UPDATED ON MARCH 29, 2018: Original article published on January 19, 2017.
Transitioning to a civilian job doesn't have to be a stressful process. Over the next several weeks or months, you will be faced with new challenges; but adjusting to civilian life can be accomplished by setting new goals and building relationships with peers or new friends.
To ease the transition to a civilian job, this ultimate guide will provide insight into the modern job search as well as relationship building in the workplace.
Identify Your Job Target
The first step to transitioning to a civilian job is identifying what civilian job you want to target in your job search. Targeted resumes are far more effective than broad resumes, so start by determining what you want next in life.
Take Advantage Of Transition Assistance Programs
The Transition Assistance Programs available to you should provide resources for financial planning, career planning, and goal setting. While these programs may not resolve all of your upcoming uncertainty, they will certainly point you in the right direction. Take advantage of these programs particularly when:
- Developing your Individual Transition Plan (ITP)
- Learning how to manage change and stress
- Establishing personal, career, and financial goals
Reflect On Your Experience
Take some time to reflect on your experience, both military and civilian, and consider which areas of your background you are most passionate about. Whether you excel in leading teams or identifying areas for improvement, reflect on which moments you gained the most confidence from. The areas you excel in the most may be directing you toward a new career path.
Research Companies & Job Opportunities
There is a passive job seeker and an active job seeker. A passive job search will waste valuable time, so do your homework and start looking into companies that you may want to work for. Your values and passions will match with your ideal company's culture. You can find out more about a company's culture by reading their website and finding them on social media.
The top places to check online to learn about a company's culture are Glassdoor, Facebook, and Instagram. Glassdoor is a review site that encourages employees to post anonymous reviews about the company they work for. Facebook has been used by companies to share updates and that company's involvement in the community. Instagram is a newer platform that some companies are starting to use to share behind-the-scenes photos of employees and the work environment. Glassdoor is a review site that encourages employees to post anonymous reviews about the company they work for. Facebook has been used by companies to share updates and that company's involvement in the community. Instagram is a newer platform that some companies are starting to use to share behind-the-scenes photos of employees and the work environment.
Update (Or Create) A Targeted Resume
Your resume will be your marketing tool. Unlike job applications, resumes should be more strategically developed to highlight your strengths and advertise your unique selling proposition (also what separates you from other candidates with similar skills and experience). As we stated before, targeted resumes are the most effective. Create (or update) your resume to target the unique needs of the company you want to work and to describe how you can solve that company's immediate problem.
Translate Military or Technical Jargon
Remember that you are targeting a civilian job, so your resume will likely be read by HR professionals or a hiring manager who may not be familiar with the terminology that has become your second language. It's important that you translate your military or technical terminology into language that civilians understand.
For example, your military rank will be best translated as Analyst or Manager. Being responsible for multi-million dollar equipment could translate into inventory management skills. Also, HR professionals may not be familiar with the title of your prestigious merit award, so describing why you were awarded the honor will be more effective than a list of awards.
Focus On Accomplishments & Major Contributions
Employers want to see what positive impacts you will make to achieve business goals. Furthermore, employers respond best to measurable accomplishments. If you can identify dollars saved or percentages increased, highlight them on your resume. While not all fields or roles provide opportunities to shine, you can always describe your major contributions by describing problems you solved and how you solved them.
Since you are targeting your resume toward a specific role, you should take into consideration what the primary goal is for that role. For example, you should highlight any opportunities you had to be a spokesman or success in developing public affairs plans when targeting a Director of Communications position. You should focus on how many training programs you developed, how many people attended and excelled in those courses, and what your students were able to achieve as a result of your training when targeting a general management position.
Refer To Job Postings For Keyword Optimization
One aspect of the modern job search that may be new to you is the reliance on software to filter through resumes. Often each job opening will attract applications from 200+ candidates. Since HR professionals don't have the time to read each resume, they use keywords to identify which resumes match with the job requirements.
For this reason, your first goal should be to optimize your resume for employer software by integrating keywords naturally into your resume. But which keywords should you add? You can find the appropriate keywords in the job posting specifically under Qualifications or Requirements. Here is an example Qualifications section of a job posting:
- Bachelor’s degree in healthcare, aviation management, business administration or a related field preferred. Will substitute years of experience for years of education
- 2-3 years of management experience in EMS or related field preferred
- Proficient in MS Office
- Demonstrated passion, commitment, and ability to safely promote mission and values
- A focus and ability to achieve customer service excellence, ultimately leading to increased transport volume
- Strong leadership skills with a willingness to lead by example and pro-actively seek solutions
- Excellent communication skills, including written and verbal communication with peers, patients, families, customers, and the community
- Experience in operations, including staffing, scheduling, and performance management
Keywords to naturally integrate into your resume include management, customer service, leadership, communication, operations, scheduling, performance management, MS Office, and similar variations of these keywords.
