Boots In The Door: Veteran Skills In The Civilian Workforce

man working inside an aircraft
The transition to civilian life can be tricky to negotiate, but the workplace is one area where veterans are especially equipped for success. 

Of course, getting your foot in the door can be a challenge for anybody, and like anybody else looking for a position, it can help a great deal to know how your skills and background set you apart from other candidates.

To get more insight into how veterans can approach their job search, we talked to Aerotek Account Recruiting Manager, and Marine, Bernie Clark. His years of experience helping veterans get their boots in the doors of civilian employers can help you, or a service member in your life, find that next opportunity.

Know what you bring to the table
It may come as a surprise to veterans that their devotion to reliability, attention to detail, and adherence to proper procedures are not always shared within the general civilian workforce. 

According to Bernie Clark, “Employers know that the veterans they hire are going to be on time and have the ability to learn whatever skillset you need to teach them, but they also know a safety culture comes with that, because the military has to emphasize safety due to the life and death occurrences people face.”

Remember that skills such as these, that are an absolute baseline must-have in military life, might not be a given in the civilian workforce. Don’t be afraid to share some of the qualities you possess that were a given in your previous environment.

Brag a little
The military emphasizes teamwork: first, last and sometimes only. This is a great attitude to carry with you after being placed in a position — but it can be an impediment to getting your first placement. This is one time when you can, and should, make it about you.

One of the areas Bernie Clark stresses with the veteran job seekers he works with is interview preparation. “I recommend focusing on behavioral interviewing. A lot of those types of interview questions are tailored to the individual, but a lot of times it’s hard for people with military experience to provide specific examples that ‘I’ impacted, rather than examples of ‘we’ teamwork where everybody worked together. Spend some time thinking of interview questions in advance, and know that now is the perfect time to talk about yourself.”

It also helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Clark says, “I usually send candidates into the interview with a bottle of water. If you find yourself getting nervous and having a hard time coming up with an answer, take a sip of water and gather your thoughts. That’ll give you 3-5 seconds where it’s not just dead silence.”

Any skills are good skills

It’s great to be up-front with employers in discussing any particular skills you’ve developed in the course of your service. You never know what part of your background an employer might view as “close enough” to see you as a hirable candidate for a skilled position.

“Any veteran that I’ve placed, even if they come right out of the military with what they see as zero skills, fits right in because of their reliability and their ability to train,” says Bernie Clark. 

“For example, a Marine was a tank mechanic with a general understanding of mechanical components and the electrical side of things working with a military tank. The manager of a facility was looking for electrical and instrumentation technicians, but since the Marine had some basic exposure and a good a mechanical mindset, the manager decided he’d be a good candidate to train and grow within the organization and develop into a good technician.”

Clark’s experience in the Marines helps him relate to the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. He says, “I know I used to hear ‘the resume needs to be one page.’ So I edited mine down, and ended up cutting out a lot of experience. Now that I’m in the staffing industry, I’ve found it’s perfectly acceptable for a resume to be two pages long. People want the details, and they only help your case.”

Don’t go it alone
Military training equips veterans with more than just leadership and dependability skills. It also teaches survival techniques that are invaluable in the field, but maybe less necessary in a civilian work environment.

Bernie Clark explains, “A lot of times veterans are more self-reliant, and they definitely need to be able to reach out and ask for help. Whether it’s to people in the staffing industry like Aerotek, enlisting their help, co-workers or managers, the Veteran’s Administration or even friends and family, it’s a great idea to talk to everybody. It all helps you get yourself out there and build your own network.”

“The average veteran is just very eager for a chance to prove themselves,” adds Clark. “The big thing is trying to get into their minds that without a doubt they will be 100% successful in any position they get in, but it’s just getting that first opportunity, and putting yourself out there and asking for help is a key component of that.”

If you’re looking for a job, visit our job board to find your next great opportunity. Create a free career account today to customize your search. And consider reaching out to an expert career advisor: Aerotek recruiters are available to provide advice you can use.