As a veteran, making the transition from a military to civilian job can be a daunting task. When looking to obtain a civilian job after years of working under military structure, you may have questions about how to create a resume, search for a job or apply and interview for a position.

Some of the challenges you will face include: how to translate your military work experience into civilian terms, how to interview for a civilian job and where to look for a job that would best fit your military background.

Many have made the transition and have successfully landed jobs in the civilian world. All it takes is a plan and some knowledge of how to best present yourself and your experience to your potential employer. This guide will help walk you through the details needed to translate what you have accomplished into the right civilian job for you.

Basic Documents You’ll Need for a Job Search

Document What It Is Why It Matters How to Prepare
DD-214 A Department of Defense form used as certificate of release or discharge from active duty. This is the final document that a discharged veteran receives and is very important for receiving veteran benefits, as they show official proof of military service. To request a completed form, you must contact the National Personnel Records Center here.
Resume A document that summarizes your relevant education, employment history and experiences when applying for a job The resume is your best chance of presenting yourself on paper to a prospective employer. The goal is to get an interview with the employer. Put your military experience and education in a concise document, showcasing your duties and skills in civilian terms. This should be geared toward the job you are applying for.
Cover letter A cover letter is attached to your resume, and introduces you, explains your purpose for writing, highlights a few of your experiences or skills, and requests an opportunity to meet personally with the potential employer. This letter is your introduction to an employer. It not only tells of your accomplishments, but also can show how effectively you communicate. This letter should be short. Start with a quick introduction, then move on to your reason for applying, followed by your unique qualifications that make you the best candidate for the position.

Preparing for the job hunt

Taking some simple steps before you send out applications can greatly help your chances of success.

Gearing up to apply
  • Find and research jobs you’re qualified for using military-to-civilian search engines

  • Build a civilian-friendly resume

  • Write a tailored cover letter for each job application

The military offers some great exit material for those entering back into the civilian world. We’ve also compiled a list of resources to help you transition from the military to civilian job world.

One useful resource is www.careeronestop.org. This site, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, has a “Military to Civilian Translator” tool to help translate your military skills into civilian careers that require similar skills. This is a great starting point to help you gauge where your military experience will land you in terms of typical salaries, employment outlook and job duties of careers that fit your profile.

You can search by military occupation code (MOC) or by keyword. The goal here is to write down what your current military position is, and the tool will translate that into a civilian career. For example, when you search “Electrician’s Mate”, the civilian job match would be “Electrician.” Find your job match, and then click through to the civilian job details to learn more about it.

After searching through this tool, you’ll also want to ensure your resume speaks to the skills you’ve obtained in the military in a way that potential civilian employers understand. Once you find a job you’d like to apply for, look through the details of the job and focus on the “Knowledge, Skills and Abilities” section. Write down the specific skills and abilities that match your background, as well as their descriptions. These notes will help you build out your resume to appeal to the civilian job market.

Once your resume is built out, don’t forget to put together a cover letter for each job you apply for. This letter is your introduction to your potential employer and is your first chance to stand out in your job application. It is recommended that you keep this letter short, highlighting your skills as a good match for the job, as well as your ambition and career goals with the company.

Finally, you will need to have a list of references handy for any potential employers. These references do not need to be included on your resume, unless the job posting asks for it. Ensure these references are people who can speak to the quality of your work and you know well enough to give a positive review. Make sure they know you will be listing them as professional references who may be contacted by prospective employers.

Nailing the Military-to-Civilian Resume: A Comparison

Your resume is key in presenting your job strengths and highlighting your skills to help open the doors to job interviews. Let’s take a quick look at two resume examples for the same candidate, one that does a poor job of presenting the candidate, and one that helps highlight his skills. As you can see, the second resume takes the military terms and translates them into a civilian-friendly description.

This sample resume uses acronyms and jargon that aren’t necessarily known outside of the military environment. The hiring manager may not realize that this applicant has applicable skills.

Resume Example 1: Military JargonJohn Smith

Mission:

To excel in the role of EM, using my Sailor’s experience in management, maintenance, repair, precision calibration, and operational testing of computer controlled electronic systems and mechanical systems.

