Transitioning to the Civilian Workplace

If you search the Internet, you will find an extraordinary number of articles written about veterans making the transition to the civilian workplace. It is without a doubt one of the most discussed subjects within the online communities of transitioning veterans.

Veterans face unique challenges that most jobseekers will never have to address in their job-seeking journey. And, there is no shortage of pundits and experts trying to provide insights, answers, and solutions to these challenges.

But are they right? Can these complex issues be capsulized or compartmentalized into easy-to-understand formulas or explanations?

Knowing Your Place in Society

In a recent U.S. News & World Report article1 Peter A. Gudmundsson, a former U.S. Marines field artillery officer and CEO of RecruitMilitary, thinks so. He writes how a veteran’s socioeconomic class affects their job search. He writes, “Since our military disproportionately sources recruits from the working and middle classes, it is not surprising that many of our veterans carry attitudes about job seeking and career development that are characteristic of those groups. Understanding the tenets of one’s own socioeconomic group will help a veteran more effectively and efficiently manage the job search process.”

In his article, Peter discusses the concept of value transfer, commenting, “if the Navy entrusted one officer to command a ship, then why shouldn’t a civilian company offer that individual a similar opportunity to lead a department or subsidiary?”

The thrust of this article illustrates three distinct classes that offer very diverse worldviews. His opinion is that a veteran job seeker should understand the context of their own socioeconomic class, and how those values will guide and inform career decisions.

He concludes with, “On any important journey, you must understand where you have been in order to direct where you will go.” He is correct in this statement.

Socioeconomics may have nothing to do with all of this.

When I shared this article with family and friends who have successfully transitioned from military life to the civilian workplace, a very different worldview became apparent. They felt socioeconomics had little to do with finding a job in the civilian workplace.

What was most important to their success, and what we teach in the Find My Perfect Job Formula, is communicating your value (translating your experience using their language) and positioning yourself in situations where you can successfully market yourself to a potential employer – networking.

When companies look at veterans, they look for people who possess skills that can translate to the companies’ needs, and have the potential to be molded into a successful long-term investment. A hiring manager’s objective with a military veteran is nearly identical to that of any other candidate – they are looking for the best fit, someone that has the necessary qualifications, and will hit the ground running.

Translating your experience

Quite often, senior enlisted and military officers who are seasoned leaders and managers in the military have a difficult time outside the military environment because they don’t have the direct experience in making business decisions that are typical in the private sector.

Military senior leaders generally have not had a need to understand revenue, or P&L statements, or managing portfolios.   It is a serious gap that just can’t be taught in a class at the end of a military career.  This is why companies prefer grooming their own people internally or if they hire externally, they hire someone who knows the industry and has proven success in it.

Retired Army Colonel John Buckley writes, “You can have a chest full of medals and a list of military accomplishments as long as your arm, but until you find a way to translate those experiences into something a civilian employer finds valuable, you might as well be speaking another language.”

According to Buckley, one solution lies in how you translate and communicate your experiences in the military using civilian keywords.

“To make sense to a civilian employer, a military résumé accomplishment such as ‘Lead Planner of NATO Military Operations in Libya’ needed to become ‘Hand-picked to lead a multi-national, diverse organization to solve a strategic problem through collaboration and consensus building among 26 international stakeholders.’”

Who you know – and who knows you

Making the transition to the civilian workplace is simply not something the military prepares veterans for. Perhaps this is why so many veterans struggle to find jobs and find themselves sending out résumé after résumé and not hitting a single target.

Many senior military veterans agree that the best way to get hired in the private sector is through networking…period. You have to know someone who knows someone who can get your foot in the door. And then, you have to be able to convince them to take a chance on you – which is the “communicating your value” part of the equation.

Although a veteran may find that the core values of a company in the private sector are consistent with the military, the structure and work methodologies are night and day.  For some, it will take some time to get used to.  But as one veteran noted, “I’m having fun, I like the people and I’m learning something new every day.“

Scott Huetteman is the co-creator of Find My Perfect Job – a program dedicated to teaching job-seeking professionals how to identify, find and land their perfect job, and the host of the JobSeek Radio. Learn more at

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