Second Career for Military Personnel

militaryJay Drake spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy. When he retired, he found it difficult to make the transition to the civilian work world.

Drake was hardly noticed as a job candidate by hiring managers, landing only two phone screens and no-face-to face-interviews. "This was surprising to me considering I was bringing more than 17 years of experience in human resources, business management, and financial administration from the military, which I was sure would translate well in the private sector," Drake says.

So, he enlisted the help of a professional to find an encore career.

Need a Job? 10 Companies Hiring Right Now

Drake hired John M. O'Connor, President of CareerPro Inc., to help him with his job search. O'Connor counseled Drake to utilize the power of his network -- and less than five months later, Drake was hired as administrative officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Plant Health Science and Technology in Raleigh, N.C.

"My network was invaluable," Drake says. "You can search the job boards all day, but a 30-minute conversation with a contact over coffee will give you more leads, new ideas, and motivation to keep going. I attended a regularly scheduled meeting of transitioning professionals, which made me stay sharp each week. My network also provided moral support. When you had a rough day, there was always someone who could pick you up and help you refocus. The best feeling is when you can provide that to someone else."

Drake's takeaway from the experience and advice to others is to build your network early; don't be afraid to use a career counselor; be helpful and positive, even when things are tough; use a local address on your résumé if you are relocating from your last duty station; and volunteer in your free time.

According to career coach O'Connor, people like Drake are a great catch for employers in both the private and federal sectors, because military personnel excel at many important skills -- including the ability to adapt to change quickly and the ability to work well under pressure.

Yet, like Drake, few are adequately prepared for the transition from a military career to a civilian one. Here are O'Connor 's suggestions for ensuring a smoother transition:

1. Use your resume as a marketing tool.

O'Connor reveals that "the military person in transition has not reinvented their resume and related it directly to the core requirements of the job they are applying for. They often remove or replace too much of their relevant military duties and do not emphasize their achievements properly. I have counseled many military people who remain too modest and too humble." (Get FREE résumé help.)

2. Relax.

At times, O'Connor says, "The interview style of an ex-military job seeker may appear rigid to a private-sector recruiter or hiring manager. This disconnect can sometimes hinder the ability to build rapport with the hiring authority during the interview." (See What Your Body Language Says About You.)

3. Stop the electronic warfare.

There is a perception that most searches must be done via email; thus, many military personnel do not proactively network. O'Connor feels strongly that "most military people have literally thousands of people that they could tap to help them engage in networking with recruiters, hiring managers, and other decision-makers."

4. Be proactive.

O'Connor advises that "military personnel should begin a disciplined job-search campaign long before they go into the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)."

5. Leverage the power of your military network.

There are dozens of online and offline networking venues for transitioning military personnel. O'Connor recommends reviewing the resources below to find associations and networking opportunities that are appropriate.

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Would like part-time employment working from home.

February 08 2010 at 12:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barbara safani

Exiting military personnel are certainly fortunate to have so many great resources available to them to ease their transition. But many find value in working with a coach. They can help keep the job seeker accountable and the coach may have other relationships they can help the job seeker leverage within the community. And career coaches can also offer very customized resume writing services that can help give the job seeker a competitive edge in the marketplace. Thanks for commenting.

February 07 2010 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks to those who have left constructive comments, and thanks to the shout out from Marie regarding Bradley-Morris, Inc., (BMI), the largest military-focused placement firm in the U.S.

Whether prior-military or civilian, it clearly takes a lot of effort to secure a job in today’s economy, and a multipronged approach as described in the article is key, plus relentless positive effort.

One distinct difference of opinion in terms of the article’s advice is that our company would never advise a military-experienced job seeker to pay for career counseling services. There are too many military-oriented free services out there that provide job boards, job fairs and many other methods for job seekers to connect with military-friendly employers.

The possible exception would be having your resume professionally written in case you couldn’t have it done via TAP / ACAP. It is critical to have your military experience translated into terms a civilian hiring manager will understand and value.

