How to Use Your Military Background to Win Your Civilian Dream Job

As a member of the Armed Forces, you have risked your life for your country. You have given up many of your own freedoms to safeguard the freedoms of your fellow citizens. You possess courage, discipline, intelligence and dedication in spades. Yet it is no secret that transitioning military often struggle in the initial weeks and months of returning to civilian life. Here are some tips from career experts to help you succeed in civilian job interviews.

Preparing to Win Your Civilian Dream Job

Under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and related programs, you can take advantage of military scholarship programs and other educational assistance benefits to attend college, receive training, obtain your license or certification and more. Military-sponsored programs help you to begin your career search without the burden of debt that many civilian students face.

Make Your Resume “Civilian-Friendly”

In job interviews it will be your challenge to help a civilian employer understand what you did for the military. The first step to achieving this goal is to “de-militarize” your resume.

  • Opt for general job descriptions wherever possible. Talk in terms of leading teams, working in high-pressure situations, meeting high-priority objectives and managing budgets or projects.
  • Use civilian terminology. Steer clear of terminology only fellow military personnel would recognize or relate to.
  • Test a civilian friend to be sure. Run your resume by a civilian friend or colleague to be sure all obvious questions have been eliminated or answered.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s “Transition Assistance Program” has a helpful guide that may be useful to help you create the most effective civilian resume.

Learn How to “Walk and Talk Civilian” in Job Interviews

Military communications are necessarily more formal than what you will experience in civilian life. Here are some examples of common military spoken and unspoken communication and how to modify them for civilian settings.

  • “Sir, yes sir!” This should become a simple “yes” or “no” in civilian communications. There is no need to add a formal honorific (such as “sir” or the individual’s rank).
  • Salute. Instead of a salute, you can simply offer a warm and friendly handshake. Practice your handshake with a civilian friend to ensure it is neither limp nor overly strong — your goal is to achieve comfortable firmness.
  • Ramrod straight posture. Most civilians — even at the executive levels — tend to have a much more relaxes posture than what is expected in the military. When standing and sitting in civilian interviews, add some movement to your posture by relaxing your back and shoulders, using hand gestures, adding more animation to your facial expressions and moving your body a bit as you speak.
  • Dress code. The military has very formal, consistent dress code standards. Civilian dress includes more variety. Reserve your most formal suits for the very first interview. When called back for second and third interviews you can dress slightly more casually.

Use Examples of How Military Skills Apply in Civilian Settings

Your military background and training has equipped you with many character strengths, skills and abilities employers need. These examples can help you learn how to translate specific military experiences into civilian-friendly language. This skills translation website can also help you translate highly specialized skills into civilian terms.

  • Financial management. If your military duties included managing accounts and you saved your military branch thousands (or millions) of dollars by implementing cost-cutting procedures, this can directly translate to the ability to save your employer money as well.
  • Training and leadership. If you served as a military recruiter or drill sergeant for basic training and you successfully trained 1,000 new recruits over the course of your service, this shows strong training and leadership skills to your new civilian employer.
  • Troubleshooting and resolution. If you oversaw maintenance and repair of a fleet of military land or aircraft and you had a zero incident safety record during your term of service, this translates to a zero incident civilian workplace in your employer’s mind.

Use Military Resources to Your Advantage

Finally, be sure to take advantage of military resources to help you emerge from your transition strong and ready to excel in the civilian arena. Make use of career and transition mentors, job placement assistance, career guidance workshops, small business and entrepreneurship programs, networking groups and tools, education and training benefits, relocation assistance and much more. If you seek out military as well as civilian support resources, you’ll have an even better chance of success in your new civilian career.
About the Author: Carolyn Harvey attended college on a military scholarship. Thanks to the financial and career planning assistance provided by the military, she made a successful transition out of the military and into a new career she loves.