For military personnel either in the process of transitioning to civilian life or soon looking forward to that life change, the key is preparation, said Tom Wolfe, a career coach and former Navy officer.
His book, “Out of Uniform: Your Guide to Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition,” rereleased in April 2018, offers stories of triumph and misstep from veterans who have been there.
“I believe the book is as applicable to a civilian who has never worn the uniform as it is to my target audience — active duty, in uniform, getting ready to transition — what it does is illustrate points by telling these stories,” Wolfe said.
Plan around the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses and organizations to adjust the way they operate. This can work to a job seeker’s advantage or it can hurt their chances of landing employment. Transitioning military men and women have to plan around the pandemic to make sure they’re able to present themselves as the best candidate without being able to meet an employer in person.
“Many companies use phone interviews as a screening technique,” Wolfe said. “It’s a lot cheaper than the money you have to pay to go eyes-on with somebody. Well, now, it’s all about Zoom or an equivalent video interview. It used to be if you were preparing for a screening interview and it was not going to be in person, then you really didn’t have to prepare in the same way. It didn’t matter what you were wearing. It didn’t matter the chair you were sitting in, so now every interview is potentially an in-person interview.”
Know yourself and what’s important to you
Many transitioning veterans make the mistake of not taking the time develop self-knowledge, Wolfe said.
“The self-awareness that I understand my transition and before my job search, understand what exactly is important to me,” Wolfe said. “Until you know yourself and until you know your strengths, your attributes, your weaknesses, your wants and your needs, what matters to you at the end of the day, until you’ve identified that, you’re putting yourself at risk that you’re going to end up in a job for the wrong reasons.”
Ask for help
Military people tend to shy away from asking for help because “you’re afraid it seems like a sign of weakness, but you need to understand that it’s not weakness, it’s self-knowledge,” Wolfe said. “Asking for assistance, asking people to provide guidance -- I think that’s a very important step.”
Learn how to translate your experience to the civilian world
The military has a very unique and specific way of operating that in many cases differs drastically from how civilian businesses and organizations do. Learning how to translate your experience into skills that civilian employers understand is key to landing a job.
“I think a great source would be the veteran service organizations. The dot orgs. The ones that are not in it for profit,” Wolfe said. “They’re in it for service. Most of them have tools that will help someone translate a military skillset. Some military skillsets have a direct civilian equivalency. Like a truck driver or a helicopter pilot. But then if you get an infantry officer, something like that, we don’t have a civilian equivalency anymore. Some of these people don’t think they’re qualified to do anything. They just don’t know how to describe what they do in terms of what civilian employers will understand.”
Find a job environment you thrive in
“I don’t want you to give me a job title. If you have one, fine, but don’t tell me the title, tell me the aspects of the job,” Wolfe said. “Say to me ‘Tom, get me a job where I can build a team and train a team and motivate a team and take care of my people, where I can prioritize work, where I can ensure the safety of the work environment, where I can give my people the tools they need.’ Describe to me an environment in which you thrive in and you’re good at and then you find somebody like me or a mentor or a friend or a VSO that will then help you translate that job description into an actual job at an actual company.”
Get good at social media
Many employers do background checks, but more of them will search a candidate’s social media profiles. You can’t determine what a company will see in your background investigation, but you can control your social media presence. Learn how to use social media to your advantage, Wolfe said. Be sure to scrub your social media accounts for anything you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Put your best foot forward.
“If you go back 10 years ago and you had an insufficient or faulty resume, that was the kiss of death,” Wolfe said. “You weren’t going to get a screening interview, let alone a job. Well, now, social presence is that critical. If you do not have an appropriate, powerful, applicable social media presence across the board — if there’s anything missing or anything wrong — that’s the new kiss of death. You’ve got to be familiar with it. Social media is powerful for both the companies the organizations that are looking for people, but it’s also very powerful for individuals in preparing for interviews.”
Do your homework before applying and interviewing
“It used to be that if you would do insufficient preparation or research for an interview, if the interviewer liked you enough, they would overlook the fact that you didn’t really do enough homework,” Wolfe said. “That’s because homework used to be hard. Now, homework is easy. So, if you don’t do your homework now, they do not forgive you.”
- Veterans Transition Survival Guide
- Why veterans need more than Transition Assistance Programs
- Hire Our Heroes: Helping veterans transition from military service
- How the stress of military transition leads to regrettable career and relationship decisions
- Lawmakers seek Transition Assistance Program change to increase civilian success
Jared is a freelance journalist, a former Marine and a veterans advocate living in Los Angeles.