And contrary to some of the comments, there are many, many companies who do value military service and training in the corporate world.

Some employers are listed here in our Most Valuable Employers for Military:

Here are a few other resources: for job seekers. for employers.

Thanks to all former military readers for your service.

February 07 2010 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
linyulin2010 in Daily Dose of Style

Daily Dose of Style is back in full swing and ready to tackle on new fashion dilemmas, season standouts and much more! Today, let's take on a personal issue of mine. The problem: I'm in a wardrobe rut and have been for the past several weeks. You ever have those periods of time where you hate everything in your closet, or absolutely bored of it? Ugh! And since I'm still recovering from my holiday spending (ahem, over-spending), I can't just splurge on new clothes to solve my apparel angst. The solution: Layering! Playing with layers can produce outfits for you that feel totally new. I have to admit I haven't mastered this form of art yet. I need to schedule some playtime in my closet in fact. Look below. This is what I'm taking about. Topping your old dress with a cardigan, vest and scarf updates a once-drab dress... and makes the outfit all the more interesting! How do you layer? Tell me below! Stay tuned by the way for voguetouch Shopping's Guide to Layering coming in February!

February 06 2010 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


As a transitioned SCPO. Under the addage of continuous improvement. I offer these Words of Wisdom. Strive to make it better than the way you found it.

February 06 2010 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think many if not most people are afraid of the military "type"; I know I am. Or would be, if I was an employer. Some ex-mil have commented here that their discipline is so thorough and measured that it's a threat to a person hiring because of the threat to their own job. (psych 101) I also believe that HR is never on the employee's side, and that's a given; they never work for the employee, only for the employer. IMHO, In-house, or as an agent: same thing. HR is oftentimes the rudest component of a company; quasi-lawyers and total gatekeepers.

The more I think about it, the more I look upon ex-mil as good, well-trained and disciplined realists, but I am also afraid of the ego trips. I thank you for your service, your dedication, and am really thoughtful about the horrible stress you go thru in combat. I just wish you could reason your way out of having to do things by combat (as in chain-of-command/questioning authority). There's no perfect world, though, I suppose.

February 05 2010 at 4:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ole Guy

Keith, I couldn't agree with you more. The civilian work place has become little more than a venue of incompetence and indifference. A large cause is the younger generation who has never experienced any sort of discipline whatsoever. Almost from birth to the day they're kicked into the real world, they demand gratification and reward for simply though a life of reward is their birthright. To be perfectly honest, I often feel that we, the older generations, failed to impress upon younger gens, the values and ethics which the GREATEST GENERATION of WW II passed on to us.

February 05 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To Retiree's Wife,

Thank you for your post, well said. My Father spent 20 years in the USAF, it seemed he was gone all the time. I evidently did not get enough of that as I married that as well, he is now retired after 20 years. I can not tell you how many Christmas's & Thanksgivings we set as a Family withour my Dad and then my husband. They both served their country well and no one has more respect for our Military then I do. When you are on tour in another country, and you have no water due to "Water Rationing" you get a hold of what really matters real quick.. Those who are posting negative comments on here are more then likely the same who have never served their country in any way except by being a problem to your country. I have spent way to many holidays alone, to worry if my Father was going to make it back this time or if my husband never going coming home. You better Thank God for our men and women who serve everyday with no complaints, THEY ARE UNDERPAID IN EVERY WAY.

February 05 2010 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was honored to serve this country Major Tom and would do it again if there weren't age restrictions.

February 05 2010 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Welcome to the real world, Jay. When I got out 40 years ago, I thought it would be a snap to get a government job comparable to the one I had in the Air Force. When I went in for the interview with non-vet, I was treated like I had just fallen off a turnip truck. My experience didn't matter to them at all. As I found out, instead of giving me a "leg up", being a veteran didn't help at all. In fact, in the years that followed, it put me 4 years behind everyone else in seniority. So my country got 4 of my best years. And what did I get in return? ZERO!

February 05 2010 at 2:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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