| 8 tips to transition from the military to a private sector job

Looking to Transition from Your Military Career? It’s certainly doable, but it does take a strategic approach. Follow these tips for a successful transition:

  • Give yourself enough time. Getting a federal job takes time under the best of circumstances. Most federal job postings receive as many as 400 to 1,000 or more applications—and many of those are from former military members. I was working with an agency that posted a grade 6 position; they received 1,200 applications and 900 of them were from 30% or more “compensably” rated vets. Give yourself at least 6 months (and more realistically, 12-18) to get a federal job; you should start applying at least 120 days before you leave the military.
  • Understand your veterans’ preference eligibilities. You are likely eligible to receive consideration as a vet in multiple ways (even for the same job). It is critical that you understand the various authorities, appropriately document your USAJOBS Profile, and use your various eligibilities appropriately. A later article will discuss the various veterans’ preference eligibilities and programs.
  • Create a targeted, federal style resume. Do not depend on your two-page resume to get you a federal job. Make sure you develop a federal resume; a federal resume is typically 4 to 6 pages.
  • Translate your military experience into civilian speak. Even if you are applying at the Department of Defense (DoD), do not assume that the Human Resources (HR) people who review your resume will understand your military experience or rank. Instead of referring to supervising soldiers, talk about supervising employees. Instead of saying that you led a battalion, talk about leading 500 employees.
  • Loose the acronyms. Your resume should not be acronym-laden. Again, HR people will not understand all of the military jargon and it makes your resume hard to read. And in most civilian organizations, it does not really matter whether you were associated with CENTCOM or EUCOM—or what ship you served on.
  • Make sure you answer the occupational questionnaire appropriately. Before deciding whether to apply for a job, look at the questionnaire. If you cannot provide the highest and best answer to every question, and back up your answers in your resume, it may not be the right job for you.
  • Apply for the right jobs. Getting a federal job requires, in addition to the above, applying for jobs for which you are truly qualified. That means that you already have the required specialized experience. Its not about “knowing” that you can do the job; its about proving that you already have. And make sure that your resume uses all of the key words from the job posting.
  • Be patient. The final step in getting a federal job is patience; it is likely that you will need to apply for multiple jobs. While it is certainly possible that you will get the first federal job you apply for, in my experience, it is not likely. So be prepared for your search and good luck!

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.