One of the great benefits about military service is that you never need to do that horrifying thing civilians call "job hunting." Instead, you get an assignment. You show up, nail that job, and three years later, they give you a new assignment. No need for resumes, interview questions or negotiating your benefits package.
Until you get out.
That is, until you get out of the military. Then they expect you to mysteriously know how to work your way into a civilian job. They expect you to learn all those job-hunting skills on the fly, even though all these much-loathed, job-seeking activities are new to you (and make no sense).
Luckily, I like you and I want to see you get a fabulous job. As the transition master coach at Military.com's Veteran Employment Project, I put together this list of the 10 most essential things you need to know about finding a job after military service. Apply these things, and you will start ahead of the pack.
Top 10 Essential Things Veterans Need To Know About Getting a Job
1. The job hunt is a project, not a judgment.
At Military.com, we call our program the Veteran Employment Project, not the Veteran Employment Judgment-Upon-You-as-a-Human-Being. The job hunt is one of the most stressful things you do in civilian life. It can feel like you have been cast out into the wilderness to procrastinate alone in the desert. That is a lot for one little job hunt to bear.
When we see veterans and spouses start thinking of the job hunt as a long project -- not a judgment, a crucible or the pathway to enlightenment -- they make more progress. This is because the job hunt really is a long project, like painting your garage, losing 30 pounds or building an ark. Look at each step as a set of decisions and activities to be managed one at a time until the project is complete. Start with the first of our 52 steps and keep moving forward.
2. Find the military door.
Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Companies that have hired military in the past are much more likely to hire military in the future. Start your job hunt with companies that have what we call "a military door." This does not mean only companies in the defense industry. This means the company has a veteran hiring program, a strong record for past hiring and a strong retention record. There are thousands of these companies that have been featured on Best Veteran Employer lists and the Department of Labor's HIRE Vets Medallion Program.
3. This is the last time rank matters.
Civilian employers usually don't know jack about the difference between an E-4 and an E-9. The only reason your rank matters now is because the experience of people who got out of the military at the same rank (with the same education) tends to be much more relevant than the experience of veterans at other ranks and career levels.
Seek out veterans who got out of the service at the same career level that you did. People who got out three or four years ago have the most insightful information. Get their stories. Collect their strategies. And watch the Veteran Employment Project Master Class for your specific career level in our video library.
4. Federal employment is not your backup plan.
If you are telling yourself that you always can get federal employment if everything else doesn't work out, stop telling yourself that. Federal employment is hard to get, and the federal resume process is arduous. If you want government employment, make that your first priority by watching our master class How to Get a Government Job.
5. Cold applications are procrastination in disguise.
This is the way the job hunt should work: The company posts the job. You see the job. You apply. You get the interview. You get hired. You start work next Monday. Instead, the increasing dependence on artificial intelligence technology has made the hiring process so complex that even qualified people often can't get through the applicant tracking systems.
You can't drop a resume cold and expect to get the job. You need a real person to talk to on the inside. Find out how to do it right in our master class: Best Military Employers You Don't Know Yet.
6. The top third of your resume is golden.
We know from tracking recruiter behavior that they spend the most time looking at the top third of your resume -- your location, your job title and your bulleted list of work skills, certifications and security clearances. Make sure that bulleted list corresponds as closely as possible to the job listing to make it easier for the hiring manager to pick you.
7. Never offer your resume to anyone until they specifically ask for it.
No one wants to read your resume. It isn't you. It is just that a resume is the most boring thing to read on Earth. Most people skim it and tell you it is fine. If you need help with your resume, ask a professional. Otherwise, wait until someone says those magic words: "Shoot me your resume." Check out other ways we found to get someone to read your resume and hire you.
8. If you are getting nothing but crickets, something is wrong.
Don't ignore the sound of the crickets during your job hunt. If you are hearing nothing, it means something. If you are not getting interviews, there is something wrong with your resume. If you are not getting job offers, there is something wrong with your interview. A little coaching makes all the difference.
9. You need a transition coach.
You don't get a bonus for going into the job-hunt process Bear Grylls-style and figuring it all out for yourself naked in a blizzard. Whether your transition coach is a paid professional, a person provided for free from a veteran service organization, or a friend who is eager to shepherd you through the process, experience and commitment go a long way.
A coach is someone on your side who is looking out for you but does not have skin in the game. Your spouse loves you, but this is a stressful process for them, too. You will know you found the right guide when they have the information you need most, ask you questions that make you think and provide hard truths when you need to hear them.
10. This is not your last job.
The military half of your career is about finding out what kind of person you are. The civilian half is about how to make the most of it. Sometimes, that means that your first job after the military is not the best job for you. By necessity, we all make decisions in transition without 100% of the information. So be it. Our goal for you is that you are always spiraling upward, closer and closer to your best self -- whoever that may be.
The job hunt is the way we work our way in to the civilian world and find a new place to use all our strengths. This is nerve-racking, but you are up to it. Get the edge by signing up for our upcoming FREE transition master classes now.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
The Veteran Employment Project is Military.com's FREE collection of classes, videos and instructions, helping veterans and spouses find their next high-impact job. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.