For veterans going from green to grey, the transition to civilian life can be a challenge.
Studies show recent veterans are having a more difficult time finding work in this weak labor market than their civilian counterparts. The unemployment rate for veterans who have served any time since September 2001 was 12.7%, according to the Labor Department, a big increase from the national unemployment rate of 8.2%.
Whether you served in the Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard, you have many skills that employers want, like leadership, perseverance, willpower and discipline. How you market yourself, experts say, will make the job-hunting process more efficient and smooth.
To secure interviews and get face time with employers, experts recommend veterans take a multi-dimensional approach to a job search that uses personal branding, networking and applying to the right positions.
Highlight transferable skills and accomplishments in your resume. “Take the time and think about what your goals are now versus what they were before you joined the military,” says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, chief career writer and partner at Career Trend. “You have this whole new set of skills that you’ve honed and a lot of people in your peer group haven’t developed these, like team work, project management and decision making.” Think about these and any other relevant skills that you want to market to companies. “Know your value proposition—people don’t want to figure it out for you,” she adds.
As you decide which skills and accomplishments to include on your resume, Barrett-Poindexter suggests showcasing stories that matter to a company, like problem-solving skills. When you tell a story, explain how you accomplished the goal and the lasting impact.
Know how your military terms and actions translate into civilian jargon and usefulness in the workplace, advises says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. “Evaluate your role in the military; you need to see how that translates into a specific job listing.” If you led a team of 50 soldiers, for example, all those skills are highly transferable: you have team leadership experience, as well as executed project and time management skills.
Experts recommend looking at multiple job descriptions and mirroring the language in your resume. “Make the match so your resume is complete and instantly connectable in the eyes of the employer,” says Nicole Williams, connection director at LinkedIn.
There are several websites that help veterans tailor their resume to appeal to employers. Indeed.com allows veterans to search by their military occupational specialty code (MOS) to learn how their skills translate to private sector jobs. “Veterans have really great skills but, if the reader doesn’t understand roles, terminology, titles, if they’re unable to translate what they’re reading, then they don’t know how transferable those skills really are,” says Jennifer Speciale, director of talent acquisition at Indeed.
Once you understand the civilian terms for your military experience, if you tailor the language used to describe your responsibilities and accomplishments during your military career, the chance of being captured by an Applicant Tracking System will increase exponentially, says John Cardillo, team lead of Career Advisor at TheLadders. Applicant Tracking Systems scan for keywords and eliminate resumes that don’t meet certain requirements.
While it’s important to mention that you’re adept at crisis management, for example, experts also suggest focusing on other skills like security clearances, leadership training, and specialized language skills. “The world is becoming a smaller place,” says Speciale. “You never know what skills you have that may be highly sought after.”
Apply to the right positions. Experts agree that having focused career goals will help you get a job faster. Websites like VetCentral.us.jobs, VetJobs.com, MilitaryHire.com, and FedsHireVets.gov list positions geared toward veterans. “Some companies have specific programs targeting veterans that they can find with a simple Google search,” says Dobroski.
“Today’s workforce is very different than working in the military,” he says. “Research, research, research to find out what employers are saying about a company and determine if you want to work there or not.”
Network. “When you’re applying to positions, you’re reaching out and talking to individuals both online and offline,” says Cardillo. Since networking can lead to new opportunities, experts recommend reaching out to others with similar professional interests and that veterans network with other veterans. It’s easier for veterans to start conversations with each other as they have a shared military experience, says Cardillo.
While looking for a job, Cardillo suggests volunteering and working pro bono, taking contract work in lieu of full-time jobs, and working with different professional organizations. “These can cover gaps in a resume, help keep skills sharp, and it’s an excellent network because you never know who you’re going to meet and what opportunities it will afford you,” says Cardillo. This can be a way for people to see you in action and know your capabilities.
Networking online is also integral to finding a new job. “Social media makes it so easy for any veteran to network and find these opportunities,” says Dobroski. He suggests signing up for Twitter and following handles geared towards veterans, posting a professional profile on LinkedIn and joining veteran groups, and having a Facebook profile.
Reach out to recruiters and attend job fairs. “Recruiters can be a job seeker’s best friend in this process,” says Cardillo. “You have one distinct thing to offer to recruiters—yourself and your experiences—to help you find your next opportunity.”
Military job fairs also have different career services in one place to help make the transition easier. Veterans, active military personnel, reservists, and spouses are eligible to attend job fairs held on military bases, says T.J. Breeden, chairman or eMerging Entrepreneurs. The recent 2012 Momentum Expo held at Fort Bragg, N.C., for example, addressed employment and the job applicant process through the hiring fair; education through the college recruitment assembly and government sources available to discuss benefits like the GI Bill; and entrepreneurialism.
“[The job fairs] simplify the hiring process,” says Breeden. “The point is to lead them into the job opportunities that would best suit their skills and they have a way to follow up because they have a recruiter’s contact info. The applicant can then go home and apply and follow up with the recruiter.” The hiring process is still competitive but veterans will have more guidance to which jobs they are best suited for.