“Transitioning to civilian life was a challenge, and I want to share some lessons learned to hopefully make it easier for others.”— John Buckley, Koch Military Relations Manager

Find Your Career

So, you’ve kicked off your boots and you’re ready to join the civilian ranks. Now what? Use the following tips to get prepped for this new challenge.

Self-Evaluation & Career Research

Before you apply for jobs, let us help you examine your passions, skills and goals to determine the right career fields for you to pursue.

1. Get to Know Yourself

This important step seems so obvious that you’ll be tempted to skip it, but consider this: if you don’t know who you are and what you want, how are you going to convince anyone to hire you? Get in touch with your interests, passions and goals so that you can better sell yourself to potential employers in your resume and interviews. Here are just a couple of the resources out there to aid in your self-evaluation:

  • Take the StrengthsFinder.com test to determine your natural skills and abilities.

  • Use the tools on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, CareerOneStop.org.

  • Do an online search for “career assessment” and utilize some of the tools you find, or visit your local library for more resources.

2. Translate Your Military Experience

It’s important to determine where your interests and passions intersect with the skills, knowledge, abilities and attributes you gained in the military. Here are just a few online tools to help guide you:

3. Research Potential Careers

Results from a study at Syracuse University revealed that half of transitioning military veterans left their first job within one year, and nearly 75 percent within 18 months. Rather than jumping into the first job that comes your way, make it your goal to succeed in a private sector career that you will enjoy long term. Instead of asking yourself “what job could I do?” ask, “what career will I pursue?”

REMEMBER: Identify career fields that would satisfy your passions and interests, and that will allow you to showcase the skills, knowledge, abilities and attributes you previously identified.

4. Ask the Pros

Once you’ve found the career(s) you might be interested in, gain insight into specific career requirements, work environments, challenges, lifestyle changes, advancement opportunities, required certifications and more.

  • Connect with employers at job fairs and ask them honest questions about what their roles require.

  • Create a profile on LinkedIn and make connections with people who work in areas of interest to you.

  • Conduct informational interviews with professionals in the career field(s) you are considering to learn about specific requirements, work environments, challenges, lifestyle, advancement opportunities, required certifications, and possible pitfalls.

  • Read career advice articles in your area(s) of interest and research industry trends.

5. Set Your Goals

Think of this new potential career path not as a straight line, but as stepping-stones on the path to success. Set a career goal, envision how you’re going to achieve it, anticipate some of the challenges you may face and how these can help you grow.

See this plan in action in our military relations manager’s article, “Dance With the One Who Brung Ya.”

Search for Roles at Koch

Once you’ve determined which career field(s) you’d like to pursue by thoroughly evaluating your interests, skills and qualifications, it’s time to search for available roles. The Koch careers website is a great place to start! Follow these simple steps to browse open positions and opt in for alerts.

  1. Visit KOCHcareers.com/veterans

  2. Create a profile and opt in for job alerts to be notified of open roles that match your interests:

    • Click Open Roles

    • Click Sign Up for Job Alerts*

    • Enter your: Personal information, areas of interest and alert preferences

    • Click Sign Up

    *You will automatically receive an email announcing newly opened roles that match your profile and interests.

  3. Click Careers in the navigation bar to select a career field that best suits you. There are nearly 30 options. If you need help determining which career path suits your skills and passions, visit our self-evaluation page.

  4. Click Companies in the navigation bar to search roles within a specific Koch company

  5. You can also further refine a search using one or both of the following:

    • Keyword search – Keywords are found in the title and body of the job description.

    • Location search – Be aware that not every city or state has the same roles or requirements.

WRITE A RESUME

A solid resume could score you an interview for the job of your dreams, so make sure yours is well prepared using the following tips and tools.

Speak Their Language

A resume is your chance to highlight your strengths and accomplishments. Use the following examples and helpful tips to define your skills in terms a civilian recruiter will understand.

  • Weak: Hold a top secret security clearance.

    Stronger: Integrity, trustworthiness and ability to manage information resulted in being given greater responsibilities, authority and access to highly sensitive data.

  • Weak: Prepared and disseminated daily activity reports to higher command.

    Stronger: Enabled senior management to make timely decisions by increasing their awareness on the organization’s overall performance by collecting relevant information, then drafting succinct reports.

  • Weak: Commendation Medal awarded by Major General ______, Commander of ______.

