How to land a civilian or contractor job as ex military
By Sean Gallagher
Sizing up the leap from a military career to the private sector? Take some tips on how to land ex military jobs from Mark Henderson, a retired Army colonel and one of the founders of Palladian International, an executive-search firm based in Waynesboro, Va.
Bottom line: Don’t narrow your search too quickly, and don’t try too hard to translate your experience into civilian terms.
Know what you want – and make sure you know what’s out there.
A lot of people leaving the service, particularly retirees, focus on the defense industry for employment, Henderson said . “That's valid, but they overlook the fact that there's a commercial world out there where the sky is the limit. They sometimes overlook what they could go after if they looked at the commercial world and thought about what they bring to the plate.”
Translate into terms businesses will understand … But don’t overdo it.
When it comes to building the resume “ the biggest thing is translating military experience into commercial words,” Henderson said . And that goes beyond the acronyms — you have to convert what you did in each role you had to business terms.” However, he said, don’t push your luck trying to convert military titles to equivalent corporate ones. (A company commander is not a CEO.)
Don’t just list responsibilities – sell your accomplishments.
Just listing off the responsibilities you held won’t explain to a potential employer your value to a business , and it won’t set you apart from the crowd. To do that, you need to talk about what you achieved, in business terms.
In the military, “we're taught to be humble,” Henderson said. “But you need to explain things by accomplishments — how you innovated. Everyone in the military has a story like that.”
An interview goes both ways.
Preparing for an interview means doing research on the company you’re interviewing with and being prepared to ask questions yourself that show you’re prepared. “An interview is a lot more detailed than standing up and answering questions,” Henderson said.
A frequent mistake in interviews is failing to follow through on telling your story about your accomplishments. Many candidates “think that if they put it on their resume, that's good enough,” Henderson said. Be prepared to talk about your achievements, and tell your story in a way that resonates with the interviewer.
Sean Gallagher is a former naval officer and freelance journalist. He has spent much of the last 19 years covering defense and technology and is the former editor-in-chief of Defense Systems magazine. Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Md.