For many active duty military personnel, retiring from the military means leaving the only life and job they have ever known; transitioning from the military to civilian life can be difficult on multiple levels. Whether you are looking for private sector or federal work, you should expect the job search to take some time. While it is possible that you will go from terminal leave to employed without missing a beat, the more likely scenario is a period of job search. There are several ways you can minimize the difficulties of transition:

  • Think about your accomplishments. What successes have you had in the military? Review your OERs, FITReps, performance reviews, and award citations from the past 7-10 years. Write down the accomplishments your supervisors have noted and some of the ways YOU made a different to your unit. And, as you reread these documents, write down any notable remarks made by your supervisors that speak to your leadership and/or technical skills.
  • Understand your veterans’ preference eligibilities. There are multiple kinds of veterans’ preference including Veterans’ Recruitment Act (VRA), Veterans Employment Opportunity Act (VEOA), 5-point preference, 10-point preference, and preference for those with a 30% or more compensable disability. As a transitioning military member, you may be eligible for multiple kinds of preference or consideration. It is your responsibility to know your preference, include all eligibilities in your USAJOBS Profile (if you are applying for federal positions), and appropriately use your preference and/or eligibilities when applying for positions. Additional information about veterans’ preference and veterans’ eligibilities can be found at and You should also note that many state and local governments provide extra “credit” to military veterans and many private sector companies have programs specifically designed for returning / transitioning veterans.
  • Translate your experience. Most people outside of the military do not understand the difference between a brigade and a battalion, or a Captain and a Corporal, let alone the alphabet soup that makes up most of military language. When drafting your resume, preparing your LinkedIn Profile, and interviewing, be sure to translate your military-speak to civilian language. Even if you are applying to work for the Department of Defense (DoD), many of the Human Resources people who will review your resume first, have not spent time on active duty. So, instead of stating, “Commanded a battalion…”, say “Led, managed, and directed a team of 500, including more than 20 subordinate supervisors.” Not sure if you’ve translated enough? Give your resume or LinkedIn Profile to a friend who has never been in the military and see what they have to say.
  • Be realistic. It is not unusual for military members to have much more responsibility on active duty than they are given credit for in civilian jobs. If you are leaving the military as an E-5, 6, or 7, you may not get a grade 14 or 15 position. If you are an O-4, you will not likely qualify for a Senior Executive Service (SES) position. Competition for all jobs is stiff and many of the people applying have many of the same skills and experience you do. Many federal postings receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of applications—and half of those are from applicants who have preference. Private sector postings also receive hundreds of applications—especially those on job boards. It is likely that you will need to apply for more than one position, whether you are seeking federal or private sector employment. Focus on positions where you already have the experience and skills the organization is seeking.
  • Prepare a targeted resume. Whether you are seeking federal or private sector employment, your resume should use the key words of the job posting, be appropriate for the kind of position you are targeting (federal resumes are much longer than private sector ones, and require certain kinds of information and detail you would never put on a private sector resume), and demonstrate specific, quantifiable results.
  • Create LinkedIn Profile. Your profile should be friendly and approachable (again, think civilian language and no acronyms), include a civilian picture, use key words from the positions you are seeking (so the computer algorithms can find you), and demonstrate that you can achieve results. This is particularly important for those of you seeking private sector employment as 80% of companies use LI to search for applicants.

These are just a few of steps you’ll want to take as you prepare to transition from the military to civilian life.

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.