Transitioning from Military to Civilian Workforce

Military Civilian TransitionRecently I’ve added another dimension to my practice that I find extremely challenging and rewarding; helping United States military officers, enlisted personnel and those in the reserves with their transition from the armed forces into the business world.

What I have found as my main challenge, and theirs as well, is whereas most people I work with have gone through the job search process at least once (if not multiple times) in the past 5-25 years, most men and women transitioning from the military have been steadily working in the service of their country for the past ten to thirty years and are totally unfamiliar with how to write a resume, identify their core business values, network, and search for a job in today’s job market.

On the bright side, according to what I’ve read and heard in many business circles is that corporate employers now value the tangible and intangible skills found in veterans above those possessed by job seeking civilians. Although military men and women are trained to perform specific and specialized tasks within a formal structure, which is far different than their civilian counterparts, many companies find this discipline a value rather than a detriment to success on the job, especially in leadership and managerial positions.

This is not to say that our veterans have an easy time making this transition, so here are some of the unique challenges they face transitioning into the civilian work force.

1: I have been told by countless members of our armed forces that a major challenge they face is that most people on the corporate side of the job search process have a misconception about what it’s like to be in the military and lack knowledge about what most non-combat officers and enlisted personnel do on a day-to-day basis. This is intimidating on both sides of the table, especially for the military men and women who need to prepare a resume and the civilians who screen these resumes and interview them. To some extent the reverse is true as well as many in the military are unaware of the similarities and differences in what they do in the military compared to their counterparts on the corporate world.

To this end, as with every career changer it is the transitioning candidate’s responsibility to draw parallels between their military experience and training and how it relates to the positions they are seeking in the civilian work force. They are responsible for the research and finding mentors on the civilian side to help them reach their goals.

2: Another common occurrence with officers and non-coms transitioning out of the military is they tend to use too much military jargon and acronyms into their resume. This is especially true when it comes to listing education and training on the resume and over describing their job responsibilities and leaving out all accomplishments. Another thing that comes to mind personally is the overuse of the word sir when addressing a civilian, this can be very disconcerting.

3: Another issue I constantly face with military personnel is their lack of understanding of civilian social politics, jealousy and pettiness in the non-military workplace. In the service there is a finite social and reporting structure and transitioning military personnel need to learn about how the world operates on the civilian side before rather than after they begin their job search.

4: Managing expectations is another difficulty in transitioning from the military, especially for those soldiers and sailors who do not have extensive contact and/or interaction with the civilian business worlds. Salaries, benefits, raises, reviews etc are all new unknowns and most military personnel need to find out the answers to these and other questions before rather than on a job interview.

5: Networking for civilians is a daunting task, but for most people in the military it is even harder since they know far fewer people in the civilian sector to begin with and this puts them at a distinct disadvantage. This is the biggest challenge I face working with them and I suggest that everyone transitioning into the corporate world gets some professional advice on networking and social media and their importance to a job search 2-6 months before their actual discharge.

The task of networking in the civilian world can be made easier if recently discharged soldiers consider initially seeking out online job opportunities. There are several methods of utilizing the internet in a way that eases the transition between the military and civilian world. Taking a private security course online, for example, is an excellent way to utilize both the internet and knowledge gained from military experience. The trick is to not give up or feel as though this is an impossible task. Know that it is difficult and face the challenge head-on.

What I also hope is that we in the civilian world take the time and effort to understand what our veterans have done in the military. In addition to how their skills can be utilized in the business world, and that we make an extended effort to help and hire these brave men and women when they are looking for a civilian job.

If you are in the military and want to ask a personal question feel free to email me and send me your current resume for a free critique.


Perry Newman, CPC CSMS is a nationally recognized executive resume writer, career coach, AIPC certified recruiter and SMMU certified social media strategist known for his ability to help his clients get results. You can view his sample resumes at, and email him your resume at for FREE resume critique.

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