Separating veterans get a lot of advice about how to handle the problems that arise when looking for a civilian job. Between transition assistance programs and the thousands of veteran-oriented nonprofits out there, even the solutions can seem overwhelming.
Luckily, there are some very basic things service members have going for them. Employers know vets bring a lot of soft skills to a starting position or entry-level job that other candidates don’t. Moreover, many employers do want to hire veterans as a means of thanking them for serving.
So all veterans entering the job market for the first time have to do is ensure they put their best foot forward, get noticed and get that job. Here are the fundamental things to do to get started.
1. Ditch the Jargon
One of the main reasons veterans are overlooked for civilian jobs is not that the military tends to be the primary experience on their resume, it’s that vets don’t use language to describe that experience that a recruiter or hiring manager can understand.
Take a printed copy of your resume and LinkedIn profile and circle in red every instance of military slang, jargon or acronym. If there is a lot of color on the paper, your resume is in trouble. There’s a good chance the average civilian has no idea what they mean — and that only hurts your chances of getting an interview.
Learn what your job functions and skills translate to in the civilian world. Learning the language hiring managers speak will only help develop good writing skills to produce better resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn information.
2. Know Your “Soft” Skills
Military service provides so many opportunities for job training, education, certifications and more. These are the so-called “hard” skills that qualify people to do basic job functions. Of course, this is central to getting that first big job. But with hundreds of applicants applying for every open position, hiring managers have their pick of the litter. They will want someone with a little something extra: “soft” skills.
“Soft” skills are abilities learned by experience and example. They aren’t traditionally learned in books or classes. These include skills such as leadership, customer service, effective communication, the ability to be a contributing member of a team and more.
Veterans learn these skills from their first day in basic training, so be sure to mention them.
3. Fill Out Your Professional Profiles
Whether uploading resumes to a job search site like Monster or filling out a LinkedIn profile, be sure to fill it out completely, with complete education and experience along with any other relevant information employers should know. It’s also important to learn the language of hiring managers for these sites because, like the resume, that is the language used here.
Also like a resume, it’s important to ensure these professional sites are keyword optimized using the previously mentioned hard and soft skills. This makes it easier for recruiters and headhunters to find you.
4. Tone Down the Military
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of military service, of course, but this is civilian life. Employers want to hire people who are going to be with the company for a long time and will grow with it. Giving the impression that you prefer military life might make you appear as if you aren’t adaptive to change or are too rigid for the civilian world.
It’s positive for potential employers to know about a candidate’s military service, but that shouldn’t be everything the candidate is. It’s important to appear approachable and professional.
Throughout your life, you will go through many professional changes in which you will want to adapt your look and profile for higher management or a more skilled trade. Don’t think of this as forgetting your service, but rather a necessary adaptation.
5. Ask Experts for Help
Veterans leaving the military for the first time have probably never been in the professional civilian job market, so it would be absurd to think that they would know everything they need to know. When it comes to unknown unknowns — the things we don’t know we don’t know — this time in their lives is practically a minefield.
People genuinely want to assist separating veterans, and this is especially true for helping them find a job. But humans can’t read minds (yet) so it’s important to go and ask people in the know how you look on paper.
Some will take it even further and introduce you to people, open doors or drop your resume off. But you need to let them know you want the help.
6. Pay It Forward
OK, this doesn’t really help anyone right now. But it will be helpful in the future if every veteran could receive help from another vet, be it through mentorship, networking or even just looking over a resume for jargon, translation and copy editing. Every separating veteran would be much better off for it.
As you go through what will arguably be one of the most unsure times of your life, remember the feelings of dread and despair as your separation day comes and goes, and remember the elation you felt when you got your first civilian job.
Think about how you can one day help give that feeling to the next generation of veterans.
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