Job Hunting For Veterans – Andrew Hutchinson – Medium
The transition from military to civilian life can be a difficult one. One of the hardest parts can be finding your next career. I was really lucky to get some great advice as I made the transition four years ago, and I wanted to pass along some of what I learned.
Know Your Value. Amongst a host of other things, the military taught you how to lead, how to work with others, how to be a team player, and how to communicate effectively. A few years ago, Google conducted a big research project to determine what made a good manager. After spending millions of dollars, they came up with the following eight things (in order of importance).
1. They’re good coaches
2. They empower their team and don’t micro-manage
3. They express interest in their team members’ success and personal well-being
4. They’re productive and results-oriented
5. They’re good communicators and they listen to the team
6. They help employees with career development
7. They have a clear vision and strategy for the team
8. They have key technical skills that help them advise the team
Notice where technical skills come in? Very last. Companies want leaders that are empathetic, that can coach, that can listen, and that can deliver. Those are all things you learned how to do in the military — so know your value and don’t sell yourself short!
Find Something You’re Passionate About. Many companies these days have really great pay, benefits, and perks. All of those things are great, but they’ll soon lose their sparkle unless you find a job that you’re passionate about. Take your time researching companies and learn about what they do. Read their mission statement and their values. A great way to learn about a company is to see what the leaders at the very top are saying. Listen to interviews and read blog posts from leaders at a company. You’ll learn a whole lot more about why the company exists, what the company values, and where it’s headed than by just looking at a company website.
Be Deliberate. Treat your transition like a full-time job. Don’t think that 30 minutes a day is going to get you to success — make a plan for each day and set goals for yourself. I recommend reading the book “The Two-Hour Job Search” by Steve Dalton. Steve doesn’t try to tell you that you’ll find a job in 2 hours — what he does is advocate for being very strategic and deliberate in your search. When you’re deliberate and strategic about it, there’s a lot you can do in just 2 hours.
Network and Ask For Help. Coming from the military, veterans often have trouble asking for help. Or admitting that they need it. You’re not the first veteran to transition out of the military — so learn from others who have gone before you. LinkedIn is a great resource for making connections and networking. Find other veterans who are in the industry or at the companies your interested in. Find people you can connect with and talk to. Not only to learn about the company or specific role, but to make sure it’s a company you want to work for.
Ask friends that work at companies you’re interested in to put in a referral for you. Ask as many people as you can to look over your resume and LinkedIn profile. Ask people to do mock interviews with you so you can practice. Interviewing is not something you had to do much while in the military, so don’t assume you’ll be naturally proficient at it unless you practice.
Some great companies are emerging that provide expert advice for transitioning military veterans. One of the companies worth checking out is BreakLine, run by the amazingly talented Bethany and Ranee who were previously at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Disclaimer: I didn’t go through the BreakLine program myself, but I’ve worked with Bethany and Ranee in the past to support transitioning veterans.
Learn the Language. Most of what people know about the military is what they see in the movies. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you did as a Platoon Leader, or Executive Officer, or Company Commander. When it comes to your resume and LinkedIn, make sure you translate your experience into something that will be understood. For example, a Platoon Leader translates into Team Leader, a Company Commander is a Director, and an Operations Officer is Head of Operations or Operations Manager in the civilian world.
Every job description will have a list of requirements they are looking for in the role. You want to make sure your resume bullets directly show how what you’ve done in the past translates into what they are looking for. Here’s a sample of some of what they’re looking for in a Program Manager at Airbnb:
- Leadership experience, including directly managing and growing a team
- Ability to work long hours and adapt quickly to adverse situations
- Ability to develop a strategy, communicate it clearly and get buy-in and support to execute
- Ability to solve problems and influence cross-functional teams
- Excellent communication skills and ability to coach and manage others
Based on my experience in the Army as a Team Leader (Platoon Leader), Deputy Director (Executive Officer), and Assistant Director of Operations (Battalion Assistant S3), this is how I’d structure my resume bullets
Leadership experience, including directly managing and growing a team | Ability to work long hours and adapt quickly to adverse situations
- Executed 20 missions over a four-month period while serving as team leader of a 27-soldier engineer team; collaborated with a multitude of cross-functional teams to find and deactivate Improvised Explosive Devices.
