The Struggles We Face: Veteran Employment, Lost in Translation

Discussion of the challenges with transitioning out of the military for veteran employment & correlating military skills to the civilian workplace.

One of the hardest experiences I encountered after leaving the Marine Corps was getting a job. I actually took the long road prior to searching for a job. To make myself more employable, I finished my last year of college and received a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in Management. With my degree in hand and plenty of real life experience as an infantry section leader, I thought I’d have to beat back the recruiters. But, in reality, I heard crickets.

My lack of employment for six months was a real gut check. Believe me, it wasn’t for a lack of trying! I was searching the job listings in the papers and online daily. I attended resume writing classes hosted by the veteran’s employment center. I went to job fairs that focused on hiring veterans. Despite my most sincere efforts, I was still jobless.

Worn down and depressed, I didn’t know what to do nor what was wrong with me. I began to question my capabilities, wondering if I was even worthy of a job. Eventually, I gave up and decided I would just take a job with a temp agency, hoping something would eventually come along.

Looking back, there were two huge areas I overlooked – my pride and my resume. My pride was the biggest factor that got in the way of my ability to evaluate my poor resume. Having been in a position of management and responsibility as an infantry section leader in the Marine Corps, along with prior experience working jobs in retail, packaging, and lifeguard, I figured I was a sure thing for any management job out there. In reality, unless you’re an officer or senior enlisted service member when you exit the service, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll land a job any higher than an entry-level position.

My next mistake that I grossly overlooked was my resume. During my denial stage, I never thought of reviewing what employers were using in their initial evaluation of me.The very valuable skills I acquired in the military were lost in translation. It’s not as if I wrote “I SHOOT BIG GUNS, HEHEHE”. But, the bare bones resume I wrote during TAPS and touched up a bit with a resume writing class did not convey the true value I brought to the table. Writing things like “Coordinated and conducted HVT raids and successfully captured target”, while expressing the true nature of my work, does not translate well into the civilian sector. Unless you’re applying to be a cop, bodyguard, or security contractor, stating something like that will most likely scare the potential employer. In their mind, if they’re not familiar with military skillsets and job functions, they may envision you gliding through the office like a ninja, taking out your office mates one by one until you found out who took the community stapler. Not good. Instead, take the same statement and flip it on its head to be more civilian friendly and translatable. For instance, you could say “Managed, coordinated, and lead diverse team of professionals in high stress situations to accomplish organizational mission and goals in a timely fashion” or “Given multiple hazardous scenarios, successfully met or exceeded organizational mission goals ahead of schedule.”

While what I did above takes some time and creativity, it still states what I did but in a more professional and civilian friendly manner. Now I don’t come off as some hormone-enraged barbarian looking for my next kill. Instead, I create the perception of someone that works at a high level of proficiency regardless of the situation and, in turn, successfully accomplishes the goals set forth on time and under budget.

Here’s a few main tips I think are most important:

  1. Spell out all acronyms and MOS’ – most of the time, civilians have no idea what an 0311 is or what BAMCIS means.
  2. Leadership – more often than not, most everyone in the military are given some type of leadership position, whether you’re a boot PFC overseeing firewatch or a squad leader. While you may not realize it, the military instills a sense of leadership in everyone at a very young age.
  3. Discipline – if nothing else, you made it through the military so you had some sort of discipline instilled in you, whether it be dedication to work or simply tackling tasks head on until completed.
  4. Teamwork – the military is one of the most diverse organizations in the world. You worked with people from different religious, gender, ethnic, and racial backgrounds and accomplished the mission. This means a lot!

For those not as gifted in word-smithing, I highly recommend checking out sites like Military.com’s Skills Translator or the Military to Civilian Occupation Translator provided by CareerOneStop. These sites provide a list of occupations based off of your MOS and then give civilian interpretations of the skillset required for the job. If those services aren’t what you’re looking for, you can always look for a professional resume writer to help fine tune your resume. If nothing else, shoot an email to me at enlist@operationsupplydrop.org and I’ll do my best to help you out when I have some time.

Above all else, know how much value you bring to the team. The skills you acquired in the military are numerous. You are your best asset. All you need to do is make sure what you bring to the table is not lost in translation.

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