    Stronger: Commended by the CEO for enhancing operations and increasing the team’s efficiency while performing under pressure, and by meeting the needs of every customer through personal diligence.

  • Weak: Maintains accounting system associated with supply management.

    Stronger: Enhanced management of critical supply chains by ensuring the continuous flow of essential information through successful operation and maintenance of an enterprise-wide information technology system.

  • Weak: Successfully planned current and future military training exercises for an organization in excess of 1,000 personnel.

    Stronger: Expert in analyzing operations and individual performance to identify organizational and individual training needs. Developed multiple training plans and inspections, which improved and sustained the team’s effectiveness.

  • Weak: Named “Best Leader” in a Company of 150 personnel during a live fire training exercise resulting in the second highest score in a unit of more than 1,000 personnel.

    Stronger: Critical thinking skills, risk management and safety program experience, and superb leadership led to being designated the top leader of 36 peers in the organization.

  • Weak: Supervises or performs duties involving request, receipt, storage, issue, accountability, and preservation of expendable supplies and equipment.

    Stronger: Improved the efficiency of several supply chains servicing multiple customers by identifying their particular needs and establishing priorities of effort. (You could also be more specific by quantifying how many units or customers you served.)

Leader vs. Manager: You “lead” people but you “manage” processes. Use “lead” or “led” when pertaining to people, but use “manage” or “managed” when referring to processes or programs.

Make it Relevant

Want your resume to reach the recruiter? Customize it – for every role you apply for. Then, double-check that your details are relevant to the job description using this easy exercise.

  1. Download this worksheet, or simply make your own version using a blank sheet of paper.

  2. On the left, list the requirements detailed in the job description.

  3. On the right, list the experiences, skills and certifications you detailed in your resume.

  4. Connect the job requirements on the left to your list on the right.

  5. If something on the right doesn’t connect to the left, you should probably remove it from your resume.

Exceptions: Retain quality comments that can quantify the value you created in leadership, management, risk management or diversity.

Takeaway
  • On a solid resume, job description requirements on the left will connect to a personal skill or experience you’ve listed on the right. Remember that these skills and experiences came directly from your resume. If they don’t match up, you might not be qualified for the job.

  • There should be little or nothing in your resume that doesn’t have a line going back to the job description. This ensures that you don’t conceal your relevant strengths with a lot of unnecessary verbiage.

15 Tips

Use the term translator and these helpful tips to define your skills in terms a civilian recruiter will understand.

  1. Write to the job. Every job description is unique, so each resume should also be unique.

  2. Eliminate the "objective" paragraph to give the recruiter more time on the body of your resume. If required, craft one specific to the targeted job and indicate an interest in modest advancement.

  3. Your resume should not look like an efficiency report. Rather than duties, highlight accomplishments – show how you added value to your organization using quantifiable and measurable terms.

  4. Never allow the recruiter to assume what skills you acquired through your experiences. Instead, clearly state them.

  5. Write straightforward, active statements that showcase your relevant skills, experiences, accomplishments and certifications for all of the requirements listed in the job description. Provide the specifics of your accomplishments and how they contributed to the success of your previous organization. Quantify them if you can.

  6. Don’t oversell your abilities. Just because you worked on a high-level staff does not mean that you are an executive leader.

  7. Do include specific and relevant leadership and management experiences, especially if you are applying for a leadership or management role.

  8. Limit your professional skills – also referred to as core competencies, areas of expertise or strengths – to four to six. Specialize and focus these to the job description, so the recruiter sees that your strengths are suitable for the responsibilities spelled out in the job description.

  9. Servicemen and servicewomen are comfortable with diversity in the workplace and are uniquely educated and qualified to work on or lead diverse teams. Highlight any education, teamwork or experiences pertaining to diversity that you successfully led.

  10. Highlight your risk management experiences and concentration on safety, emphasizing compliance and your ability to hold yourself and others accountable.

  11. Mention teamwork, cooperation and collaboration – soft skills the business will most assuredly be looking for.

  12. Be concise. Easy-to-read resumes get read. Reduce the amount of text on the page.

  13. Other than job titles, remove every military reference including ranks, organization names, titles, school names, equipment titles, etc.

  14. Know your audience. Use words that are understood in the private sector or the specific business: enterprise, supervisor, director, manager, employees, etc.

  15. Never use “I.”

Though this list is not all encompassing, it was gathered from the experiences of one military recruiter and verified by numerous other hiring managers and recruiters.

Translate Your Military Skills

Swap military jargon with universally understood words using this easy tool.

