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What Can You Do If You Don't Have The Experience Your Dream Job Requires?


Brandon Small Silver Spring, MD

I am in a situation where 9 months from now, I will separate from the military. My situation is a bit hairy (according to my estimation). I am 21 credits shy of obtaining my Bachelors of Science in Business (Management and Marketing) from Penn State and I've spent the last eight years working in administration. Outside of this, I have no relevant experience for most of the careers I am interested in, but I know I could do any job regardless of the demands.

I feel like I am in limbo and I am trying to understand if people craft resumes and successfully interview for jobs they don't have the experience for as reflected in a position description for a job listing. I don't know what to expect and I've heard the adage, "It's not about what you know, it's about who you know" but I want to manage my expectations and give myself a target to aim for at the same time.

Without a degree, and the only experience I have is in administration, I want to know if it is possible to write a resume, speak with an organization under the knowledge that I will graduate with the degree require for the position, and still lock down a competitive job offer? My fear is starting over at the entry level and not making enough to support my family while going to school during a difficult transition from the military.

7 August 2017 23 replies Military to Civilian Transition



Drew Schildwächter Wilmington, NC

Brandon: the way to get over that hurdle is to develop, refine, and communicate clearly your value proposition to an employer. This will involve direct networking and your résumé will become an after thought to a successful connection with someone who wants to hire you, if and only if you can match yourself to their organizational needs. Basically, it is who you know, as you said.

But, in terms of getting ready to do that: good news, you have a lot of time to start that process with nine months. I would begin to use your existing network for some recommendations on the types of people with whom you should speak. e.g. find an interesting company, and find some Navy vets who work there, then see if they will answer some well researched questions from you. You could also do that here, and try to find mentors in interesting fields and ask them questions. Your first questions might be which questions to ask later, but that's fine.

You may start asking questions with someone and end up talking jobs. Who knows?

7 August 2017 Helpful answer


Drew Schildwächter Wilmington, NC

Brandon: I started with LinkedIn and looked for alumni or Marines who were at companies in which I was interested. I reached out to a bunch of those people and just said, "Here's what I have so far. Can you tell more more about what you do?" Those conversations got me started in a big way, and introduced me to some people with whom I am still in touch.

If you don't feel comfortable "cold connecting" online, then search for 2d or 3d place connections and see if people you know could introduce you. You may know only gov't or military folks, but they have friends and family probably at companies you like.

You might also investigate local networking or professional groups. I attended all sorts of local groups in order to meet people I could ask about their careers and refine my own questions. Most of these are free: things like Rotary, Toastmasters, and others. How useful this is depends maybe on if you want to stay where you are now.

In short, I would start online and then see what you can do locally, too.

Check out, too, "Reinventing You" by Dorie Clark.

7 August 2017 Helpful answer


Matthew Venanzi Philadelphia, PA

Hi Brandon,

Lots of good info in you thread. I have three brief points to highlight:

***1 - Yes, finish your degree. But that doesn't necessarily need to happen first (more in this in #3). REASONS: Pride, future promotion, and continuing to build and color your story. (career paths are all about's not just that you did your degree, it's about the pathway you took to get there...tomorrow, in a year, in, or right before you do your MBA).

***2 - Don't rule out military contractors. Often run by (or largely started by or led by) separated or retired military persons, and with direct lineage to military related work, it could be a good fit. Even if only for short- or mid-term. ADDITIONAL UPSIDES: Continue to build network. Strong bond with other former military persons. Likely opportunity for similar work to your current experience (or reliability/transferability of skills).

***3. PUMP UP YOUR WILLINGNESS TO LEARN in your communications with your network and potential employers. TALK ABOUT HOW EXCITED YOU ARE to bring your seasoned background to the private sector (or contractor, public sector, whichever you are thinking...more importantly, whichever it is to whom you are speaking at that moment). TALK ABOUT HOW YOU **ARE** finishing your degree. Researching the options for doing so are the first steps in that process, as is applying to a program, as is actually taking the courses. You don't need to wait for your "confirmed enrollment" to be committed to finishing your degree, so long as you honestly are taking the steps (i.e. expecting enrollment in T minus 3-6 months...not like "maybe, in 5 years or something, if I feel like it".) The latter would of course be a non-truth.

***BONUS -- As you're gathering, I'm suggesting that the degree does not need to be a deal breaker or a hindrance. It all comes down to how you frame it. Which brings me to the bonus. Don't let a bullet list in a job description come between you and your pride. There was a mention earlier in the thread of being realistic about what the description says and being concerned about getting the job and not being able to fulfill the duties. I respect that position. HOWEVER you will not run into that if you HAVE THE DRIVE TO LEARN and are clear and ARTICULATE IN WHAT YOU BRING TO THE ROLE (in spite of not *yet* being an expert in each bullet point). Key points..........honesty, express willingness to learn and bring your drive to the organization. You'd be surprised how many job descriptions are written with 100 requirements, when the employer is happier to have someone who meets 50% of them and has passion. Or the employer FINDS or CREATES a role for THAT person. And what better to SHOW your drive than your passionate endeavor to finish your degree?

