Getting hired after the military

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By Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder Writer
When veterans leave the military they possess a wealth of valuable qualities and skills — discipline, leadership ability, strong work ethic — that should make them highly desirable to nonmilitary employers. But, despite their great potential to succeed in the civilian workforce, many veterans have trouble making the post-military career transition.

“As with all life transitions, there is a good deal of questioning and anxiety about making this life-changing move,” says Don Johnson, vice president of marketing at Advanced Technology Services, a company at which veterans make up 35 percent of the workforce. This anxiety often stems from the fact that many veterans don’t know how or where to begin their job searches, or how their well-honed military skills fit into civilian roles.

To help veterans ease their transition into nonmilitary jobs, Johnson says his company, ATS, not only has human resources staff specifically dedicated to recruiting veterans and placing them in the right functional fit at the company, but that a portion of the HR staff is made up of former military members. “Having a veteran in place to speak to these recruits is critical,” he says.

ATS is certainly not alone in its push to recruit veterans — a new CareerBuilder survey found that 20 percent of employers plan to actively recruit veterans in the next twelve months, and many major companies like Sodexo, Lockheed Martin and URS Corporation are renowned for their strong-military recruitment programs.

However, not all companies have such well-developed programs, and many still struggle when it comes to placing veterans in roles where their skills will be best utilized. The CareerBuilder survey found that 41 percent of employers say it is difficult to decipher how military experience fits into civilian positions, and 27 percent of employers feel that veterans don’t always market their military experience.

“Employers recognize the unique value military experience can bring, but they don’t always understand how military skills fit into corporate America,” says Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. “Veterans will need to clearly make that connection in their résumé, cover letter and job interviews as they enter this new chapter of their careers.”

So how can veterans learn to market their skills in a way that will resonate with civilian companies? Here, four keys to getting hired after the military.

Translate military skills to civilian jobs
While some military jobs — mechanics, engineers, medics — translate pretty literally into civilian roles, not all veterans will be able to find such obvious civilian job equivalents.

For those whose post-military career is less apparent, there is O*Net Online’s Military to Civilian Translator.  This tool allows veterans to enter their branch of the military and their Military Occupation Classification, and get a report that lists related civilian occupations. The report also provides valuable insight on the skills, knowledge, interests, work styles and work values that characterize each occupation. This can be valuable in helping veterans further determine which types of jobs they’d enjoy, which jobs they’d be qualified for, and how to translate their résumés from military jargon into layman’s terms.

And for veterans who feel they have skills gap that is hindering their job searches, they can also look at education and retraining opportunities, which can be anything form returning to college, earning a certification, or participating in the CareerBuilder Re-Employment Initiative, a paid internship program looking to help veterans and unemployed job seekers bridge the IT skills gap.

Quantify achievements
Conventional résumé advice tells job seekers to “quantify their achievements,” which usually means putting accomplishments, specifically those that effect a company’s bottom line, into numbers or verifiable terms. Veterans can tweak this advice to help translate their skills into information that will be easily understood by civilian employers.

Explains Johnson, “You may not have orchestrated a $10-process improvement in the manufacturing sector, but your work to increase response time from a military logistics standpoint can be a compelling business success story.”

Highlight other advantages
There are a number of other advantages veterans have in the job market.

For one, former military members have federal security clearance, which is not only required for many government jobs, but also for jobs at government-contracted companies that work on classified or defense-related projects. Because it can cost companies a lot of time and money to get security clearance for civilian employees, veterans are usually preferred for these types of positions.

Veterans also have an advantage when it comes to relocating for a job. In today’s tough economy, having to expand job-search horizons beyond one’s immediate location is not uncommon. According to, “Uncle Sam picks up the tab for relocating a military transitioner when they leave the service. This is a significant, direct and tangible economic benefit for hiring managers,” so be sure to highlight this when applying to long-distance jobs.

Focus on soft-skills
When drafting a résumé or preparing for an interview, veterans should focus on the soft skills that set them apart.

“Veterans have a sense of mission and discipline that is hard to find in civilian life,” Johnson says. “Although some veterans might not have the skills needed for a job immediately, they are among the most trainable and motivated recruits we have in our workforce. We find that in many cases we can hire for culture and train for the specific jobs.”

According to the CareerBuilder survey, the soft skills that employers find most desirable in veterans are:

    • Disciplined approach to work — 66 percent
    • Ability to work as a team — 65 percent
    • Respect and integrity — 58 percent
    • Leadership skills — 56 percent
    • Problem-solving skills — 54 percent
    • Ability to perform under pressure — 53 percent
    • Communication skills — 45 percent

At the end of the day, successfully making the military-to-civilian transition truly comes down to highlighting, not downplaying, military experience.  “Don’t be afraid to show off your military discipline and motivation to get the job done,” Johnson says.

For more on finding a job after the military, see:

Teaching careers after the military

Translating your skills from military jargon to civilian language

Transforming your résumé from military to civilian

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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