Career Advice for Veterans at ISU

Military service provides remarkable opportunities to develop knowledge, skills, and character traits that civilian employers highly value.  Most veterans have no difficulty with the employment process, and data collected by ISU Career Services indicates that as a population, veterans have an above average placement rate.  However, some veterans find it challenging to translate military experiences in ways that connect with civilian employers.  This resource was developed to address specific issues that some veterans may face as they seek civilian employment.

Use Your College’s Career Services Office and CyHire

At ISU, each college has a career services office that offers advice about the employment process specific to their majors.  The information presented here is a small supplement to information offered by the individual offices.  If you haven’t already connected with the career services office of your college, it is highly recommended that you do.

CyHire is ISU’s online system for managing all activities related to professional (co-ops, internships and full-time) employment.  CyHire can be used to locate employment opportunities, apply for positions, schedule on-campus interviews, learn about career-related events, and more.

Focus On Knowledge, Skills and Character Traits That Are Valued by Civilian Employers

Your resume, cover letter, networking pitch and the interview discussion should be used to highlight the knowledge, skills and character traits that potential employers will find valuable.  Inventory the marketable skills developed in your military career that apply to the civilian workplace.  Think beyond the functions that you performed and identify the expertise, skills and core values that you have developed.  Try to present a complete picture of yourself including both technical skills and soft skills.  Some of the highly valued soft skills and core values often exhibited by military personnel include:

Skills Definition
Teamwork A commitment to meeting deadlines
Leadership Organizational skills
Professionalism An ability to complete tasks with little supervision
Integrity An ability to follow detailed instructions
Problem Solving An ability to perform under pressure

There are a number of online tools available that translate military qualifications to civilian job skills (see the additional resources section below).  The ISU Military-Affiliated Student Center and your career services office are more than willing to assist with this effort.

Make Your Resume Business Friendly

Civilian employers may have challenges understanding military terms and context if they have not experienced military culture themselves.  It may be necessary to de-militarize your resume and other materials and to avoid language that indicates aggressive behavior.  Statements about qualifications, experiences, and accomplishments should be used to demonstrate that you have successfully applied your talents to accomplish work.  It is important to make these statements civilian friendly and focused on the knowledge and skills that are transferable to the civilian workforce.

For example, instead of stating that you “led a team of commandos on night raids to eliminate enemy positions” you might say that you “led a team of individuals to accomplish high-pressure tasks established by the company commander.”  This statement communicates the ability to lead, follow instructions and work under pressure.

Relax Decorum Slightly When Interviewing

Employers report that vets sometimes appear tense or guarded during interviews because of the military bearing gained from training.  While respectfulness, good posture, and manners are seen as positives, extreme humbleness and short, direct responses may be perceived as negatives while interviewing.  In addition to understanding your qualifications, employers are also working to evaluate your fit for their operation.  They need for you to talk about your experiences and interests.  It is important that you feel comfortable talking about yourself because you are the focus of the interview.  Relaxing your decorum slightly may be necessary.  If you have any concerns about your interviewing skills, make an advising appointment with your career services office.

Have Realistic Career Expectations

Many veterans have held positions that offer a high level of responsibility, authority, and excitement.  For some veterans, it can be difficult to transition into environments that may not initially (or ever) offer similar experiences.  Unrealistic expectations in the following areas may be of concern to employers:

  • Leadership – Most entry-level positions do not immediately provide opportunities to lead teams or projects. It is usually necessary for an individual to demonstrate their leadership skills and win the respect of co-workers before being entrusted with this responsibility. Employers highly value leadership potential, but it is important to understand that initially an ability to follow and contribute to team efforts may be most important.
  • Career Advancement – Career advancement in the military usually has a well-established path and requirements. Career advancement in the civilian workplace may be less defined and more dependent on an organization’s changing needs. Individuals may remain in a position or have the same title for a significant period time. During an interview, it is important to communicate to the employer that you are motivated to excel and advance, but that you are flexible. Once an offer of employment has been extended, you can ask specific questions about advancement opportunities.
  • Teamwork and Efficiency – Teamwork in the military is essential and can ultimately be about survival. However, in a civilian context, teamwork may look different. Many civilian organizations are willing to sacrifice some efficiency and control in order to capitalize on the synergism that often results from team efforts. When the group doesn’t possess strong team problem-solving skills, reaching agreement can be frustrating. Employers are looking for team players that 1) understand that diversity of ideas often leads to better results, 2) have team problem-solving skills and 3) have the ability to show patience even when they have a strong desire for efficiency.
  • Workplace Culture – Military culture can have more structure than civilian culture and people often work until their mission is done.  Many civilian employers benefit by allowing their employees to balance work-life demands with flexible schedules, relaxed dress-codes, etc.  It is important to understand the value of good work-life balance and not associate a relaxed work environment with a lack of personal discipline.

Additional Resources

  • US Department of Veterans Affairs Career and Employment Website

    This site offers information about a wide variety of support available to veterans that are transitioning out of the military.

  • O*Net

    The O*NET program is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. Central to the project is the O*NET database, containing information on hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors. The database, which is available to the public at no cost, is continually updated by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation.

  • Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

    TAP was established to meet the needs of separating service members during their period of transition into civilian life by offering job-search assistance and related services.