When it comes to setting themselves apart from other job seekers, one of the unique challenges faced by the increasing number of military veterans entering the civilian job market can be described, literally, as a language barrier.
Military lingo is filled with words and acronyms that are not commonly used in the civilian world (Do you know what the CINCPAC is?). So it's no surprise that when a veteran creates a résumé, it might seem as though the document were written in a foreign language. And often, the skills that can make a veteran stand out—skills such as leadership, resourcefulness, and personnel management—are lost in military speak, perhaps derailing a job applicant's candidacy prematurely.
Overcoming the language barrier and other strategies to help veterans successfully transition into a civilian career were the focus of the panel discussion "Making the Most of Veterans' Preference" at University of Maryland University College's Academic Center at Largo in September.
One way to combat this language problem is to get involved in professional organizations, said panel member Kirk Clear '03, who is a senior consultant at Whitney, Bradley, and Brown and a past president of the UMUC Alumni Association.
Clear spent 22 years in the Air Force and encouraged veterans to enlist the aid of somebody outside the military—and even in a different field—to understand job-related terminology used in the civilian world. "I crafted my résumé and you couldn't tell whether I was enlisted or an officer," Clear says.
It's also important for veterans who are transitioning to the civilian workforce to find a mentorship program, emphasized panelist Ralph Young '93, a 21-year veteran of the Air Force who retired as a senior master sergeant. "Mentoring is very personal and can inspire confidence. Human connection is what it's all about. Opening up to your mentor can pay dividends in helping you attain your goals."
Young continued, "We don't realize that we mentor every day when we deal with our children. It's not something that we should perceive as intimidating, but something that is necessary to help us get to where we want to be in our career."
Also, when looking for a job, both the real estate axiom "location, location, location" and the refrain "network, network, network" always apply. "The people you socialize with, attend class with, and meet through professional organizations are the most important assets," said Clear.
"Do extra work in your field, and even work for free, which is particularly important if you are switching careers. It helps you develop a network."
Clear was a public affairs officer (PAO) in the Air Force but wanted to be a sports journalist when he got out. So, after doing his day job as PAO, he volunteered to cover sporting events for the base paper to get sports writing experience.
Laurie Sayles Artis '10 spent 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and is now the president and chief executive officer of Civility Management Solutions, a professional services firm that provides both government and commercial clients with training, grants, acquisition, and administrative support.
A successful entrepreneur, Artis has strong advice for veterans: "Don't undersell yourselves. Even as an E2 or E3 (i.e., a private 2nd class or private 1st class), you are getting valuable leadership training. Most people in the civilian world are not getting that kind of training at that age. Remember all that you have accomplished and bring that to the table."
Clear was even more specific: "Military veterans have advantages. They are mission focused, determined not to fail, and like to be challenged. These are big corporate values that companies are looking to see."
Recognizing that the cost of a job search can add up, Artis also pointed out the many free resources available to vets, such as MilitaryHire, G.I. Jobs, Combat to Corporate, and VAntage Point.
A job search can be a full-time job, but even a break from it can result in an opportunity to network. Paul Plasencia, a 21-year Army veteran, is the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Veterans Employment program manager at the U.S. Department of Labor.
After transitioning out of the military, Plasencia was on a cruise with his wife when he sat down for dinner and told the group at the table that he was a veteran and was looking for a job. Three people at the table happened to be hiring, and he was able to get his application in and moved to the top of the pile.
In fact, all the panelists encouraged the audience of veterans to use the veterans' preference system when applying for a government job or to emphasize their government service in applications for jobs in the private sector. It seems an obvious piece of advice, but some veterans may gloss over their military service or fail to specifically list their military service at all in applying for a job.
Plasencia explained the intricacies of the veterans' preference system, including levels of disability under the 0- to 10-point preference scale when applying for federal jobs in competitive and noncompetitive hiring processes.
The bottom line, said Young, however, is that "veterans need to use their preference. It's no guarantee of a job, but you will get looked at first. The rest is up to you."