Military Service to Civilian Work Force: Making a Successful Transition

Military Service Finding a job in today's work force market is tight, competitive and difficult enough for the average individual seeking employment. However, for those coming out of years of service in the military, getting a job in today's business world brings certain challenges not ordinarily faced by civilians.

Former military men and women have been trained for specific and specialized tasks within a formal structure that's far different socially and organizationally than the average workplace, particularly in the corporate world. As a result, many former military personnel find the transition to the private sector to be difficult and often, very frustrating; especially when competing for jobs in a struggling economy.

Rob Byron and Matt Owens are both former military men who work as recruiters for Winter, Wyman in Waltham, Mass. A large portion of their roles involves working with job seekers on how to best present themselves to companies, so these men are experienced at giving advice and practical tips when it comes to job searching. Byron is an ex-Navy officer, Owens a former Army transportation officer; they know first-hand the challenges of making the transition from the military world into the private job sector. Here, they share some ways to make that transitional journey go a bit smoother for their fellow ex-military who are seeking a job in civilian life.


Q. What are some of the greatest challenges facing veterans making the transition into the civilian work force ?

A. Rob: I found my own transition to be hard and challenging. Transitioning from a life in the military to corporate America is a hard transition. I think one of the biggest challenges is that not many civilian people know what it's like to be in the military or what a military person has done on a day-to-day basis. That can be intimidating because when you come in for an interview and someone's reviewing your resume, they have no perspective of what you've done.

However, it's the candidate's responsibility to draw those parallels between what you've done in the military and what is related to the job you're seeking in the civilian work force. A common mistake that people make transitioning out of the military is using too much military jargon and placing it into their resume. That can be a big turn-off for employers. You need to "de-militarize" your resume and take out all those acronyms that you're so used to using as a military worker.

Matt: I think one of the challenges many face is the whole regimented military mindset of getting a paycheck twice a month, and the same amount of vacation every year and, more significantly, a very rigid grade and time-based promotion system. They need to adjust to promotions in the private sector being more based on performance, or moving into a sales role where promotions may be more based on your commissions achieved. It's a mindset where you have to open yourself up and say "where do I fit myself into corporate America?"


Q. The private sector has jobs that require navigating some often tricky social waters where politics and pettiness can play a role between employees, co-workers and their boss. How can former military adjust to this challenge ?

A. Rob: I think one of the great traits among people who are successful in the military is their ability to adapt to challenging situations. I think it's more about changing your mindset and being more open minded and realizing that you may not be able to necessarily influence people at work just because of your title ... where that was expected in the military once you had attained a certain rank or more senior level and fellow military had to do what you say in that environment.

In the civilian arena, it will come from someone respecting you or trusting what you accomplished. So, I think former military who are new in the private sector will have to swallow that pill and realize that they will have to earn that respect among their civilian co-workers and employers through their performance.

Matt: I agree. In the military, there is an advantage because there is a very clearly defined hierarchy and structure that doesn't exist in corporate America. Military people who are transitioning may have a difficult time navigating that maze because it's not so clear cut. You can't just look at their collar and see where they stand in terms of rank, or where you stand in relationship to that person. It's more intuitive and more subtle in the corporate world.


Q. What were some of the personal challenges you both faced transitioning to the private sector ?

A. Rob: I didn't just walk out one day as a Naval officer and a week later become a captain of industry or a smooth transition to my dream job. That wasn't the case at all. I wanted to get out of the military for family reasons and I had a strict deadline for when I had to leave and find a private sector job. However, I bumped into a lot of the same transitioning difficulties that a lot of people have. For me, it was not a very clear-cut transition from point A to point B.

What I had to do was take intermediate steps. I found a position that slowly transitioned me out of active duty military into a civilian role here in the Northeast where I was close to home and settled in. Then, I realized I needed to network like crazy with friends, family, previous co-workers, anyone I knew who could help me figure out where I could fit in corporate America. Ultimately, it was through a college networking event where I bumped into a former Navy veteran and alumni of my college where I was able to make a connection that ultimately landed me at Winter-Wyman.

Matt: My experience was lot of different. I was networking on my own and I did quite a bit of reading about what was available in the private sector. I was fortunate enough to have some friends a year ahead of me that made the transition smoothly as well who were able to give me a few tips along the way.


Q. What are some the skills set from the military life that easily translate into the private sector ?

A. Matt: I would say first and foremost, it would be the leadership aspect. So many folks in the military are put under great situations of pressure and are expected, in many cases, at such a young age to lead people in the face of adversity. I think that is a valuable skill set that works whether they would go into a management position in the private sector off the bat or further down the road.

Rob: What's great about the military is that it's the great equalizer in terms of gaining people-management skills. You're exposed to stressful situations with people from all areas of the country and from all walks of life, all demographics. You go through these crazy experiences whether through ROTC, boot camp or officers candidate school, with people that you probably would have never had the opportunity to interact with. All the differences are broken down and you gain teamwork skills, working with people, understanding people from different areas and demographics at a different level than most other people in the civilian world.


Q. What key pieces of advice would you give to someone from the military planning to transition into the civilian business world and job market ?

A. Matt: The first thing is come up with a plan because coming out of the military is a life changer. It's never too early to start planning your transition because there's so much available in terms of books and agencies that specialize in helping you make this move. Use the resources that are available to you. Many of the big military installations have some transition-assistance programs of some type. Be open to what's out there and prepare yourself.

Also, being able to market yourself is so important. You're not going to be able to show up and say you were a five-year captain, "I did great things" and get the job. You'll have to go through the process and you have to be the one to say, "Here's what I've done, here's how that relates to what you're looking for, and here's what I can do for you."

Rob: My No. 1 piece of advice is networking. Everyone in the professional field and location that you want to work should know that you are looking for a job. If you want to go back to your home town, everyone in that area should know that you are looking for a job, friends, family, previous co-workers, everyone.

You should also manage your expectations. Just because you may have been a missile silo officer in the military and you managed 25 people and were responsible for millions of dollars in equipment, doesn't necessarily mean you are going to step right away into corporate America and be managing large groups of people and have large budgets and responsibilities

You have understand that you have to get your foot in the door at some level and give yourself a shot to work your way up the ladder.


Next: Military Families Week


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