First Steps in Transitioning out of the Military
By Admin

June 1, 2009

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Congratulations! You have served and you have served well. However, as the marching song goes, “You’ll never get rich by digging a ditch, you’re in the Army now,” and you need to get back to work. Your Transition Assistance personnel at the base may have assisted you so far. They have talked to you about your highly marketable skills, the strong work ethic you possess and how civilian employers cannot wait for you to show up and apply for their job. Those are wonderful motivational words, but in reality, it isn’t gong to be that easy.

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Finding a new job may require some simple steps, which may require a little detour to better prepare you. It may even require a full makeover. So lets get started, or should I say, “Forward, march!”

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As with all job searches, you must first figure out what you want to do. Some military Occupational Specialties make this transition easy. An X-ray technician is an X-ray technician. But, if you were a tank driver, well, there aren’t a lot of tanks that need driving around North East Ohio or really any other town in America. So it is important that you know and are able to list all of your skills. These are the skills that you have NOW.

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Your military job description can help you out a lot here. If you don’t have a copy, there are plenty descriptions available on the Internet, which you can find them at the following websites:

Air Force Jobs –

Navy Jobs –

Army Jobs –

Marine Corp Jobs –

Coast Guard Jobs –

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Another information location is your recruiter’s office, or any recruiter’s office. You’d probably want to visit your recruiter anyway, so stop by the Recruiting Station and ask them for a copy of their Enlisted Jobs Classification regulation. The beauty of the actual regulation is that it also contains the DOT codes, Dictionary of Occupational Title codes that match up with your military job classification. If your recruiter doesn’t have a copy of the D.O.T. Book, it is available on-line at:

These publications will help you immensely when describing what you do, and also determining what you have the skills to do in the civilian world. So start making that list. A simple notebook page will do. List as many things as you can. (We’ll use this list when we prepare your resume.)

You’ll need three columns side by side for your list. In the first column, list your technical skills, the actual hands on skills for the work you do. In the second column, list your skills in leadership, supervision, planning, budgeting, and whatever other skills fall into this category. In the third column, list the skills from the DOT manual for your job. The third column is what you’ll compare with everything else.

What You Were Told Versus Reality

The civilian world is not anything at all like the military world. I recently heard a veteran say, “There is no one out here in charge.” That is a pretty accurate statement. The fact that you were a Sergeant, knew the regulations inside and out, were in charge of six people and passed every Operational Readiness Inspection is great, but not really applicable out “here.” For example, the regulations, while similar, are quite different between companies. All companies interpret basic laws and regulations differently. There may be unions to work with, long standing tradition, fear of change and many more differences that vary from company to company. So hang up the sergeant stripes and start focusing on the job you are seeking.

Your Transition Assistance Office told you that you were a valuable commodity. They said you had the skills and discipline employers want. They told you that the world is waiting for you and with a little effort, you can be successful in finding gainful, rewarding and respectable employment. In some respects that is true. However, it is not literally true.

The reality of the civilian workplace is that most of the individuals you will work with know nothing about the military. They see movies, watch TV and read novels about the rigid, ask no questions, highly disciplined and structured military environment. They know you “order” people to do things and that to disobey an order is asking for severe, and unusual to them, punishment. They know that you don’t question what you are told, that you view the world in black and white and that you have an incredibly difficult time interacting with civilians because they do things differently than you.

For some of us, those words are true and for others they are not. What is important for you to realize is that this is exactly how many of the company recruiters and hiring managers you meet view the military. Knowing what they think will help you in many many ways. Think of it as having a good intelligence briefing on the objective. You know what the opposition knows and now you have the advantage.

Recently I was involved in a job search. My resume makes no secret that for 20 years I served in the US Army, in some very non-traditional and non-stereotypical roles. Yet I was asked things such as:

How did you handle employees that talk back to you, you were in the Army?; Do you still have difficulty motivating civilian employees? (I retired over 13 years ago and have held executive level roles ever since.);

How hard is it for you to work in such an unstructured environment instead of the orderly military one?; Do you still wish you were in the service?; You understand that in this company you can’t just order people

to do things, you have to motivate them. How will you do that?

And, there were many more questions that were equally ridiculous, yet revealing as to what people’s perception of the military is. This is a reality that you will face. In preparing for these articles I interviewed a number of company recruiters and managers. Their comments were stunning and frank. Some of these comments were:

“I am reluctant to hire ex-military. They are rigid and inflexible. They seem to think that their way is the only way.”

“They are a hard working group of people that if you have the time to supervise them and demilitarize them are very good to have around.”

“They have an over inflated opinion of themselves and think they can do everything.”

“They have no idea what it takes to be successful.”

“They do not know what they do not know. This can be very challenging.”

Of course, not all comments were negative but many were. It is important that you balance this reality with what the transition people told you you would make and the transition you will make.   Hard work, following the advice of those who have been successful and a lot of persistence and resilience coupled with flexibility will get you on the right track.

So lets begin the transition journey. The next stop is preparing your resume.