Managing Military to Civilian Career Change

Making a career change can be a painful process for some job hunters and career changers. Back in July 2012, I was approached by a SAF Regular who expressed his intention to make a move into the private sector. His concerns is how can he make the move as easy as possible, taking into consideration that he is starting out with almost zero experience?


Here are my reply to him:

If you are planning to use your military career experiences and skills to match up with a proper civilian position, you need to know some of basic career change strategies.

Before all these, let’s iron out some complications. First, you may think you’re prepared for this move but you probably don’t realise the extent of the change or what it takes to do it properly. What complicates a shift from military to civilian careers? I would say family commitment and personal expectation. Career changes like this can stress a family because these moves often involve loss of support network, income reduction (whether you are retiring and non-retiring individual) and other issues (usually monetary).

Some of key difficulties military people have in marketing themselves include:

  • Properly translating military occupational specialties to fit the requirements of civilian occupations; it takes a great deal of thought to demilitarise the language while not trying to make your military background sound like you had a civilian career. It’s a balance and it’s tough to strike the right balance on resumes and during interviews.
  • Lack of understanding of the interview and hiring process for civilian or public sector hiring processes. Tell them that you are a great fit!
  • Use of improper resume styles and ineffectively representing content to articulate a vast amount of data to a potential employer. Keep your resumes ‘operationally ready’.
  • Not rehearsing and understanding the basics of the most current methods in behavioral or general interviewing processes.
  • Most military individuals, unfortunately, invest massive amounts of time planning missions and collaborating with others regarding key military duties. They don’t do it when it comes to planning ahead for their career or specific career options.

If you are in the military in any capacity, consider this advice. Realize that your skills have both direct and transferable value to public and private sector employers.

Making a career change into a new industry especially from a military organization like the SAF, your approach needs to be more proactive and personal. So, try these:

  • Develop a solid network through your current colleagues suppliers, civillian engagements. Your network is something you should have and maintain throughout your career anyway. Let your network be your eyes and ears
  • Conduct some research on prospective employers, their competitors, their associates, and affiliations to include in your network of contacts.
  • Reach out to employers. Knock on their doors. Make phone calls; if employers don’t have an opening now, they may in the future. If you make a great impression, you can easily become a contender for future jobs.

Your resume should give the employer an overview of your strengths and accomplishments. You will want to:

  • Start by leveraging your military expertise as well as your leadership abilities and strengths such as discipline – highlight your best traits in your resume.
  • Tailor your resume to the position you applying for. It is easy if your resume is developed properly in the first place.
  • Avoid filling your resume and cover letter with military lingo. You want your resume to showcase your expertise but you want it to be in line with what the employer wants.

In a nutshell, any military to civilian career transitions can be difficult. How do you write down and document what you have done and its value to a potential employer or target organization? What skills are transferable from your new experiences or your years of experiences in the military? Have you ever written down and understood how valuable your supervisory, training or technical skills are to potential employers? Do you specifically know the companies and individuals to network with now or during your transition phases? Can they clearly understand your value to them from your resume and cover letter?

Here are nine of the most common reasons why ex-military professionals never got hired.



Anfernee Tan

Anfernee Tan | Operations Director, biipmi Pte Ltd

Anfernee Tan is the co-founder and also the chief editor of biipmi.print. He oversees all marketing initiatives for content and channel optimization across multiple networks to drive engagement, retention, leads and positive experience for the individual users and business owners. He is a career coach, an adult educator, and an entrepreneur with special interest towards employability, digital media, content marketing and brand strategy. Check out what he has to say!

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