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Service Members, Get Hired! Part I: Managing Expectations

Military to Civilian Transition

Welcome to Part I of my six-part series called, “Service Members, Get Hired!” In this first installment, I’m covering the not-so-fun topic of hard truths and expectation management. It’s not the most joyous topic, but one that is vitally important for transitioning service members to understand from the very beginning. If you manage to land the first job that you apply for, and it meets every single need that you have, from pay and location to hours and workload, then you need to play the lottery that day, because either you are the luckiest person on earth that day, or you sold your soul to the devil. However, most if not all of us will not be so lucky to have such an experience. So let’s cover some harsh realities that should be known upfront in this journey.


So let me reiterate that first and probably hardest truth to your job search: You will almost certainly fail. It’s going to happen. Hopefully your transition will not be rife with it, but your first resume review is going to be brutally and painfully honest, your first job application will fall on deaf ears, your first referral to a hiring manager will result in no callback, or your first job interview will result in someone else being selected. Whether it’s one or a combination of these things, you are almost guaranteed to experience something negative in this process.

And I get it! Every Veteran who has transitioned before you gets it! Talk to any Veteran, and you’ll find that most of us have experienced several of these numerous times. And guess what, it hurts! It hurts your pride, it hurts your heart, it hurts your spirit, and if you let it, it can kill hope. Please know that this is all part of the journey. Is it a happy part of the journey? Absolutely not. I wish that every Veteran could come out of service on a glide path into guaranteed employment, but that’s just not reality. The reality is, you’re coming out of one industry and entering a completely different industry (even if it’s the same line of work that you did in uniform) which likely means one thing: You're usually viewed as an entry-level employee.


And therein lies our second hard truth: Unless you are coming out as a command-level E9 or an O5+, your chances of landing that management-level job right out the gate is very challenging. Now, why is that? After all, as a service member, you were probably placed in a leadership role very early on in your career, and you have a pretty awesome skill called “Leadership.” Why wouldn’t companies be chomping at the bit to hire you for your awesome leadership skill and experience?!

Well, there can be a few reasons. First, you have to realize that you are competing against what I call “known commodities.” When you are applying for a management-level position at nearly any company or role, you are almost certainly competing against folks who have been with that company for a hot minute. They’ve already been at it, for years in some cases, working up their clout and proving their worth to the company. Then here you come along with your DD-214 and Platoon Sergeant time (or whatever role you apex at in your respective service), expecting to be considered in higher regard than these folks who have already “paid their dues” with the company. This may be hard to hear, but you’re fighting an uphill battle.

If you’re applying for a leadership role in an industry or field in which you don’t have intimate military experience, then it's even more challenging because now you're competing against folks who already have the intimate industry knowledge and hands-on experience that you may lack. So as much of a shoo-in you feel like you are for that production managerial position at the Tyson chicken processing plant, your experience in running operations for a Regiment/Squadron/Group/Task Force may be a bit of a hard sell to the hiring manager.

Lastly, there can be a few factors that are out of your control—things like stigmas. Let’s face it, some folks just don’t know how the military operates, and they assume that every military leader is like a Drill Sergeant/Instructor (or other branch equivalents) that leads through fear, anger, yelling, pushups, the forgone “wall-to-wall counseling,” or the coveted “knife hand” in the face. Whether we’re written off for leadership style stigmas, or the stigmas surrounding the unfortunate reality of PTSD, we are faced with unique struggles that the average civilian doesn’t have to overcome. The best thing we can do as we enter the workforce is dispelling the misnomers and continue to show that we are truly the best that our nation has to offer.


Now, not all hope is lost! There is no shortage of resources out there. Being in this ACP network is just one of so many. There are also job boards out there, like Hire Heroes USA (HHUSA,, that list jobs with “partnered” companies. This means that HHUSA has vetted a company in the partnership process and is vouching that these companies truly do offer Veteran preference. Because let’s face it, not all companies will truly give Veterans hiring preference. Some of these jobs even offer Veteran-only management-level opportunities!

So, as you begin your search, and you’re looking for those leadership opportunities, just know that the higher you go on the hierarchy of roles, the harder it’s going to be to “break through.” Despite your time as a Company Commander leading hundreds of troops on multiple deployments, and having your nifty Project Management Professional certificate in hand for free from Onward2Opportunity (, just know that you may have to seek out that assistant project management role, before shooting for the top-dog seat.


We’ve heard the statistics that, depending on which study/research you prescribe, Veterans average 3-6 different jobs in their first 3-5 years as a civilian. I’'ve been retired for just over 3 years, and I’m already on job number four. As Veterans, we often have this deep sense of loyalty and commitment to something we undertake. That’s natural. It’s often what drove us to serve our country in the first place and sometimes what kept us in for 20+ years. However, the civilian sector is a different beast. Longevity at a job or company is not nearly as common anymore, and here’s what you need to hear: That’s okay!

Why am I mentioning this? Because most every Veteran comes out looking for that perfect job that meets all of our needs. Well, I’m here to tell you that even if such a job exists, there’s a 99% chance that you aren't going to find it at your first job. First off, as we’ve already discussed, you’re trying to break into an industry or field against folks that are already “established” in that field or industry, and most of us don’t consider an entry-level position as our dream job. Secondly, the perfect dream job probably doesn’t even exist. Why? Because unless you dabble in crystal balls and fortune-telling, you’re never truly going to know if a job is the dream job. You can find a job that pays amazingly, and then it turns out that your coworkers or boss are jerks. You can find a company that you fit right in at, but there’s no upward promotion potential. And, of course, there’s always the fear of downsizing and cutbacks.

So here’s the third hard truth if you haven’t read between the lines yet: You aren’t going to find the perfect job. So what do you do? Educate yourself and prioritize. As I’m going to touch on in Part III of this series, there are certain aspects of a job to consider, and you likely won’t find all of them, so you'll need to prioritize what’s important to you and make the most educated decision that you can, based off of what you know. At the end of the day, if you're crippled with indecision about which path to choose, remember this: It's not about making the best decision, it's about making the best of the decision that you make.


Only you can succeed in your transition. As I so often advocate in my Transition Tip Tuesday posts on LinkedIn: Find a mentor, find 10! Folks like myself are out there and willing to help, but when the rubber meets the road, your success and the legwork necessary are all on you. Therefore the final hard truth is not necessarily as negative as the previous, and it must be said: You cannot give up hope. You’re going to run into walls, it’s going to get hard, you’re not going to want to spend 4 hours on that resume and cover letter, but you have to keep going. Lean on your support network, whether it’s an official mentor here at ACP, or friends and family for that cheerleading and encouragement. Find ways to decompress and take your mind off things for a while.

So long as you keep fighting, you will win. As long as you keep going, keep moving forward, and keep leveraging all the resources at your disposal, you are setting yourself up to succeed. Will it look exactly like you thought it would when you get on the “other side?” Probably not. In fact, I can almost guarantee it won’t. Mine certainly didn’t. I thought for sure I was going to be a police officer until I hit a brick wall that I never saw coming, and I had to pick myself up, dust myself off, and begin running the race all over again. It was scary, it was hard work, and I owe most of the gray in my beard to it, but my transition was only successful because I refused to fail.

Adopt that mentality, and I promise you’ll be laying the groundwork to come out on the other side of this just fine.

Hopefully, you’ve found some use in the first part of our Employment chat. If you did, please feel free to share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition.
Be sure to join me for Part II as we talk about focusing our search on finding that meaningful employment we all desire! Until then be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!

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