can understand your experience. This is where things get tricky.

If you’re wondering why I’m telling you all of this it’s because I went through the process myself. When I arrived home after being overseas for three years, the job application process had changed.

In high school, when I needed part-time gig to fill the hours and line my pockets, I would just walk into a place and complete an application. Most of the time, I’d have to endure only one interview or get the hired on the spot. When I returned from the military in 2007, however, that was not the case. The first thing every employer asked me for was a copy of my resume. Next, they told me to apply online. It wasn’t easy, and I admit that I was lost for a bit, but what I learned over the next few months proved invaluable to me in the long run, and I’d like to take a minute to share those lessons with you now.

The first thing you’ll need to do before landing a civilian job is write your resume. If you need help with this, you can go to the Transitioning office. Alternatively, you can visit  and click Transition Assistance. You can also go to a Workforce Development Center, and this link ( will help you find one in close proximity to your residence.

When you have a professional resume, it’s time to post it to online job boards. Make sure you have an updated phone number and email address for recruiters to reach you at. As for what job boards to seek out, I’d recommend Monster, Career Builder, Indeed and USAJobs.

After getting your resume posted, the hope is that hiring managers and recruiters will either call your directly or send an email if they feel they have a position that you might be interested in. It is important to check your email frequently as that will be the primary form of communication between you and hiring managers. You should also create a LinkedIn profile and join a few military and / or veterans groups.

Next, you should start looking for positions that you’re interested in. You can begin by searching on the job boards you posted your resume to. You will want to narrow your search by putting in keywords or job titles that you feel your qualified for and can see yourself doing. Set your location to an area that you can comfortably commute to, and keep track of all of the jobs you have applied for. You can also visit company sites directly to learn more about what they do and see if you’d be interested in working for them. Most company sites have a careers tab where you can apply to openings directly. You should start applying for jobs at least 90 days before your separation from the military, as you will want to be fully prepared when transitioning back into civilian life.

If a company is interested in bringing you in for an interview, they will most likely schedule and initial phone screening. Once that happens, you will need to start preparing. You should come up with at least three questions in advance to ask at the end of the phone call. Spend some time on the company’s website and learn what they’re all about. The more research you do, the less stressed out you will be about the phone interview and the better you will perform.

During the phone interview, it is important to go to a quiet place where you will not get interrupted. Do not take the call in the bathroom as this will mostly likely give a bad impression as your voice will bounce of the walls in the confined space. And since first impressions are everything, it’s important to put your best foot forward here. If all works out and you nail the phone interview, you will likely be asked to come in to meet with the hiring manager(s) in person.

Getting prepared for your face to face is just as important as the phone interview. You will want to purchase some business attire, and I’d recommend buying a well-fitted suit so you look sharp. Also, make sure you get a haircut and that you’re properly groomed. If the interview is business casual, wear a button down shirt and khakis.

During the face to face, it is important to talk about yourself. Make sure that you’re using transitional words and phrases that the hiring manager will understand. Make eye contact at all times and show that you’re interested in what he / she is saying.

The best advice I can give during the face to face is this… show your personality. Remember, the hiring manager is looking to bring someone on that will be a good fit within the organization, and when they ask if you have any questions, follow up with a few that are in direct response to a topic brought up during the interview. This will show that you were, in fact, paying attention and that you’re picturing yourself working for the company. It is also important to know the name of the person that interviewed you, as well as their title with the company, as this will more likely than not be your primary point of contact moving forward. At the end of the interview, it’s OK to ask when you’ll be hearing from them.

When the face to face is over, it’s important to send a thank you email to the hiring manager. You will want to make this short and sweet. Do not write too much as this could hurt you instead of help you. Do not call the employer immediately after the interview. If they do not reach out at the agreed time, don’t panic. Most hiring managers are extremely busy, and there’s a lot that goes into a job offer. If you’re feeling antsy, I’d recommend sending a short email a couple of days after the expected decision date in an effort to follow up. Do not get pushy with the tone of that email. Simply state that you are very interested in the position and that you wanted to check and see if a hiring decision has been made.

As you’re waiting to find out if you have an offer or not, you should visit Glassdoor’s website to find out the position’s pay range is assuming this has not been previously discussed. This way, when the employer makes you an offer, you will know if you should and should not accept it.

Before a hiring decision is made, have a dollar figure in mind. If you feel that the offer comes in low, you can always counter but do so modestly. When countering a job offer, it’s important to back up the negotiation with the figure that you were making in the military. Once you accept, you need to begin preparations for your first day.

In the civilian world, you might need to pay for parking or use public transportation. You should figure all of the logistics out prior to your start date so there are no surprises.

OK — I hope these tips help you during the transition process. Remember, getting a job now a days is tough. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get offers after your first couple of interviews. There are plenty of companies out there that love to hire veterans, and if you show the same set of values and fortitude you did as a soldier, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll land a lucrative and rewarding career soon after you transition out.

If you have questions about the job search process, feel free to contact me anytime at David.Miller@d3.novacreative-dev.

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