Veterans, Your Skills Transfer to the Civilian Sector, Part II

By Mahlon Braden, Sr. Software Engineer and U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer (Ret.)

As I discussed in Part I of this series, veterans entering the civilian workforce bring value and skills they themselves often overlook. Now we’ll discuss some challenges and ideas for overcoming hurdles particular to veterans.

Veterans entering the civilian space: challenges and solutions

While the job search process can be trying for anyone entering a new sector or market, veterans face roadblocks common to those who haven’t served. Particularly, veterans must navigate tricky waters involving formulating resumes, negotiating salaries, and managing hiring timelines for the first time.

Resumes — Resumes can be painful to write, no matter what your industry. But for veterans who hold vast and varied experience, this exercise can be even more difficult. For veterans, the key to breaking the resume writing code is understanding that the resume they are writing for the first time contains somewhere between four and 30 years of information. This is cumbersome when compared to a college grad who won’t have as much experience to add when entering the workforce for the first time. Begin with that in mind, and then consider doing the following:

  • Compile all experience into a master resume. Do not leave anything out at this point, no matter how long that makes the document. You never know what experience or skill will make a difference as you move through the hiring process.
  • If you have a clearance and you are transitioning from the service, check with your local security office for requirements for resume review. Understand you may need to remove certain verbiage or even entire sections, depending on what is in your work history.
  • If you have held a clearance, include it prominently at the top of the resume. Spell out and include the acronym for the clearance, include who issued it, and list if it is active or not. Example: Active Top Secret/SCI Clearance based on SSBI by OPM completed on 23 Jan 2013 (TS/SCI since 2001)
  • Spell out acronyms used only once. If used throughout, spell the acronym out the first time and use the acronym abbreviation after.
  • Minimize the use of military terms and try to substitute them with industry specific terms.
  • Have a mentor review the master resume for readability, accuracy, and clarity.
  • Narrow down your revised resume to fit a specific job listing but retain a copy of your master resume.

Remember, you will need more than one resume. For each position of interest, you will need to address the requirements of that listing. Your resume submitted for that specific listing should feature experience and skills tailored to match or exceed what the company is seeking. For each company you apply to, you may need to omit or add information to match what they are looking for. Additionally, some companies, government agencies, and even job listing websites may require your resume to be uploaded electronically into form fields.  The bottom line is to prepare to be flexible, patient, and thorough. The more time you take now to address your resume, the easier the process will become later.

Salaries — Once you master the resume, it’s time to think about salary. Military salaries are very different from government and private sector salaries. Many job listings include salary ranges, but unfortunately, interviewers often are not forthcoming about how much a position pays. Understanding government and private sector pay scales and getting good advice for negotiating salaries for the first time may also not be easy. Before you decide to interview, consider how you will approach the issue of salary. Here are some tips for successful negotiations:

  • Recognize that government positions have more rigid guidelines and fewer options for negotiation. However, government listings usually are up front about pay scale.
  • Understand that government contracting and other private sector industries typically have more flexibility and hiring managers may be open to negotiating, but you will need to practice how to navigate the conversation. While you do not want to sound like salary is your primary motivator, you will want to ensure you are offered a salary commensurate with your experience and skills.
  • Before having a conversation about compensation, educate yourself on the organization’s different pay scales by researching the company or agency. Then try to get an idea of the different position levels.
  • Research compensation trends in your desired industry, field, or position type. Be sure to take into consideration your geographical location and cost of living. LinkedIn and Glassdoor can be useful online tools for this.
  • As with resume writing, mentors can serve as tremendous allies when you are ready to negotiate pay with a potential employer. Ask your mentor for insights and resources, and practice having the discussion with your mentor first.

Discussing salary can seem like a daunting task, and it does require finesse. Forethought and practice are keys to your success.

Timeline — In preparing for transition, future veterans often wonder when to start applying for jobs. Talking with your local Transition Assistance Program (TAP) representative, as well as being honest and open with perspective employers, is key. Here are some items to consider:

  • If security clearances are required for your desired position, there may be a delay in your start date should you be hired. This can happen whether you have a current clearance, require a higher or additional clearance, or are applying for clearance the first time.
  • When engaging recruiters ask up front, “When are you looking to staff this position?” In government contracting, sometimes advertised positions are in proposal phase or have conditions associated with funding. You will need to ask this question early in the process and plan accordingly should you be hired for the position.
  • You may need to find an interim position as your clearance is processed, if your position is not being staffed immediately, or if there are other delays lining up your hire date with your separation date.

The key is to plan, apply early, and expect to wait. Doing so will help reduce frustration and anxiety and will help mitigate potential negative repercussions of delays.

Planning to enter the civilian workforce will require you to research hiring in your industry of interest. You will also need to learn and use new skills. But as a veteran, you are uniquely accustomed to adapting to unfamiliar environments. Translating and transferring your expertise into a new sector demands you do just that.

If you are in the process of researching a government contracting position, consider Octo. We are a veteran friendly workplace dedicated to serving the Federal Government and empowering all employees to succeed. Visit our Careers page now.