Develop A Targeted Cover Letter
Along with your targeted resume, you should create a targeted cover letter for each opening that you apply to. What does a targeted cover letter look like? It lists the specific company name and address. It also addresses the specific person who will be reading it. Yes, you should do your research and find out who is screening candidates using LinkedIn or by calling the company itself. This approach shows more initiative than a generic cover letter template.
Create A "Broadly Targeted" Template
We do highly recommend creating a broad cover letter template that you can modify to address the unique company's needs. Your cover letter should briefly express your interest in the job opening, introduce your qualifications, and request an interview. You should be able to address these points broadly in three paragraphs not exceeding a page.
Customize It For Each Position
When an ideal job opening presents itself, you should customize the template you created to address the specific position, company, and company needs. Your cover letter should answer these questions:
- Why are you interested in this specific role?
- Why are you interested in working for this company?
- What qualifies you to fill this position?
- Which specific achievements or strengths should the employer pay special attention to on your resume?
Convert Them Into e-Covers
In many cases, you may find that your cover letter is best pasted into the body of an email or a form field. Converting your cover letter to an "e-cover" is simple and effective. Clear your document of all formatting, remove the company address information, and move your contact heading to the bottom of your letter as a signature with contact information.
Update (Or Create) A LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is a great tool for job seekers. By creating a keyword-optimized profile, you will expand your reach to recruiters and employers. The most effective LinkedIn profiles are completely filled out including a Professional Headline, Summary, and Skills section.
Upload A Professional Headshot
According to LinkedIn's blog, profiles are 14 times more likely to be viewed when you upload a profile picture. This is social media so you should make your profile approachable to employers. A high-quality photo from your shoulders up should be as professional as the first impression you intend to make at an interview.
Use Your Summary & Headline To Tell Your Story
LinkedIn will walk you through the typical sections of the profile including Education and Experience sections. You should add a Summary and use this section to tell your story. Identify your values and passions, describe what problems you can solve for an employer, and identify who your ideal employer is.
Your Professional Headline should be your Branding Statement. You have 120 characters to encourage recruiters and employers to view your profile. It's one of the first pieces of information seen on LinkedIn after your name and profile photo. For some help in developing a Branding Statement that can be used for your LinkedIn profile or Career Summary on your resume, you can use this Branding Statement Cheat Sheet.
Start Networking On LinkedIn
Yes, you could create a LinkedIn profile and never actively use it. Your profile can still be found by recruiters, but its real power is in connecting people. Add people you know, including family and friends, as Connections to discover 2nd Connections (Your family and friends' network on Connections). You can join LinkedIn groups to expand your network as well.
The point is this: the more you network and connect with others on LinkedIn, the more likely you are to gain Endorsements on your skills or referrals to other Connections.
Or you can sign up for a free sneak peek at the LinkedIn WORKS! Coaching Program!
Practice Your Interview Skills
You may not be as experienced in job interviews, but they are somewhat similar to performance evaluations. The greatest difference is that this is the opportunity you are given to show the employer that you would be a great fit for the company. Your resume already established that you were qualified. Now is your time to more casually, yet still professionally, show off your personality.
Research The Company's Culture
As we already discussed, you should do some research about the company and its culture. The greatest advantage to knowing about the company's culture is being equipped to ask questions. Your focus should be to engage the interviewer, not to simply answer questions.
Knowing about the company's culture will also help you tailor your answers to several interview questions such as:
- Why should we hire you?
- What is your ideal work environment?
- How do you define success?
- What did you like (least) about your last job?
Focus On Your Goals, Not Your Past
While your military experience may be all you know and are familiar with depending on your years of service, your interview answers should focus on your goals. It's easy to dwell on the details of your past, but your mission is to convince the interviewer that you are ready for a civilian job.
Describe Your Values & Passions
Your interview is your sales pitch, and you're not selling your qualifications anymore. You're selling you. Instead of describing your skills and experience, describe the aspects that make you unique. Rather than describing your background in leading teams, you could describe how much you value leading by example. If you are driven to motivate your team by leveraging each person's individual strengths, these are details you should discuss.
Build New Relationships
While in the military, you developed strong relationships and you will need to build new relationships to successfully transition into the civilian workplace. Social rules and cues will play a role in your relationship building. Here are a few easy ways to start making connections in the workplace:
- PARTICIPATE IN COMPANY EVENTS. When companies plan events for employees, you'll have an easy and casual opportunity to meet new people.
- INVITE A CO-WORKER TO LUNCH. Take the initiative and invite a co-worker to get coffee or lunch on a break with you.
- JOIN LOCAL NETWORKING GROUPS. Check out Meetup, a local networking app, or Facebook Events Near You to find groups that may share similar interests.
Take a deep breath, and use this guide to start a smooth transition into the civilian workforce.