Transitioning from the military to civilian life is a big enough change in itself. Add a job search on top of that, and it might just feel impossible. Try not to psych yourself out, though. Even if you haven’t held a private-sector job in decades, you bring plenty of value to the table. It’s just a matter of communicating that value to employers and finding the right fit — so we reached out to a handful of job search experts to get their best job search tips for veterans. Covering everything from resumes to veteran-friendly employers to networking, the following five tips will help you become the best candidate you can be.
1. Craft a Strong Civilian Resume
Many of the experts we spoke with said that the biggest mistake veterans make when searching for a job is not successfully translating their skills and experience to civilian terms. This is especially important in your resume, as it’s the first impression employers get of you.
“As a veteran, you have many valuable qualifications gained during service, but your experiences and nature of the work performed might not be clearly understood by a civilian employer,” says Carlos Perez, retired Army Colonel and Assistant Treasurer at the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA). “Rather than listing job tasks, which might not have an obvious civilian equivalent, take a step back and think about the broader skills required to perform these tasks and and how those skills helped you achieve goals and positive outcomes.”
If you’re ever uncertain about whether your resume is too jargon-filled, “have a non-military friend or relative read over your resume,” Perez recommends. “If they don’t understand your explanation of skills/qualifications, it’s likely that prospective employers won’t either!”
2. Apply to Veteran-Friendly Employers
Most companies love when veterans apply to their open roles — because of their work ethic and strong collaboration skills, veterans are a highly sought-after candidate pool. But some organizations go above and beyond to develop programs that aim to increase the number of veterans they hire, and to create a veteran-friendly workplace.
“Seek out companies that have specific initiatives to support veterans. There are many out there, including some big name firms who provide support with retraining and flexible options, such as working from home,” says Ben Taylor, career coach and founder of www.homeworkingclub.com.
“Veterans also have the edge for Federal and other government jobs. A Federal agency recruiter told me last summer that virtually all of her open jobs were being filled by veterans based on the veterans' preference required by law,” shares career coach and resume writer Frank Grossman.
3. Take Advantage of Available Resources
It’s not just individual employers who have special initiatives to help veterans — there are many organizations, nonprofits and support groups available as well.
“Community foundations are a great local resource for veterans. They fund local nonprofits and they are often at the core of each city’s community-based fundraising efforts. These foundations can work with veterans to connect them to the right resources or organizations that specialize in veteran support,” says Bob Harris, Executive Director at Gold Coast Veterans Foundation.
Another cool veteran-specific job search tool? Your military occupational specialty (MOS) code.
“If you don’t know where to start or what type of position might be the best fit, you can type your military occupational specialty (MOS) code into Google and browse openings which have been tagged as fits for your particular skill set,” Perez says. “This helps narrow down overwhelming listing pages and can prevent you from applying for positions you’re over or under-qualified for.”
4. Reach Out to Your Network
Given that schmoozing in the military often carries a stigma, many veterans aim to tackle their job search completely independently. But more often than not, landing a job comes down to the personal and professional relationships you've developed.
“Networking ISN'T sleazy, but actually is how average, everyday people find and create the opportunities necessary to effectuating their professional goals,” says career coach Carlota Zimmerman.
Here are a few places you may want to start:
- Alumni Associations: “If you're a vet who has attended college… call the alumni association and ask what resources/help they offer alumni who are also vets. DO NOT feel as if you are begging: this is what the alumni association gets paid for. The more alumni who are gainfully employed, the more donations” there are, explains Zimmerman. “Many associations now offer even free coaching, free resume help or they can connect you with other alumni.”
- Employed Vets: “If you have vet friends who are gainfully employed, take them out for breakfast and ask them for their advice,” Zimmerman recommends. Even if they can’t directly connect you with a suitable opportunity, they’ve been through the wringer before and will likely be able to share valuable job search tips.
- Social Media: Social media isn’t just for keeping up with your old high school classmates anymore — it can play a huge role in helping you find a job. “Consider writing a short, succinct paragraph on LinkedIn and Facebook, describing the kind of employment you're looking for, the skills/education/expertise you have and giving a professional email (firstname.lastname@gmail.) with some smart hashtags [like] #jobsforvets, or #industryvets,” Zimmerman suggests. You can also like or follow the companies you’d like to work for, she says — “many companies will post info about hiring, or even about conferences and public events they're holding.”
5. Be Confident
Whether you’re looking for friends, a relationship or a job, you can’t deny that people are naturally attracted to confidence. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect a potential employer to believe in you?
“Any organization would be lucky to have you. As a veteran, you have leadership, communication and life skills that most of your peers will not have had. You have a sense of mission accomplishment and resilience that many do not,” says Ryan Gilchrist, a veteran and Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Wayfair. “I've been recruiting for nearly 15 years, and from my view, the skills veterans bring to the table are incredibly valuable and make a real difference, no matter what industry or role.”