According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than half a million veterans are currently enrolled in college. These students face unique challenges in their job search, as indicated by a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that found the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans in May was higher than the overall national unemployment rate. If you are a veteran, the following techniques and resources will help you strategically navigate this terrain and overcome these challenges.
Establish a clear civilian objective.
Engage in self-assessment to better understand your interests and professional aspirations. Your satisfaction and success in your job search depends upon your ability to identify and articulate your goals. Generate a list of characteristics you desire in your ideal position and organization. This will help you target a position in your search.
Demilitarize your resume.
Many employers know little about the military. Do the work for your readers by identifying equivalent civilian job titles and using language they understand. Several online skills translators have been designed to help you match your military experience and training with corresponding civilian occupations or skills, including O*Net Military Crosswalk and TAOnline. Use these resources to list the equivalent civilian job title in parenthesis after your military occupation specialty. Examples include: armor senior sergeant (human resources specialist), U.S. Army; or cyber systems operations helper (network and computer systems administrator), U.S. Air Force.
Identify your transferable skills and training.
Some veterans camouflage their military experience because they fear that their active combat will make their readers uncomfortable. While some battlefield activities and service-related training should be omitted because they do not relate to the position you are seeking, hiding your military service could diminish the relevant skills you have developed that your competition has not. Your military service demonstrates discipline, teamwork, problem solving and an ability to perform under pressure, which nearly every organization values. View more relevant skills.
If you are seeking a position with the defense or military-contracting industry, some military terminology is appropriate because it illustrates your relevant experience. It is typically irrelevant, however, in nearly every other field. Ask several non-military friends to review your resume and identify terms they do not understand. Collect civilian keywords from job descriptions and use them as substitutes for military terminology.
When it comes to marketing yourself, showing is always better than telling. Gain credibility by citing examples from your previous performance reports of relevant achievements. What attributes did you demonstrate that your readers would value? What problems needed to be solved to move a mission forward? What meritorious awards did you receive? Remember that your readers may not be familiar with the structure of the military. Instead of simply listing awards, describe their criteria or identify the skills that they demonstrate, especially as it relates to the position you are seeking.
While you may be a mid-level manager in the military, many civilian employers will prefer experience within the organization before they place you in a management position. Also assess your expectations regarding advancement. In the military you were probably able to identify predictable points of promotion. In the civilian workforce, however, this is less structured.
Utilize all job-searching best practices.
Network. Military.com developed a resource to connect veterans to other service members. Research organizations and determine if you are eligible for veterans’ preference for federal government positions. Tap into online job boards that represent organizations that are eager to hire veterans such as RecruitMilitary.com, HireVetsFirst.gov and VetJobs.com.
Prepare for interviews.
Be ready to explain why you are leaving the military. Just like any candidate should avoid speaking negatively about their previous employer, reframe from criticizing the military. Share stories that demonstrate your accomplishments during your time of service and refute common stereotypes about military culture. For example, some people may assume that service members rigidly apply policies or are only able to take orders. Dispel these misconceptions by describing a time you exhibited flexibility or functioned independently.
Know your rights.
Employers cannot ask you, “Were you honorably discharged from the military?” or “Do you have any disabilities?” They can, however, inquire about your ability to perform the essential functions of the position you are seeking. Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), military members who leave civilian jobs for service are entitled to return to their jobs. If you encounter difficulties related to your leave, contact the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), which increases awareness of the law and resolves conflicts through mediation.
Learn the art of salary negotiation.
Unlike the military, you will need to negotiate your compensation. Wait for the organization to bring up the topic of salary first. If you are asked initially about your expectations, state that you would like to learn more about the position before you make salary decisions. In anticipation of receiving an offer, research the occupation to identify realistic starting salaries. The Office of the Secretary of Defense has developed a calculator to help you assess equivalent civilian compensation. The Career One Stop also provides salary data for occupations by zip code, which will help you assess realistic starting points for your geographical area.
Carl Savino and Ron Krannich, authors of The Military to Civilian Transition Plan, encourage you to add 20% to your military base salary to account for benefits. Be cautious, however, because few employers will be able to match the housing, subsistence and cost-of-living allowances afforded to military personnel. If you ask an organization to increase its offer, refer to the market data that you collected and to the qualifications that you bring to the position.
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