U.S. Navy – 2008 – Present – EM1
  • Performed regular maintenance on single and 3 phase AC/DC equipment

  • Experience using ammeters, voltmeters, ohmmeters, and other test equipment

  • In-depth knowledge of troubleshooting and maintaining electrical motors, diesel engines, pneumatic systems, hydraulic systems and welding equipment

  • Experience reading blueprints and schematics for wiring installation of plant equipment

U.S. Navy – 2006 – 2008 – Electrician 2nd Class
  • Managed subordinates; 5 EM3’s , and 4 CM3’s

Education

Navy

Technical Skills

  • Microsoft docs

Awards and Recognition

  • MTS
  • NAM

In contrast with the first example, this job applicant has made sure that his skills and achievements are readily understood by a civilian interview. He has spelled out acronyms, explained his experiences in an accessible way and reduced the presence of jargon.

Resume Example 2: Translated for CiviliansJohn Smith

Objective:

To excel in the role of Electrical Technician, using my 10 years of military experience in management, maintenance, repair, precision calibration, and operational testing of computer controlled electronic systems and mechanical systems.

Experience

U.S. Navy – 2008 – Present – Electrical Technician
  • Performed regular maintenance on single and 3 phase AC/DC equipment

  • Experience using ammeters, voltmeters, ohmmeters, and other test equipment

  • In-depth knowledge of troubleshooting and maintaining electrical motors, diesel engines, pneumatic systems, hydraulic systems and welding equipment

  • Experience reading blueprints and schematics for wiring installation of plant equipment

U.S. Navy – 2006 – 2008 – Department Supervisor
  • Managed 5 technicians in the Electrical Department, and 4 technicians in the Mechanical Department

Education

Navy

Technical Skills

  • Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel, Outlook)

Awards and Recognition

  • Received Master Training Certification for outstanding instruction in the field of Electrical Engineering

  • Received Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for outstanding work on the job in our electrical plant

Where to find job opportunities

Once you have put together your resume, you are now ready to start applying for civilian jobs. This can be a daunting task, as there are many tools and resources you can use to find the job opportunities that will fit your best.

First, make sure you have a LinkedIn.com profile. Many of the best job opportunities come from your personal and professional networks. Make sure to add your resume, a recent picture and a quick description of yourself. Then search and connect with everyone you know, and add them to your network. As you connect, look for possible networking opportunities where you might ask for an introduction, or express interest in a job opportunity through your network. Potential employers may also reach out to you, as they can see your background and resume details on your LinkedIn profile page.

And not to be overlooked is Facebook. You can make a request out to your personal network on Facebook to let you know of any possible job opportunities. Give them some basic details on what you are looking for, and you may be surprised by the opportunities that present themselves.

Also ensure you take advantage of the military resources for job opportunities. First, make sure you visit the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program website and get a copy of your Transition Assistance documents. These documents list your military job experience and training history, recommended college credit information and civilian equivalent job titles.

You can then search for jobs on http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs, which is powered by Monster.com, one of the world’s largest job search engines. Use the civilian job equivalent you researched earlier to search for jobs that match your experience. As you find jobs that meet your location and salary requirements, be sure to click through and look at the duties and job requirements of the position. Try to find ones that closely match those listed on your resume. This will give you a better opportunity to make it through the initial screening and line up an interview.

Once you have a few leads, and have applied for the jobs that fit the career path you are looking for, it’s time to prepare for the interview.

Acing the interview

Your interview is your final step toward employment, where you will meet face-to-face with potential employers, and hopefully be offered an opportunity to join their company.

First, you need to realize the interview is for the company’s benefit, not yours. They are looking for an employee who can solve their needs, and your job is to show them why you’re the best choice to solve those problems. So to ace the interview, you’ll need to do your homework ahead of time.

Ryan Guina, former U.S. Airforce aircraft mechanic and author of the website The Military Wallet had this to say about his job-hunting experience: “I researched the companies and their current projects before the interview. I even went to far as to call the HR department to ask questions about the specific projects related to the job.” Knowing more information about the company not only shows that you value their time, but that you care enough about their company mission to find what current challenges and projects they are currently involved in.

Quick Interview Tips
  1. Avoid the use of military acronyms and jargon. This may be a foreign language to your prospective employer.
  2. Highlight skills used in various projects you were part of. The goal here is not to talk about the specific task, but the skills and tactics used to complete the task. (Examples: Problem solving skills, technical knowledge in area of expertise, team collaboration, etc.)
  3. Avoid the use of formalities (unless the position calls for it). No need to use the words “sir” or “ma’am” or speak in a formal manner, as this may be off-putting to the hiring manager. Instead, treat the interview as a conversation with someone familiar, while expressing how your experience can benefit their company.

