Many veterans separate from the military without knowing some of the challenges that lie ahead with securing future employment. Military service does not necessarily guarantee a significant upper hand with employers as many vets might think. It takes significant work to not only get a foot in the door, but also close the deal through the tedious interview and selection process. However, military veterans do have a unique opportunity to leverage their experience in order to stand out against others in the job market. At the start of business school, I faced the same trials and tribulations that most veterans encounter during a new career search. Luckily, I was able to reach out to an unofficial network of veterans that took interest in mentoring me through the career navigation process. Here are a few lessons that all should consider as they begin to transition from the military into the civilian sector.
Step 1 – Figure Out What You Want to Do and Where You Want to Do It.
Veterans are best served by honing in on a few core areas of interest and location. Otherwise, a career hunt can lack strategy and direction. For example, there were three main areas of focus I pursued. My primary target was consulting. Careers such as consulting and investment banking are very high touch, meaning applicants shouldn’t expect to apply for a job and be objectively considered for a position just based on a single document. There is a substantial amount of networking necessary to ensure a key person gets a hold of your resume. Hence, it takes a lot of time and effort.
My secondary target was any firm specifically recruiting at my school, as long as it fell into one of a few broad disciplines such as a general management or a leadership development program. I knew I could fit the bill if the employer wanted a student from my school.
My tertiary target was government. I was specifically looking for positions in Washington DC, because the military network and opportunities for transitioning veterans came second to none. By focusing on one location, I was able to develop a core network that could introduce me to other professionals right down the road. Consequently, I believe this locational approach provided some other advantages as well. While most Illinois recruiters are from Chicago, their companies have offices located in every major city. I felt it was easier to connect with these recruiters, as I was not specifically looking for a position in the Chicagoland area. The recruiter-to-recruiter referral seemed to hold a bit more weight in the end.
Step 2 – Clean up Your Resume.
Outside of the veteran community, most recruiters and hiring managers have difficulty understanding the military writing style and the associated terminology along with it. Companies may spend but only 15-20 seconds looking at an individual resume with the expectation of making a quick decision. My initial resume drafts were all written like an Officer Evaluation Report (OER) and based on the many specific requirements of the Army. This approach was not capturing the attention of recruiters. I was able to shift the tone of my resume by using translatable terms that civilian employers found more familiar. For example, I did not “provide daily briefs to a Colonel” but I “briefed a CEO”. I did not “lead a platoon”, rather I “led a team”. I focused on articulating my leadership skills, international experience, and results-oriented mentality. Additionally, I made sure to quantify the results achieved in each of my bullet points listed. I worked to ensure that my resume not only emphasized military positions and responsibilities, but also showed what I had accomplished to benefit the organization’s overall objectives. I also chose to customize my resumes by utilizing personalized cover letters that addressed my ability to meet the specific needs of each position and company. Although I am not sure how often recruiters and hiring managers actually read cover letters, much like hand written notes, it shows effort. Likewise, it is very important for applicants to have some due diligence in understanding the personnel actually reading their resume. You may not want to demilitarize a resume too much if the recruiter or hiring manager is a veteran themselves or the company is a military contractor. Finally, have your highlights stand out on a well-formatted one page resume. No recruiter wants to read a biography on your life or try to decipher numerous acronyms.
Step 3 – Network.
School is a great filter for transitioning veterans. Almost anyone is willing to talk with you during this time. However, doors will begin to close soon after those years pass. For example, I was able to reach out to numerous retired Generals and Admirals while I was in school. As a transitioning Army officer, anyone and everyone seemed willing to help me. Yet, after taking my first job, I was no longer “Andy Lucido, the transitioning military officer working on his MBA.” Instead, I became “Andy Lucido the consultant.” Veterans need to take full advantage of this transition period and work to vastly increase their network while they have the ear of influential people. This not only helps veterans meet a wide range of employed civilians, but also provides the chance to learn about different industries. Through numerous informational interviews, I became extremely proficient with my 30-second elevator pitch which detailed who I was, my background, and what I was looking to do. And even more importantly, I learned to listen. I could easily name-drop employees, describe a company’s culture, and explain why I was a fit.
Last words of advice.
Last summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit-down with retired General Stan McChrystal. One piece of advice he gave really stuck with me; avoid asking questions about work-life balance. An informational interview, career fair or hiring interview is not the appropriate time to broach this subject. Most veterans have worked strenuous hours while serving in the military. Veterans need to continuously portray the “go-getter” attitude we all have. We know what it takes to be successful and we are always ready to push the pace in order to reach mission accomplishment.
Additionally, hone in on the key differentiator(s) that sets you apart from everyone else. It does no good to introduce yourself as an engineering student upfront at a career fair. There are thousands of candidates introducing themselves in that same manner, and recruiters will stop listening if you fail to peak their interest in your initial dialogue. For example, I said I was a transitioning military officer, a former Airborne Ranger and explained what positions were of interest to me at the firm. Only after I made these attempts to capture the employer’s initial attention did I choose to inform them of my educational background and current status as an MBA candidate. It set me apart and following the steps given here could set you apart.
Andreas S. Lucido is the former President of the Military Veterans Association and a recent MBA graduate from the University of Illinois. He served as a Captain with the U.S. Army Rangers. Currently, he is serving as a public sector consultant in Washington D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.