Ex-Military & Transitioning Back into the Workforce?

September 11, 2014

making a smooth military transition into work

Transitions create anxiety for all of us, but for the 2.1 million soldiers who have served overseas since 2001 and now are coming home in search of jobs in a tough economy, the angst can be overwhelming.

What are veterans to do?

At Edge4Vets, we urge veterans to do what businesses say they need to do to succeed; that is, learn how to translate their leadership strengths from the military into tools for civilian success.

Here’s a primer on how to do that.

First let’s take the term “leadership strengths.” Companies say they want to hire vets for their “leadership strengths,” but for our purposes, the term is too vague. So let’s break it down into two components: VALUES and SKILLS.

The VALUES vets developed in the military include all the qualities companies say they desire, e.g., work ethic, being a team player, commitment to the mission, and more.

If you want to convince an interviewer to hire you, go back to the list of VALUES you learned. For example, the Marines list 14 leadership traits, the Army lists 7. The Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard have their value statements. No matter in which branch you served, these “canons” offer a treasure trove to help you sell yourself.

Tip one, take the list of beliefs your branch promoted and study how these beliefs – integrity, selflessness, duty, etc. – serve as your foundation for action in your current life.  Then Google the website for the company you wish to interview with and identify the values the company espouses. Many companies will state their key values right on the website.

Once you make a match between the values in your personal foundation and the values the company embraces, practice expressing how you will apply your military values to help the company you want to work for carry out THEIR values.

There’s not an interviewer alive who will resist that.

Secondly, let’s talk about the SKILLS you developed. Again, take some quiet time and write down the duties you had in the military. Next, consider what you got “good at” by carrying out your duties.

We had a vet in a workshop who serviced Black Hawk helicopters in Afghanistan. He got “very good at” keeping a checklist of all the procedural steps he took each time he worked on a helicopter. He was able to convince an interviewer at American Airlines that he could apply that same skill – his commitment to safety through accuracy – on jet planes and they hired him.

But there’s a second part to the “skills inventory,” called INTANGIBLE SKILLS, which combine with technical skills to give you a complete “skill set.”

We work with four key intangible skills, which I took from a book I wrote called Reclaiming the Sky, about the resiliency of 9/11 heroes. These are the same resiliency skills many veterans possess. They include Adaptability, the ability to change with circumstances; Engagement, the ability to connect with others and form relationships; Optimism, the ability to remain positive under pressure; and Proaction, the ability to spot a problem and take steps to overcome it.

Now the final step before you set out on an interview: Once you’ve identified your Values and Skills (technical and intangible) from the military, ask a teenager to sit for you as you practice describing how you will use your leadership strengths from the military to help the company you’re targeting succeed.

Why a teenager? Because if you can get a teenager to sit still and remain focused on what you have to say, you can get an interviewer to believe you’re the right person for the job and say yes to you – which is the goal.

Good luck!

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About The Author

After 9/11, Tom interviewed his aviation colleagues in Boston, New York and Washington to learn how they were relying on their personal strengths to create paths to recovery. That “journey” became a book, “Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying.” All profits go to aviation charities. The book led Tom to join with Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education to create the Human Resiliency Institute and put the themes of resiliency from the book into action to support veterans. At Fordham, Tom developed Edge4Vets (,) to teach veterans how to translate their military strengths into tools for civilian success. The program began with Fordham vets in 2011, but has expanded to include vets from a dozen NYC schools. Now the program is being adapted to support veterans in Boston and South Florida as a platform for national expansion. Tom has served as a university vice-president and worked as a newspaper editor in addition to being the Director of the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham. He has a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. In addition to writing Reclaiming the Sky, he is the co-author with Johnny Kelley of “Just Call Me Jock,” (1982) a history of the Boston Marathon.

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    An Air Force Colonel who recently transitioned from military to civilian life did his doctoral dissertation on how to make mid-life transitions successfully. He explains his research in this short “TED Talk” style video – I’ve never heard anyone else clarify the steps of the process so clearly.

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