Veteran Job Seekers: 'CYA' as You Position Yourself in the Civilian Workforce

(U.S. Navy/Shannon Haney)

Many transitioning service members tell me they dread having to put themselves "out there" in the world for others to find, assess and determine their worthiness for opportunities.

Self-promotion, marketing, networking and interviewing for jobs can feel daunting, especially since not everyone will be interested in your stories, experiences, skills and dreams. It's no wonder many transitioning service members feel overwhelmed.

A strategy that can help: CYA. No, not cover your backside, but rather, Consider Your Audience.

As you move from the military into your next career in the civilian sector, knowing whom to position and promote yourself to is critical.

Not every employer values the same experiences, goals and talents. Not all communities will appreciate your background. Your responsibility is to position yourself to the people who will care.

Who's Your Target Audience?

Imagine you are the manufacturer of high-performance sports cars, rolling out a limited number of pricey, elite vehicles. Would you market these to every human on the planet? Likely not, unless you have a bazillion dollar marketing budget.

A smarter approach would be to research your ideal buyer: a person who values expert craftsmanship, powerful engineering, high performance and exclusive luxury.

It's no different when looking for a job. For example, if you're exiting the military with a technical background as an intel officer, you bring a set of hard and soft skills that certain employers desire.

Other companies might not care about your training, your ability to work well under pressure, your skill for reading people and situations and creating recommendations for swift action. Those companies are not your target audience.

The people who will "get you" appreciate who you are, what you stand for and where you come from. Your skills, training and background are ideal for the opportunities they're creating and recruiting for. You are who they're looking for.

Positioning Yourself to Your Audience

Once you know who you're targeting, assess how you align with them. Think again of the sports car example.

Here, you might position your car to your target audience as a luxury few can afford (but they can!), noting how most people won't appreciate the elite craftsmanship and powerful engineering (but they do!) and that the masses can't access a vehicle as special as this one (but they can if they're willing to part with lots of money for the privilege of owning this car).

When you position yourself to your target audience, you'll consider what they care about, what they fear, what motivates them and what repels them. You'll learn their needs, hopes and dreams. With this knowledge, you can authentically align your messaging, content and behaviors.

An intel officer, for example, may have a target audience who cares about servant leadership, exponential growth and mitigating risk.

Therefore, the intel officer would share examples of passion for service, of how he or she acted in ways that put the needs of others first, of using situational awareness to see opportunities and innovations for unit success, and of managing and understanding risks to the mission.

As you share who you are, what you've done and why it matters to you, you'll build relationships with your target audience.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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