Transitioning From a Military to Civilian Career? 8 Tips From an Accomplished Veteran

As any veteran knows, making the transition from armed forces to the private sector often poses a myriad of individual challenges. However, remaining informed, and learning from other veterans who have successfully made the shift, will certainly improve a service-person’s passage into civilian life.


John C. Buckley, II, retired Colonel of the U.S. Army, is a veteran, career coach/mentor, author, and an informed professional on the subject of military-to-civilian career transitions. Most recently, he has worked collaboratively to create and implement “military recruiting and retention programs”.

Buckley has stated that he was initially ill-equipped for the transitional challenges that lay before him. “It wasn’t until I put structure to my problem and began using military problem-solving tools that my performance and results improved,” says Buckley. He subsequently incorporated “military problem-solving tools” which improved his post-military performance as well as his ultimate results. Becoming familiar with the teachings of the historical military strategist/philosopher, Sun Tzu, was integral in his transitional approach. Buckley states, “I realized to achieve success in my transition ‘battle’ I needed to properly prepare for combat. So, I studied the ‘enemy’ (the recruiter), their methods of war (the application and selection process), and myself (by defending my own career interests)”. Buckley affirms that it was only then that he “stood victorious”, overcoming the transitional obstacles and challenges that lay before him.

“Start early, study and analyze the new complex operating environment – the private sector – before launching résumés “down range”, says Buckley. Since learning from his own past oversights, Buckley shares some useful advice to assist others with their transition from military service member to civilian employee.

1. Concentrate on your goal of molding a new career. Remember that this process is considerably more complicated than a basic job hunt. Therefore, identifying your objectives the first time around may save you from having to repeat another employment search the following year.

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2. Assertively pursue “informational interviews” with experts in your desired career or industry. Buckley reminds job seeking veterans, “It’s okay to listen to recently transitioned veterans, but you really need to interview someone who’s been working in your desired career field [for] their entire professional life”. It is only then that you can delve into the more obscure, yet equally valuable, details of your prospective industry.

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3. Construct a career-focused network based on your field of interest. The next step is to leverage those connections with the purpose of gaining information on job opportunities, professional organizations and groups, types of educational and/or certification programs to pursue, as well as the cultural setting of prospective employers.

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4. Create a proactive and professional LinkedIn profile. While LinkedIn is the go-to for professional recruiting and networking, remember to maintain professionalism in all aspects of your online activity. Yet, when it comes to strictly professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, Buckley asserts, “Remove your official military photo, and remove all military jargon and references”. He continues, “Treat others on these networks professionally”. The etiquette for communicating on LinkedIn vastly differs from other social media sites such as Facebook, for instance. “To connect with another professional, use a connection in your network to ‘introduce’ you to the professional, or draft a detailed message explaining why you want to join the professional’s network”, says Buckley.

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5. Tailor résumés to your “audience”. While it may be easier to prepare, a one-size-fits-all résumé is not going to be ultimately effective in helping you land an interview for the job you really want. To create a résumé that will actually get you in the door, be sure to make use of the specifics listed in the job description, and then combine this information with your own transferrable skills. If necessary, don’t hesitate to seek professional résumé-writing assistance.

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6. Have an interview? Prepare, prepare, prepare. Buckley reminds transitioners that there are, in fact, “preconceived ideas about veterans”. While this is not a necessarily a negative aspect, it is still imperative to show that you are capable of successfully mixing with the culture of a private sector company. Therefore, “Rehearse your actions on the objective,” says Buckley. He also adds, “Practice how to answer situation-based interview questions,”, and finally “Learn how to speak a complete sentence without using one single military term, title or acronym”. It’s also important to remain relaxed and personable in a conversational sense, making sure your answers are complete.

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7. Be ready to negotiate prior to an offer. When presenting a candidate with a job offer, most companies anticipate a certain amount of negotiation on the part of their recruit. However, it’s best to have these negotiation tools in your arsenal prior to receiving an offer to avoid potential vacillating when the time comes. Buckley recommends that veteran job hopefuls avoid an outward fixation on salary, since “[compensation] packages may provide programs that will strengthen the salary offered and may also be negotiated – perhaps even more easily. The key is to remain knowledgeable, flexible, reasonable, and enthusiastic, while steering clear of ultimatums.


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8. “Never leave a fallen comrade.” This “Warrior Ethos military philosophy is one that should always remain part of your value system. Buckley stresses the importance of helping fellow veterans overcome their own transitional challenges via the experience and knowledge gained your own conversion from service member to civilian employee.


Fred Coon, CEO

Stewart Cooper & Coon specializes in career transition services for senior-level military decisions makers and government agency employees by assisting candidates in locating companies who welcome both their leadership and organizational talents.  

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