Guina continued, “Doing your homework is the most valuable pre-interview task you can do before stepping foot into the interview room. I didn’t have the direct knowledge for everything the company that hired me was looking for, but I was able to speak intelligently on the topic and I let them know I was prepared, knowledgeable and a quick learner. They hired me, and I hit the ground running.”

Once you know more about the company, you’ll want to practice your interview with someone you know, preferably someone with no military background. The goal here is to communicate your skills and background in a way that a civilian hiring manager would understand.

Also, keep in mind that there are a few questions that are illegal for an interviewer to ask, some of them specific to your military experience. Interviewers cannot ask about:

  • 1Your military discharge status
  • 2Your current military status
  • 3Any physical characteristics to the extent that they reflect a perception of disability
  • 4How often you are deployed
  • 5Any question relating to PTSD or traumatic brain injuries

If an employer does ask one of these questions, try to tactfully sidestep the question while still addressing the root concern behind it. If an employer asks about your physical or mental health, say that you’ve read the job description and that you’re able to meet all of the requirements of the position. If they’re trying to figure out whether you’ll be gone on deployments, say that you’re a hard worker and flexible to changing circumstances. Practice a few scripted responses in case any of these questions come up.

Once you’ve practiced for the interview, ensure you have an outfit suitable for the position you have applied for. This means a business-level outfit, typically a pair of slacks, button-down collared shirt and dress shoes. For men, a tie and blazer may be appropriate in more formal settings as well.

Lastly, once you have nailed the interview and the hiring manager wants to start talking salaries, ensure you know the going rate for that position to be able to negotiate well. Glassdoor.com, CareerOneStop.com and other sites can help you get a good gauge on the typical salary ranges for that exact position. When planning on your salary requirements, remember that you may have higher expenses in the civilian world if you previously relied on compensation from your military job such as a basic housing allowance.

How These Vets Made the Transition

Sometimes hearing from someone who’s been there is the best advice you can receive. Here are a few veterans who have successfully made the transition to the civilian job world.

What was your job in the military? How did you decide what kind of jobs you wanted to apply for in the civilian world?

Leonardo Cortes, a former Navy Interior Communications Electrician and writer at Phroogal, shares his decision making process.

“Essentially I narrowed things down by pay, location, skills required and also if the companies were military friendly. I used headhunters who specialized in veterans like Orion. I think veterans are so used to having hard jobs in uncomfortable areas that we are open to do a lot of jobs that many people without our experience may not want. The job I ended up taking was for a pharmacy working on their robotics. It coincided with my skillset but it would also help me expand that skillset and it required little travel and they were flexible with hours.”

How did you phrase or explain your military experience on your resume?

Ryan Guina explains

“One of the things I did right in my job search was to create a master resume which I then tailored for each individual job application. This can be a lot of work, but it gave me the opportunity to show how my skills matched up with the job opening using the terminology.

In terms of relating this to my military experience, I listed my military job, then translated those skills into terms civilians would understand. I also tried to work in some of the exact words or phrases from the job description where possible (and of course, only if they were true). Putting your experience in civilian terms will go a long way toward the hiring manager being able to understand your resume, versus dismissing it before giving it a real chance.”

Did you do any special preparation for your interview? If so, what?

Cortes explains his interview preparation process

“I did research on the companies I was applying to work for and the positions I was interviewing for. I looked into what was the average salary and the responsibilities usually associated with the position. Technical positions usually translate into having to take tests and so I would brush up on the basic electrical and mechanical knowledge.

I also looked up commonly asked questions on interviews and put some thought into how I was going to answer. I made copies of my resume for the interviewer and for myself.”

What kind of advice would you give to veterans who are transitioning to a new post-military career?

Guina talks about the biggest challenge in transitioning:

“Most veterans I have spoken with about their transition underestimated how difficult the transition would be. Not just in terms of finding a job, but also the emotional aspects of leaving the military environment. This was the most difficult part of my transition as well.

The military is a way of life. We all go through similar training and experiences, and therefore we share a special bond. That bond doesn’t always exist when you leave the military. So it’s important to find a place for yourself in your local community as quickly as you can so you don’t have to rely upon your job to find your bearings.”

Doug Nordman, a retired U.S. Navy Submariner, and founder of The-Military-Guide.com has some final advice to those looking to transition out of the military to a civilian career:

“My transition advice is financial: no matter what you decide to do after the military, strive to reach financial independence before you separate. I hope you find a bridge career that you love, but financial independence will give you the freedom to make choices.”

Resources

Consult these resources to help you continue your research on your transfer to the civilian job world.