4 tips for transitioning to a civilian post
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Whether you work in defense, military, police or fire, your job description includes duties rarely found in the civilian world. That does not mean you cannot make a smooth transition out of your uniform and into business casual.
As a disabled veteran who has helped companies with human resources since leaving my post in 1998, I have seen both successful and less-than-successful transitions. Of those, here are four key tips you should consider when taking the leap.
1. Deciding to leave
You may want to leave, but it is better to be ready to leave. It can be extremely frustrating to be mired in the world of bureaucracy, slow-moving projects and less-than-glamorous work locales. It can feel even worse when it seems so many civilians have flexible schedules, casual attire, higher pay and freedom to pursue interesting initiatives.
But are you really ready to leave? Can your financial situation handle a long job search? Or a job less secure than the one you have?
Work is work, regardless of your employer, and few civilians are satisfied with their jobs. Make sure the things that are keeping you from being satisfied are specific to the job, not things you will take with you.
Make a list of the things that make you want to leave — both the frustrations and the inspirations. Then read through it and ask if the frustrations would change in a civilian job. Are you trading them for different ones? Are the things inspiring you to leave realistic and attainable?
With those thoughts in mind, look to your network for additional perspectives to help you make your final decision.
You have to network, but that doesn't mean you have to meet thousands of people. I am not a fan nor am I comfortable working big-room events. If you are, great! If not, note that networking does not have to mean meeting 100 people at an event.
Instead, start looking at your network as people you know or know of who might know something about the job you did or want to do. Juliana Mercer, California pipeline manager for Hire America's Heroes helps service members and veterans take the mystery out of networking.
"Every job that I have gotten after the Marine Corps was because of networking," Mercer said. "I either met someone who wanted to hire me or knew someone who was looking for someone with my skill set."
Mercer shows clients how they are all already networking: "Networking in the civilian world is not unlike the networking that they had to do in the military; you got to know who was the worker in every shop (admin office, supply, IT, motor pool, etc.) and worked with or through them to get missions accomplished. Networking is that same rapport building."
3. The job search
So you have decided to transition, polished your LinkedIn page and started networking, but no one is filling your inbox with requests to join their team. Yes, this is normal and can be frustrating, but what can you do about it?
The best and easiest thing to do is to find a way to vent your frustrations and move on. Keeping a positive attitude in the job search is key. Seeming desperate and frustrated in an interview is the quickest way to get dismissed from consideration.
It may seem counterintuitive, but talking about the frustrations of a job search with other people who are going through the same thing can help. Check your organization's transition support resources or look for local resource groups like The Boardroom.
Finally, for some perspective on what some people have gone through to find a job, you can find additional anecdotes as well as research via this story from Here & Now. The bottom line: Remember you are not alone, resources exist and there is a time and a place for sharing frustrations — and it is not during the interview.
You have secured an interview and are ready. But how do you explain that what you have been doing actually translates to skills they need? The best thing I can say to you is: Assume they don't understand, but don't assume they can't understand.
Getting in front of a hiring manager or recruiter is a success in and of itself. It is a great opportunity to explain to a real person how you can actually help his or her company. Here are two things to remember:
First, tell them what they want to hear and answer the questions they ask. It may seem too simple, but repeating the question as the start of your answer really helps interviewers know that you heard what they asked. It also helps you stay on track with what you are about to say. Practice with a few standard questions like: Why do you want to work here? I want to work here because ... Simple, but it works.
Second, use their language to tell a story that incorporates your skills and experiences into the skills and experiences they are seeking. It is up to you to speak their language, not the other way around.
If you worked on IEDs in Iraq and now you are applying for a technical writer job, you will need to draw the parallels for them. Break down your skills to things they can understand: ability to work in stressful environments, understanding of deadlines, process and the importance of details, the ability to understand technical specifications and their practical applications.
When you break your skills down to the level of things presented in the job posting as the start of your answer and then give an anecdote of how you did that on the job, you will create the link between what the interviewer wants and what you have.
In short, know why you are leaving your post, use the resources available to help you and understand that the great things you have already done are skills employers want, but it is up to you to help them see it.
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