Congrats on your service and whatever your reason for separation, thank you for your service.

5 December 2017 Helpful answer


Taube Weiner Dedham, MA

Hi Brandon,
It is now the end of Nov. Where are you now with your search? If you're still having difficulty, I'd like to talk with you. I am a career coach and work with military at no cost which is my way to say thank you for your service. Please go to my website and if you're interested get in touch. I wish you lots of great networking success. You are correct it's who you know that will get you in the door. It's what's you know how to "sell" your skills that gets you the job.

Taube (pronounced Toby)

26 November 2017 Helpful answer


James Bishop Columbus, OH

I am glad you have premium for LinkedIn. Use it to search for Navy as a keyword. When you find professionals with Navy experience ask to connect with them. Only request the connection from their profile page so you can put a note with the request (in the note say you are leaving the Navy soon). Don't to too many in any one day as rejections can put you in the LinkedIn Brig. Once they accept you can message with them and ask for advice. If you don't have time and your wife doesn't work, she can work on building the connections (connect with me if you need help). Last on this point, find everyone who responded to you on LinkedIn and ask for a connection.

I appreciate the concern over finishing your degree and supporting your family. It is a tough spot but not finishing it can keep you back later from a promotion. Contact Penn State, its a great school (coming from a Buckeye) and ask if there is a program for Veterans returning to school. We have one here at OSU where we Rotarians mentor the students and try to help them with connections and internships. Also, they may have ideas on completing the degree as well, don't dismiss them until you talk to them.

The translation (military to civilian) of your resume is hard. You may only be able to do that with a career coach or resume writer and it may not be free. Don't get caught up in your military titles and grades, focus on the responsibilities and functions. In todays world, an application online will never match you if you don't match the requested skills and nobody will ever get to see that you are a vet. You need to be creative and persistent chasing your new career that's your job and it isn't easy.

21 November 2017 Helpful answer


Grant Lewis Virginia Beach, VA

It sounds from your letter that a reality check is in order. You seem to be asking if a skillful resume can get you a job you don't have the experience or education for. The fear should be that you would get the job and not be able to perform it. I encourage you to develop a plan that allows you to complete your degree and prepare for your dream career. Good luck.

20 November 2017 Helpful answer


Deb Yeagle Tampa, FL

Thanks for your service!
Check out this article for information on four financial services professional organizations. I recommend you research these organizations and identify local chapters, attend their events, and begin to build your network through groups like these.

You can also build your network virtually. If you are not on LinkedIn, then I recommend you join and start connecting with financial services professionals through LinkedIn groups such as the Financial Services Network.

Financial services organizations need administrative support too! You can apply that experience to seek out admin positions in targeted financial services firms, and learn the ropes while in that position and finishing your degree, then can lateral into a business analyst position within the company once you have received your degree. This is a win-win situation for both you and the company, as they won't have to onboard or orient a new hire since you have experience with the firm and understand how they operate. And hopefully you can make a decent living in the admin position while finishing school, and have job security with the firm.

Good luck!

7 August 2017 Helpful answer


Lubov Bogopolskaya Staten Island, NY

I've gotten really good offers after volunteering to get experience.


Blair Tolbard Woodstown, NJ

Go Navy! I served 4 years as a Machinist Mate on a Destroyer in the 70's then graduated from Penn State with a BA in Marketing and Computer Science. Throughout my career the relationships I formed in the Navy and at Penn State have played a pivotal role in being presented with opportunities to demonstrate my ability to lead, build great teams, and create success. Providing for your family is a great goal that is best achieved with a plan that YOU and your Spouse agree to and execute flawlessly. Finish college. It matters because it is a demonstration that you finish the things you start. Network via LinkedIn. Find people like me that have taken a path similar to the one you are pursuing. Leverage us as a coach. I loved the recommendation to be a sales guy 1st. That was the path I chose and it helped me learn how to talk like and think like the people I wanted to be like. It helped me develop the skills required to develop strategy and get things done through others. Happy to help. Connect with me on LinkedIn and lets start the conversation. There are two Blair Tolbard's on LinkedIn. My son and I. I'm the older better looking one.


Dr. David Serana MD, Ed.D., MSN, BSSE, BSN, RN-BC, US Army Iraq War Veteran Bethpage, NY

Brandon, look for a company who has a Veteran Hiring Program. Email or call the Program Coordinator. More likely, that company will tailor your qualifications to the jobs they have available. Companies who hired newly discharged vets are allowed to tax write off the expenses spent in hiring the vets. Hence, they are willing to hire for the tax write off purposes aside from the high quality of work outputs vets bring in to these companies. On the other side, just conform your resume description to existing jobs these companies post online based on your experience, abilities and capabilities. An entry level resume should only be 1 page, typed in Times Roman with 12 font size. Google vets organizations who helps vets create resumes and find job.