- Directed 300 combat operations over eight months while commanding 12 soldiers and running the tactical operations center; collaborated with a variety of teams to get feedback from troops on the ground to ensure mission success.
Ability to develop a strategy, communicate it clearly and get buy-in and support to execute | Ability to solve problems and influence cross-functional teams | Excellent communication skills and ability to coach and manage others
- Facilitated the training of 3,000 soldiers for deployment to Afghanistan by setting key training objectives, gaining buy-in from senior leaders, and implementing reporting requirements and planning processes.
- Fostered relationships with local nationals, removed roadblocks, and conducted QA/QC to ensure project completion on five bridge and road reconstruction projects.
- Collaborated with technical experts to test new infrared, robotics, and drone technology; provided feedback to civilian contractors on new products to improve user experience.
LinkedIn. A good LinkedIn profile is a powerful tool. There are a lot of good resources online that show you how to make a LinkedIn profile, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But a few LinkedIn basics:
- Make sure you have a professional looking photo, and dress for the profession or industry you’re going for — you’ll want to match what others in your profession are wearing. In tech, a lot of people wear t-shirts to the office — so if you’re looking for a job in tech, don’t wear a suit and tie in your LinkedIn photo. At the most, dress one-level up from the standard in your industry (e.g. a button up shirt if you’re going for something in tech).
- Have a good summary. This is your chance to show recruiters and hiring managers what sets you apart from everybody else. Make sure you let them know what you’re really passionate about, your unique life and work experience, and what they’ll get if they hire you.
- Make sure the job titles and dates match what’s on your resume. But instead of writing out bullets like on your resume, consider writing more of a story to better explain what you’ve done. Have it flow more like a conversation to better connect with the reader and show your unique side.
- Ask co-workers and people you’ve worked with in the past to write you a recommendation. Ask them to highlight specific qualifications and strengths, and don’t be afraid to ask them to make changes!
Want some expert advice on LinkedIn? Check out this post from combat veteran Dan Savage, Head of Veterans Programs at LinkedIn.
Be Humble and Don’t Quit.
Just because you served in the military doesn’t mean anybody owes you a job.
At the end of the day, companies want someone who can solve their problems and deliver — you have to prove to them that you’re the person that can do that, and that you can do it better than the hundreds of other people that want the same job. The military has amazingly talented people and leaders, but it certainly doesn’t a monopoly on either of those things. The civilian world is full of extremely talented people and leaders, and they’re just as hungry as you to prove it.
I went through Ranger school in the winter and failed all my graded patrols during phase 1 — twice. My 135 lb. frame froze every day in the mountains of Dahlonega, but I kept at it and graduated. When I was applying for jobs, I got rejected from over 2-dozen companies. The path to what we want is rarely as smooth as we’d like. There will be frustrations and difficulties along the way. You’ll apply for a job and hear nothing back for weeks or months. You’ll ace a phone screening but then won’t get a follow-up interview. You’ll go through the entire interview process only to learn the job went to someone else. Learn from all of this, stay motivated throughout the process, and don’t quit.
The three, or five, or 10+ years you served in the military are a life-defining part of you. But as much as you did in the military, don’t have the mindset that it’s the best and most fulfilling thing that you’ll ever do.
You still have a lot of life left to live. As I was leaving the military, I was reminded of this, “Just remember Andrew, you don’t have to wear a uniform to serve and give back.” Numerous studies have shown that happiness and fulfillment come from serving others and giving back. Our job in the military was serving others and giving back — you don’t realize it fully until after you’re out. So make sure you find ways to give back once you’re out of the military. If you’re good at teaching, then find ways to teach and tutor. If you’re a good mentor, find an organization where you can mentor and coach others. If your good with your hands, find an organization where you can get your hands dirty and help build or plant something. If you don’t know what you’re good, then ask someone close to you to help you discover it. And if all else fails, just try something!
Two great organizations that I’ve been involved with in past are Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) and Team Rubicon. Both are really great organizations that provide ways for veterans to serve and give back. If you want to get involved with Team RWB, reach out to my old manager, JJ Pinter and he’ll point you in the right direction.
About the Author
Andrew Hutchinson is an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s passionate about fitness and health, building community, and empowering others. When he’s not working, you can find him running through Golden Gate Park, planning an epic adventure with friends, trying out new recipes in the kitchen, or getting humbled in yoga.