JOB TITLES

Military Business
Commander Director or Senior Manager
Executive Officer Deputy Director
Field Grade Officer Executive or Manager
Company Grade Officer Operations Manager or Section Manager
Warrant Officer Technical Specialist or Department Manager
Senior NCO First-Line Supervisor
Infantry Security Personnel
First Sergeant Personnel Manager
Squad Leader Team Leader or Team Chief
Supply Sergeant Supply Manager or Logistics Manager
Operations NCO Operations Supervisor


GENERAL TERMS

Military Business
AI Additionally skilled in
Combat Hazardous conditions
Company Company, department or section
Medal Award
Military personnel office Human resources
Mission Task/function/objective
Military occupation specialty/classification Career specialty or career field
Squad or platoon Team or section
Reconnaissance Data collection and analysis
Regulations Policy or guidelines
Security clearance Ability to manage sensitive data
Service members Employees
Subordinates Employees or direct hires
TAD or TDY Business trip
Apply for Jobs

You’ve matched your qualifications to the perfect civilian role. Now, it’s time to confront your next challenge – the online job application.

The Application

Applications are an important step in the official selection process, and your participation is absolutely required – no matter how badly a company desires your expertise.

YOUR OBJECTIVE: To officially announce your desire for employment in a specific open role.

THE BUSINESS’ OBJECTIVE: To make a legally defensible listing of the applicant’s employment history, educational background, degrees, qualifications, references and more. Most companies use online applications to streamline and simplify this data collection process.

POTENTIAL PITFALLS: Last year, nearly 30 percent of military veteran job seekers were disqualified because they did not provide proper responses to pre-screening questions. Avoid this stumbling block by following these simple rules of thumb:

  1. Basic Requirements: You must meet them all.

    During the application process, you will be asked to identify whether you meet the basic requirements listed in the job description. Do not apply if you do not meet every basic requirement exactly as stated in the question. Your application will be automatically rejected. No one will ever review your file or resume, and no one will ever pick up the phone to speak with you.

  2. Preferred Requirements: You can meet some or all.

    You will also be asked to identify whether you meet the preferred requirements listed in the job description. Apply, even if you don’t meet them all. Though you might be competing at a disadvantage, you could get the opportunity to speak to someone and overcome any professional deficiency identified with your answer.

APPLICATION TIPS

  1. Start applying for open positions three to five months prior to your availability date.

  2. Before you apply for a role, verify your qualifications. Keep in mind that some military and civilian job titles are similar, but the requirements could be vastly different.

  3. Adjust your resume to emphasize your skills and qualifications that relate to the job description.

  4. Apply directly to that role.

  5. You may apply for multiple roles, but it’s best to apply for roles within your specific area(s) of expertise.

BEFORE YOU HIT “SUBMIT”:

  • Don’t forget to thoroughly review your application, ensuring that you completed all required fields.

  • Attach your most updated resume.

  • Alert each of your references.

PREPARE FOR INTERVIEWS

You’ve conquered the job search, and you’re ready to face the front line. Proper preparation is the key to triumph in the final, most intimidating battle – the interview.

Beware of Preconceptions

As a veteran interviewing for a civilian role, your skills could be misinterpreted based on your delivery and demeanor. The following are common perceptions and some tips to keep in mind:

  • STRENGTHS

  • Critical and creative thinking skills – Veterans often demonstrate these sought-after skills, which also offer a strong baseline for entrepreneurship.

  • Compliance – Top companies look for candidates who can balance requirements versus risk and have the ability to hold themselves and others accountable.

  • Sense of urgency – This is a strength, but do be careful. When overplayed, it can be perceived as too intense.

  • Compassion – Leaders and managers who exhibit compassionate leadership traits enable their team to reach self-fulfillment.

  • NEUTRAL

    Keep in mind that though you have strong attributes, broad experiences and valuable skills, you may be lacking experience in one or more critical areas.

  • WEAKNESSES

  • Flexibility – Relax. Stiff posture and short responses feed the stereotype that military veterans are not flexible.

  • Humility – Rather than stating that everything you do is a success, show your dedication to truth, a willingness to listen and learn, and the ability to sincerely seek criticism.

  • Change – Be open to change. Military veterans are viewed as checklist-oriented, afraid of having their ideas challenged or challenging the ideas of others.

  • Emotion – The civilian world wants you to show a passion for your work and in the pursuit of your goals.

