So I thought about Frank Buckles. Who? Frank Buckles was the oldest surviving United States WWI Veteran who passed away this past weekend. I thought, and then read more about this man and his transitions. Mr. Buckles had many transitions in a life that spanned 110 years. What stood out the most about these transitions was his level of resourcefulness. When turned down for admittance by the US Army at the age of 16 because he could not prove he was 18, Mr. Buckles stated he was in fact 21 to the next recruiting office. He got in, transitioned through war in Europe, back to the U.S., spent the majority of WWII as a prisoner of war, had career transitions, lived as a widower for over a dozen years, and more. When asked about his secret to living such a long life, he said “when you feel like dying…don’t.” Tough, and resourceful.
Your military experience has changed you, and you are not the same person you were when you left civilian life. So it’s time to assess the three basic questions of the job search: “Where are you now?”, “Where do you want to go?”, and “What are the steps that will get you there?”
Start with a good self-assessment.
- What has changed?
- Where do you want to live?
- What careers did you consider before the military? Do any still appeal?
- Is there a civilian career that directly relates to your military career?
- Do you want to pursue that or are you ready for a change?
- What skills do you have and want to continue using?
- What skills do you need to learn?
If your disability is visible, break the ice in the interview by discussing it up-front. Keep your discussion positive and don’t let the disability be an excuse or a plea for sympathy. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable your interviewer (and the interview) will be. The worst thing you can do is pretend your injury is not there with you.
Develop a job search manual, binder, Excel document, etc.
Now, you can do this in an electronic or hard copy fashion, but just do it. It should contain:
- Cover letter, resume, copies of completed applications, networking contacts, bookmarked sites, geographical information, company information.
- All of your “outward facing” data including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter must appeal to a civilian employer.
- It’s imperative that you move from the military mindset back into the civilian mindset. The only way to impress a civilian employer is show your value by translating your military language to a civilian language.
- Begin gathering and cataloging data on what skills your targeted employers need.
- What skills, experience, and education are they seeking, and how do your skills fit those?
- How can you show through your military experience as well as other parts of your life, that you have specific experiential learnings and values the employer wants?
- Build your own thesaurus for your resume, and interviews. Use civilian friends and family to help you translate military jargon into civilian. This will be a challenge, but very helpful in getting prospective employers to know your value.
Find a way to explain the value of your military experiences and activities to a civilian employer.
- Remember that you service career focused on skills that, while highly necessary and valuable within the military, don’t always translate well to traditional employers .
- Focus on the skills you developed before you entered the military as well as those you’ve since acquired. For every skill you consider, ask yourself-why would an employer care about this? And be ready to explain the value to the employer. Dig deep.
- Think about what characteristics you possessed that made you good at what you did. Say, it was sharpshooting– what skills make a good sharpshooter? Attention to detail. Keen observation. Careful decision making. Ability to function under pressure.
Develop stories to convey your strengths.
Most good stories are based on challenges and if the military provides one thing, it’s challenge. Determine four or five good stories you can tell in a minute or so that will demonstrate how you rise to challenges or what you learned.
- Were your challenges interpersonal– getting along with people from different backgrounds? Were they related to rank: how did you get along with those who ranked above or below you? Did you mentor new recruits?
- Were your challenges based on geography? Where were you stationed? Was it near your home or far away? How did that present challenges? What did you learn?
- Focus on positive stories which explain what you learned, how you solved problems, how you were a leader (regardless of rank).
Network and seek all the help and support you can get.
- If your local veteran’s office offers job-search assistance, take advantage of their programs and services.
- Use your contacts. Keep in touch with your friends and colleagues from the military and share ideas and job leads.
- Helping someone else can make you feel much better as you go through the process yourself.
There are many sites that are available out on the web that are helpful. Some include tips and trends, links helpful agencies, profiles of veteran friendly employers, and much more.
Buzz Smith is SR Curmudgeon & VP Consulting Services for OPI Oputplacement. OPI National Outplacement and Career Transition Located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Buzz is also a co-author of the book Combat 2 Career, and if you’d like a free copy…call 865-531-9154. No strings.