Top 10 tips for moving from military to civilian jobs

As our wars, thankfully, wind down, many folks in the military are making a transition to civilian life. It isn’t easy. Here are a few tips that might help.

1). Rephrase your experience. Put all of your experience in terms that civilians can both understand and appreciate. Some military skills are only useful in the military, but most have a civilian counterpart. The trick is to make sure that the civilian interviewer understands how these skills are portable.

2). Make sure that the employers understand the current military culture. Many people who have not recently (or ever) served assume that being in the military means mindlessly taking or giving orders. That, of course, was a bit true — in WWII. Today’s military personnel are expected to think for themselves, make rapid decisions utilizing good judgment, and be highly technological. Your résumé and interview must stress this for those who do not understand.

3). The civilian hiring experience is different. One of the nice things about the military is that, when you’re up for promotion, your experience and skills are pretty clear to the officer who is considering you. They’re going to have a pretty good idea of where you’ve been and have fitness reports, and so on. This is not true in civilian life. You’ll need to spell it out for the civilian hiring authority.

4). Interviews are different. Interviews in the civilian world are based much more on “click” than simply qualifications. They’ll be looking at cultural fit, personality fit, and, generally, how you’ll fit into the company.

5). Corporate cultures vary widely. While the “culture” of the military has some variance depending on the commanding officer, there is a universal “military culture.” This is not true in civilian life. Cultures can range anywhere from rigidly hierarchical to very loose with little structure. Be sure you know your degree of comfort for each culture before you accept a position.

6). Large corporations, generally, do not have great values. If you chose the military, you chose a career of service to a higher cause. In choosing that career you knew full well that your service could demand your life, your limbs, and life-long psychological issues. You were drilled in integrity, honor and service daily. Ummmm…..this is not the case in corporate America (for the most part). The only value many large corporations have is “money is king.” To someone used to a life of service, this can be jarring. Do not expect to find any honor or integrity in corporate America. It used to be there, but no more. The current motto is “greed is good.” Don’t forget it!

7). It isn’t really about doing a good job. Once you make the transition, you’ll need to learn to play corporate politics. Yes, the military has its own form of politics, especially at the upper ranks. But corporate politics is a very different breed of cat. If you do not know how to play well, your career will not advance.

8). Utilize your network. There are many ex-military personnel in the civilian world. Most will be very willing to help you. Go to events where you can meet these folks. Sign up on LinkedIn and do a search for ex-military personnel in your area and ask for help.

9). Don’t expect your skills to be appreciated. The military tells those exiting about all of the valuable experience they’ve received in the military and how easy it will be to get a job in civilian life. Well, you DID gain valuable experience, but don’t expect it to be easy to get a job in the civilian world, especially if you’ve been career military. Make the connections between military experience and the skills requested for the civilian job very clear.

10). Don’t talk about your personal experiences much with civilians on the job. Most Americans don’t want to hear about the reality of military life, and won’t thank you for “bringing the war home.” Spend non-work time with fellow ex-military and military personnel to talk about your shared experience. Give a “lite” version to your co-workers.

Your service should be greatly appreciated by everyone in our country. It is a great shame that we do not treat our veterans better. But, as with all things, we have to deal with the reality that presents itself rather than the way things should be. Good luck in your transition, and call me if I can be of assistance.

Join with up to 30 of your executive colleagues at Structured Networking on Monday, May 14th. If you are an exiting military officer, please contact me for a “comp” ticket. Registration is at