  • Word choice – Eliminate military words and titles, also known as jargon. This helps avoid confusion and delivers your message or point more clearly.

  • Control – Exhibiting controlling leadership qualities feeds the perception that military veteran leaders are “drill sergeants.”

  • Intensity – Military leaders and managers can be stereotyped as “blindly charging the hill.” Be open to challenge and listening to the ideas of others.

Interview Pointers

Get a good night’s rest, review your battle plan, rehearse your actions on the objective, relax and follow these interview tips:

  • For situational-based questions, the interviewer is assessing your performance in the situation. Avoid answering in the typical military, “bottom-line-up-front” method. Instead, address your actions, the response to your actions, your counter-action and the end result. Conclude with a positive takeaway.

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss your weaknesses, mistakes or failures. These can show humility and self-improvement.

  • Avoid rambling responses. Instead, provide specific answers to the questions asked of you.

  • Be prepared with questions. Recruiters report that veterans often don’t ask them, even when given the opportunity, feeding the perception that the veteran is unwilling to learn.

  • Think of the interview as a conversation, creating give-and-take with the interviewer.

  • Know the company’s general business situation. What service or product do they provide and for whom?

  • Understand the company’s culture and values. Show how your qualifications and experience contribute and add value to their business needs, and how your character aligns with their culture.

  • Come prepared with several interesting and unique questions. Always ask a question or two if given the opportunity.

  • Turn off your phone. Better yet, leave it in the car.

PREPARE FOR NEGOTIATIONS

You nailed the interview, and you’re waiting impatiently, hoping to hear an offer. When that happens, the company will expect you to negotiate. So, let’s make sure you’re fully prepared for this critical step in your transition.

Before the Interview

Defining your negotiation strategy should actually begin long before you receive an offer, during the self-evaluation and career research phases of your transition. Use this time to reflect on your needs, wants, and your worth so you’re prepared to receive, analyze and negotiate any offer that comes your way.

Evaluate yourself.

  • Know your current compensation package, and determine what you need to retain your current quality of life.

  • Define the minimum salary you need to maintain that quality of life.

  • If relevant, know the value of your retirement paycheck.

  • If relevant, know the value of your Veterans Affairs Disability Compensation package.

  • If relevant, study the TRICARE retiree health and dental insurance programs – you can compare these to what the company offers.

  • Learn if your final move benefit is still available.

  • Be sure to include “higher household authorities” in your preparations to negotiate.

Evaluate the company and location.

  • Learn the impact of state taxes on your total income, including any retirement pay.

  • Learn what the cost of living is in the employment area.

  • Research what similarly skilled workers make in the employment area.

  • In a humble way, assess what your worth will be to the company – how much value you can create for them.

During the Interview
  • Ask questions to help you better understand the role requirements and duties. This will help you to assess the value you will create for the company, the biggest determining factor in offer negotiations.

  • Waiting for a job offer can be a stressful period. Put yourself at ease by asking the recruiter about the company’s selection timeline.

Reviewing the Offer

Once you’ve secured an offer, ask for time to review and consider it. Salary is not the only thing to consider – review the entire deal.

Compensation packages may provide programs that will strengthen the financial offer and may also be negotiated, sometimes more easily than salary alone. They might include:

  • Vacation and personal days

  • Differential pay and authorized time off to enable service in the reserve components

  • Medical and dental insurance, as well as vision assistance programs

  • Life Insurance

  • Relocation support

  • Investment programs with corporate matching

  • Retirement plans with corporate matching

To reinforce the salary, companies may provide bonuses as an incentive for value creation and retention:

  • Spot bonuses for accomplishments

  • Variable bonuses for performance

  • Annual compensation adjustments for performance and perceived increased value

  • Annual review for increased salary

Two often-overlooked but critical items to consider with any offer are:

  • Adding to your portfolio definitely increases future compensation.

    • Does the company provide for developmental or “broadening” experiences, including credentialing, and additional training and education?

  • Progressing in the company will increase your responsibilities, authorities, experiences, and pay and benefits.

    • Will the company offer advancement opportunities?

During the Negotiations

Companies develop their offers to be competitive in the market, to incentivize performance, and are based on their expectation of the new hire’s value creation. Keep all of this in mind, and:

  • Be reasonable

  • Be knowledgeable

  • Be flexible

  • Be enthusiastic

  • Avoid ultimatums, unless you will refuse the offer if the company does not meet your particular demand(s)

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