Dan Gibbons understands how difficult the transition from the military to the civilian workforce can be. He completed three tours of duty during 13 years of service in the Navy and Marines (shown above with an AV-8B Harrier during his third deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit). Ready to settle in a city with his wife and child, Gibbons began searching for his next career move. He connected with a Lowe’s recruiter during an online career fair, which eventually led to a job at the company’s corporate headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina. Gibbons’ job as a project manager allows him to do what he did in the military – work on a team with people from diverse backgrounds.
Below, Gibbons offers his top 10 insider tips for veterans navigating the civilian job market:
Use your experience
Understand that values learned in the military – leadership, managing in tough situations, coming to the table with solutions and not just problems – are also valued by employers. The fact that these traits are valued by employers is not groundbreaking; the key is to identify the traits within yourself to build your confidence and understand that you are capable of thriving in a non-military life.
Do your homework
Do in-depth research about potential employers and really understand their needs and culture. The key is to ensure your values are nested with the values and culture of the company.
Take advantage of government and nonprofit programs focused on helping veterans in transition. There are so many options for transitioning military members to hone their interviewing skills and improve their resume. Take advantage of them!
Get your resume right
Prepare an outstanding resume. Make it stand out by translating military jobs and accomplishments into terms a civilian can understand. This is the single biggest pitfall of most military members. Locate the key behaviors and tasks that transcend the military/civilian divide and promote yourself through those.
Practice, practice, practice
Practice a job interview, including not only possible questions that give insight into your career, but hand gestures and voice inflection that make you likable. Do not downplay the importance of rehearsals. They are as serious in the civilian world as they are in military life.
Know your weaknesses
Understand your personal weaknesses or opportunities and be prepared to answer a question about them during a job interview. You will be asked about your weaknesses. Be prepared to answer in a way that highlights a weakness you used to have, but have remedied through hard work and dedication to be better.
Keep a humble attitude, recognizing that the wealth of experience derived in the military may not easily translate to a similar civilian role. You are valuable and desired. You also have very little experience in the civilian world. Work hard and listen intently.
Do what you love
When leaving the military, focus on a future career rather than just getting a job. Many times, transitioning military members are just looking for the highest-paying job without thought to whether they will like what they are doing. Instead of focusing on the paycheck, focus on loving what you are doing. If you don’t, you’ll hop from job to job or career field to career field, which doesn’t look good on a resume and makes you risky to future employers. Do the research. Find something you love.
Attitude is everything
Once you land a civilian job, come to work every day with a great attitude. Attitudes are contagious. Deliver your best effort and be encouraging and excited every day. This will make you stand out from your peers.
Find a mentor, then more
After three to six months of work, you should have a good grasp on the norms associated with the civilian workforce. Now is the time to identify a panel of mentors. These are people whom you respect and would like to emulate. One mentor is a good start, but strive for two to three. Look for mentors who have strengths in areas you’d like to grow. They will challenge your perspective, which will increase your ability to empathize and understand others.