How to Prepare for a Post-Military Career

Everything changes when you leave the service and venture into to the civilian job market. Here are resources to help. For the most part, men and women on active duty in the Armed Forces rarely take an active part in competing for specific jobs. The military personnel system works assignments for its members, and the average servicemember receives a set of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders directing him or her where and when to report for the next job. It is, for the most part, a seamless and transparent process designed to move tens of thousands of people around the world each year as efficiently as possible.

Other than a “dream sheet” or statement of assignment preferences, military members generally don’t take an active role in the assignment selection process. There are no resumes, job fairs, or even interviews to be had (except in rare and special circumstances).

And then, it changes

All that changes when a military member leaves the service and ventures forth to the civilian job market. Suddenly, a resume becomes essential. Job interviews are the norm, and searching for the perfect job becomes a matter of knowing where to look and how to canvass a job fair. It does not have to be a daunting experience because there are resources to help.

There are many sources of assistance, official and semi-official, that transitioning military members can use to prepare for the civilian job market. Additionally, there are some areas worth emphasizing, such as translating military experiences into terms a potential civilian employer can relate to. I cover some of these areas in this article as well.

Transition Resources

There are two main official sources of transition assistance to servicemembers:

  • Transition Assistance Program (TAP) offices
  • TurboTAP

The Department of Defense (DoD) provides pre-separation counseling and courses to active-duty members approximately 90 days prior to separation or retirement. These are hosted by the installation’s TAP offices in conjunction with the Department of Labor (DoL). Together, the DoD and DoL focus on employment, training and educational opportunities; enhancing job skills; goal setting; and preparation of standard and optional forms for federal civil service employment; resume writing; salary negotiation; and interviewing techniques.

In addition, most TAP offices offer specialized courses in resume writing, job interviewing, and job searching. Take advantage of these for the added detail they offer in conjunction with the mandatory pre-separation classes.

TurboTAP is an official transition website run by the DoD. It offers many of the same resources as the official TAP services provided on military installations. There are downloadable TAP guides, as well as resources about compensation and benefits and wounded warrior care.

There are countless semi-official and even commercial resources available, too. Military members and veterans who are considering a private service, which can be costly, should weigh such a decision carefully. Many free services available through government and some commercial sites are excellent resources that should not be overlooked.

One superb semi-official online resource is CareerOneStop, a site sponsored by the Department of Labor. It has a special section for military members, veterans, and dependents. CareerOneStop provides assistance with resume writing, job searching, and a great tool to translate military occupational codes and career fields into civilian terms. has a comprehensive transition center complete with excellent tools designed for veterans. It brings veterans and civilian employers looking for veterans together in a robust job search function. It also hosts resume posting; provides assistance with crafting resumes; and contains a good military-to-civilian job skills translator to aid in resume development and interview preparation.

Translating Military Skills into Civilian Terms

Being able to translate military job experiences into terms that will resonate with the civilian job market is one of the most difficult tasks facing the soon-to-be veteran. Military jargon, unique job skills, culture, and writing style all serve to make it very challenging.

There are many online tools that help with this, usually oriented toward conversion of military career fields into civilian equivalents. CareerOneStop’ Military to Civilian Occupation Translator is one such tool that can be used to get a good sense for terminology used in matching civilian jobs.’s Translate Military Skills to Civilian Careers service works much the same way.

Many people find it helpful to use a Skills Assessment tool as another technique for assembling a list of skills to highlight in a resume, whether they are military-related or skills gained through non-military experiences. CareerOneStop has an online Skills Profiler that is a good start to gauge what your current inventory of skills and interests may be.

Don’t be shy about highlighting military experience just because the effort to translate it may seem difficult. Many civilian employers value your experience and work ethic; they just need to be able to understand it in terms they know.

Resume Writing for the Transitioning Military Member

The main purpose of a resume is to help you land a job interview. It needs to be succinct and powerful, and should demonstrate to a prospective employer that you have the skills they need. A necessary first step to crafting a powerful resume is to sort out your skills and translate them into civilian terms, as noted in the previous section. Once you have this inventory ready, it is worth your time using some of the many online resume creation services to help put it together.

There are several very good resume builders, and both CareerOneStop and feature tools that are geared toward the military member. Formats, types of resumes, and styles change over time, so it’s best to do a search to determine what is currently in vogue in the civilian job market.

Always determine if an employer you are targeting has a certain resume preference and follow the guidelines carefully. It’s perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, to craft more than one type of resume depending on the variety of jobs you are seeking, enabling you to adapt your focus quickly to a company’s needs.

Be sure to study the company and the job requirements of the position you are seeking, and adapt your resume to what the employer wants (it’s best to have a resume that hits all the required skills for the job you want to land). Highlight skills that fit the job you want, and deemphasize or omit extraneous information.

Always keep in mind that the employer looks at each resume with a basic question in mind, “What can this person do for me?” Target accordingly, and you will have a much better chance of landing an interview.

Job Searching Resources

Most good jobs are not to be found in the local newspaper classified advertisement section. Instead, there are some other, more effective resources for finding great jobs suited to a military member’s skill set.

Job fairs are wonderful venues for connecting transitioning military members with civilian employers seeking veterans. Oftentimes defense contractors and others looking for people with military experience hold job fairs in cities near military installations because they know such places are target rich environments.

A good source for finding when and where military-oriented job fairs will occur is’s Career Expo center. Check your local installation TAP office as well for a schedule of job fairs coming to your area, not just those that have a military orientation to them, but all job fairs in your city. The local Chamber of Commerce is almost always involved in setting up and hosting job fairs, so it is also a good place to visit or call.

When preparing for a job fair, learn as much as possible about the companies that will have representatives there, as well as the jobs they are trying to fill. Bring several copies of your resume, and have your pitch ready to deliver.

Keep in mind that job fairs can be very busy places, and the big defense contractors tend to draw long lines of people hoping to impress the HR personnel in as short a time as possible. Dress for success and to impress… it’s as important as the resume and your pitch. Read’s Five Things to Take to the Career Fair article for some great advice and tips.

Job Boards are searchable tools that individuals can use to find jobs by keywords, location, and other factors. A comprehensive site for finding federal government jobs is USA Jobs.

Many job search sites feature the ability to upload and post your resume and make it searchable by employers who may be looking for people with your skills. You may also be able to establish a profile and upload your resume with individual companies and receive automatic email notifications when jobs matching your search criteria become available.

Good old fashioned networking is usually one of the best ways to secure a job. Network with people you know from all walks of your life… work, neighborhood, church, social groups, sporting teams. Discuss your career goals and desires, and follow-up on any leads you develop from the people you know. Employers value the recommendations of people they know and trust, and networking helps bring a sense of trust about you that no resume can convey.

Take advantage of all the resources the military offers you before you transition, and tap into some of the other resources we’ve highlighted in this article once you leave the service. With some sound planning and a roadmap for where you want to go in the civilian job market, you will be better postured to land the perfect job and start a new career.

What questions do you have about planning for your transition or post-military career? Please post your thoughts and questions here or contact me directly: or call toll free 1-800-470-3743.

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