How can ex military win at job-hunting?

Making the transition from military service to a successful civilian career is harder than it should be. You’ll hear that message a lot. So what can be done about it?

It’s exciting to see that many ex- military are leading high-intensity conversations. Their goal: repairing today’s disconnect between veterans’ skills and the civilian job market.

The discussion is especially lively in the comments section on this feature article about Army Sgt. Ritchie Thomas’s long journey to a good civilian job. Other lively discussions can be found on these blogs .

Here are five ideas that stand out.

Ex Military can — and should — get better at being their own advocates. It’s not enough to “deliver the product,” You need to “become their own marketing director and business development director.” That means becoming known and trusted in a new environment. It also means developing a network of non-military contacts who can help open doors to promising jobs.

Find at least two mentors who are part of the civilian workforce. This tip comes from Frank Santos, a former Navy recruiter who’s now doing health-care recruiting for Cetechs. “They can provide sound advice on proper interview attire, negotiating salary, and how to translate your experience and skills to someone that has no experience or knowledge of the military. If you skip this step, it’s going to be that much harder.”

And for veterans who don’t think they know anyone who could play this role, “do not be afraid to ask,” Santos says. A lot of people are willing to help. If a potential ally says no or doesn’t respond, just move on to the next prospect.

Learn the rituals and winning moves of resumes and job interviews. This is new territory for most veterans, observes Ted P. Avila, a former Navy chief petty officer who now is a disabled-veteran outreach specialist with the state of Hawaii. Understand that a civilian-sector interview is a “conversation about company specifics” and whether candidates meet what’s being asked for, he observes.

On resumes, it’s not enough to list job titles, certificates and awards. Instead, Avila points out, veterans repeatedly need to demonstrate “a problem they had to address, actions taken to correct the problem, the outcome, and what impact they had.” Such condensed case studies help demonstrate the problem-solving aptitude that companies want. Budget data and quantifiable percentage improvements can help the cause.

Realize that not all military experience translates instantly. As former Marine combat engineer Matt Disher observes, nuclear machinists can find similar work in the civilian sector; snipers and machine gunners generally can’t. In such cases, he says, “a transitioning veteran may have to take a step into something else (step down) to learn the business first.”

Over time, strengths in leadership, dedication and other intangible skills often led to a series of better jobs. In the short run, though, as Disher observes, “it’s as if the companies and veterans are driving on the same highway but are divided by a wall.”

Convene all sides to rethink our hiring systems. There’s a lot that recruiters, hiring managers and veterans themselves could learn from one another, if they just had a forum for open-minded dialogue. Take it from Anthony Nelson, a former company commander in the Army, who now is a tech company account representative specializing in the Internet of Things.

Too often, both veterans and hiring managers find themselves trapped in a system that isn’t quite working. Everyone pushes ahead anyway, without having the freedom to step back and say: “Couldn’t we do this better?” Nelson’s recommendation is to create “purely informational and educational” gatherings of HR managers and veterans, with the goal of identifying areas of mutual misunderstanding — and then building common frameworks that make it easier for veteran-friendly rhetoric to translate into results.

For an up-close account of one soldier’s journey, check out this profile of former Army Sgt. Ritchie Thomas. Without giving away too much, there’s a lot to like in his slow — but relentless — journey to a better life.

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