Most members of the Armed Forces who have retired from service decide to pursue a new career in the civilian sector. An important ritual associated with this transition is the job interview with potential employers. A great interview can make the difference between otherwise equally-qualified prospects for a job. Here are some tips for veterans in the application and interview process to help make the most of their job search and leverage their military experience in a new career.
During the job search and application process:
- Use social media, such as LinkedIn, as a networking and personal branding tool. Many men and women who are retiring from spending years in the Armed Forces might not have a LinkedIn profile set up as their previous work didn’t necessarily require it. Veterans are eligible for a free, one-year LinkedIn Premium account and should use it to showcase relevant skills, qualifications, and experience to prospective employers as well as those in their networks who may be searching for candidates. Equally important, you can use it as a research tool to learn about companies of interest and identify people in your network that may be affiliated with them!
- Highlight qualifications you believe will be important to the employer. Military skills are incredibly transferable to a civilian career. However, it can be easy to get lost in technical language and military jargon when describing what you did. If a hiring manager cannot understand what you accomplished, it’s likely they will pass over your resume in favor of another candidate. Take a step back and try to identify the broader skills required during your service. Things like leadership, logistics, strategic analysis, and organization are crucial in both military and civilian careers. Also important are unique qualifications and certifications that may be applicable in your new job. For example, did you earn a Lean Six Sigma certification while in the service? That is directly transferable to many civilian jobs. Depending on the company or position, some of these skills may be more valued than others and it’s important to highlight the appropriate ones, as needed.
- Back up your skills with concrete, understandable examples. It’s always important to discuss skills in terms of measurable accomplishments and milestones that will help the interviewer understand how you apply these skills and face challenges. For instance, rather than saying “I am experienced at creating budgets,” consider sharing a story of a specific budgetary task you completed, why it was challenging and how your unique skills enabled you to tackle it. This will help the employer envision the value you can bring to their company in similar scenarios.
- Come with questions of your own. Remember, an interview is an opportunity for you to ask the employer questions too! However, make sure you do research on the company and the services they provide and try to avoid asking any questions that you should already know the answer to. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate initiative and enable you to highlight ways your skills and abilities will be beneficial to the company such as “What would you envision my top priorities to be if I joined?” or “How can I help move the company forward during my first 30 days as an employee?”
After an interview:
- Send a thank you note. This can be handwritten and sent via mail or as an email. It doesn’t have to be very long but it’s important to thank the interviewer for their time and consideration and note that you hope to hear from them soon.
- Touch base with your references. If the employer requested references, reach out to them after the interview and let them know to anticipate a call regarding your application. This is a good opportunity to brief your references on how things went at the interview, the nature of the position and the particular skills you highlighted so they have an idea of what to expect if the employer contacts them. And, you can ask them to reinforce any of those as needed.
Job searching is daunting for everyone, particularly veterans who entered the service at a young age without much civilian job experience. These quick tips can help guide you through the process and help you kick off a successful post-military career.
About the Author: Carlos Perez is the COO and Assistant Secretary of AAFMAA. Prior to joining AAFMAA, Perez served over twenty-six years of active duty Army leadership as an Engineer Officer in a variety of command and staff assignments, including battalion command in the United States and operational and combat deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.