Thank you for your service. That’s what everyone says. It’s been ingrained in post-9/11 America. When someone mentions military service, you thank them. It’s nice enough. Certainly better than the Vietnam-era veterans got. But you don’t want proclamations of gratitude from strangers. You want a job. After all, blind thanks doesn’t pay your rent, buy your kids new shoes for school, or provide a sense of post-military purpose. A job does.
Have you ever noticed how elements of American football and rugby look similar? They should as the sports are related, but as you learn the rules—or observed for any length of time—it’s evident that they are very different games. That’s what transition from military employment to private sector employment is like. It can feel similar enough to boost your confidence in your proficiency, but in reality you’re playing a different game. You can become good, even great, at this new game. First though, you need to learn how the private sector game is played.
Build Your Avatar
Resumes and LinkedIn profiles are not particularly relevant or necessary for a successful military career. In the private sector however your resume and LinkedIn profile act as your avatar. They’re a representation of your professional and educational experience and ambitions. They represent you when you’re not in the room. In fact, recruiters and hiring managers use them to decide whether to even invite you into the room.
You’re not going to get a pass just because you're a veteran. Somewhere in that same stack of resumes is another veteran, who invested a lot of time and energy into creating a polished resume. Thus it’s apparent to the reader that veterans are capable of writing great resumes.
People often visit LinkedIn profiles of job candidates after reviewing resumes they like. Let your profile represent you well. Service members aren’t big on self-promotion, but you need to be able to promote yourself. This isn’t like the military, where you know you’ll definitely get posted somewhere.
Learn to Interview
Interviews aren’t a big part of military culture either. There’s the occasional board or an interview for command, but otherwise interviews don’t really play into career progression. In the private sector your competition has been interviewing their entire professional career. That’s okay. Like field stripping an assault rifle, interviewing is a learned skill. Service members excel at learning new skills.
You’re not going to get a pass just because you're a veteran.
It just requires intent and practice. You didn’t read a blog post about how to qualify at a firing range then proclaim, “I’m a sharpshooter now.” You learned, you practiced, then you learned and practiced some more. Same thing with interviewing. Learn the principles and put the reps in.
Invest in Yourself
No one cares more about your career than you do. A single overseas tour is enough to inform you that the world can be an unfair place. While lots of people want to see veterans excel in their post-military careers, you need to invest in yourself. The military determined the training you needed to complete before you got to your first unit.
No one cares more about your career than you do.
That’s on you now. Unless you’re pursuing a private sector career that exactly overlaps with your military specialty, you probably have some self training to do. Going back to school is a great option, if you’re so inclined, but there are also a ton of great online and community-based resources. You just need to seek them out. (A Google search is a good place to start.) They likely won’t come to you.
Don’t know what you don’t know? Enlist the help of veterans, who have been there before you. They understand the military culture you’re coming from and have been out long enough to help you understand the new rules in the private sector. It’s your career. Nobody cares more than you.
Thank you for your service… Now move out.