Katherine Graham Salt Lake City, UT

I work for a large, academic health care system. I was told that 50 words on your resume must match your resume. You may have to change wording to match the job description. Formatting like lines across the page makes scanning difficult.


Maya Tolj West Chicago, IL

Explain in the objective part that you are planning to pursue the required "XYZ" and how/ when you will obtain it. Then elaborate on "why is this exactly your DREAM JOB" This should work 75%! Good luck


Paul Trejo Austin, TX

Brandon -- thanks for your years of service.

If this is really and truly your dream job -- and if you are still single or childless -- THEN NEVER COMPROMISE.

Your best bet is to get into that industry, and START AT THE BOTTOM. Yes, you heard me -- take a huge pay cut. Then, go to night school as well as working overtime -- REMEMBER it's really for yourself and your own FUTURE.

Once you finally get promoted into your actual GOAL, you will see -- and everybody will see -- that it was TOTALLY WORTH all the extra struggle.

Best wishes,


Bob Molluro Wilmington, DE

Brandon, there are some really good suggestions already provided. Let me focus on one area -your beliefs. I would dump the thought that you are going to get your Dream job. It is more likely you will spend your first ten years developing the skills and experiences needed. You list consulting as something you would like to do. What do you feel you are qualified to consult? Or is it that you like the income you believe consultants make. You expressed that you want to make sure you can take care of your family. Sounds to me that that is on the top of your list. The right sales position with a company that has a good training program and compensation that meets your needs may be a good place to start. Sales will teach you a lot about yourself and will put you in a position where you will be dealing with client's needs. These are skills that will serve you well down the line. Be prepared to work your butt off. Getting off to a fast start is dependent on your commitment to do whatever is necessary to succeed. This normally translates into high activity and long hours. Eventually these activities will lead to the doors you would like to see opened. At this stage you don't know enough to decide on what is your Dream career. Personally my first job out of college showed me some options and led me to the conclusion that the company was not right for me. Then I moved to IBM where things were great. I received eight promotions in 13 years. Eventually I moved to a competitor where I would say I had my first Dream job even though my IBM experiences were terrific. I realized later on that the experiences were giving me the base that I needed to move upwards. It ended up being much better than anything I could have Dreamed since you really don't know enough. Focus on getting off to a good start and the rest will follow in due time.


Victor Ramos Mc Lean, VA


If you can finish your degree before leaving the service, it will help you greatly.

In my situation, I was two years away from getting my bachelorette degree, at the time I left the service. I applied and successfully obtained a job in a field similar to the work that I was doing in the service. This strategy may work for you, also.

Three important reasons why getting or keeping a job in the field that you have experience:

1. You will have the experience that you need to get hired (same as me: Hired)

2. You will be employed while you finish your degree (same as I was: Employed).

3. The third option is to stay in the service until you graduate (I wish that I had taken this option)

After you graduate and have your degree, it will easier to get your dream job.

Your concerns about not making lots of money to support your family is real. But, your needs are fewer than most. You will not have to carry student loan debts. Therefore, the year or so that it takes for you to get your degree is nothing compared the the rest of your life.

After, you earned your degree, high paying jobs will be available to you.

For what is worth, the journey that I am recommending to you is the journey that I took and my dreams came true.

Good Luck, may your dreams come true.

Dr. Victor Ramos


Ronald Bossert Bethlehem, PA

I experienced a similar situation when I served in the army. My thoughts are go back and finish your degree (you are almost there)-it will be an unspoken requirement for a good job. While you are completing your degree, think about what you would like to do . Getting your business degree from Penn State is an excellent start (I'm a Penn Stater). The important first step is identifying the kind of job you are interested in and focus on that first. Then with your experience in administration, tailor a resume around the experience you already have-I'll be you have many transferable skills. I wouldn't worry so much about your dream job just yet-focus on what kinds of jobs you might get you there down the road. If you want feedback on your resume, I'd be glad to look at it. But my strong counsel, is get the degree first-you won't regret it.



Take a job with a reputable company - get into Purchasing, (it does not require much experience or education and it is a good "stepping stone" for whatever you want to do

- Get your degree: (Go nights like many of us had to, so no complaints or grumbling), and then move up in the organization or move out.


Louis Schwarz Somerville, NJ

Ha Brandon, From my experience, a dream job is made by the individual, it does not exist to be just given to you. You have a lot of experience from the Navy that can be leveraged in civilian employment. You have 9 months to put a dent in final degree requirements, get that degree and it will be an asset on your resume.
I can understand your position regarding leaving the Navy, where you are very comfortable, and going to an environment where everything will be new to you. It is a new challenge that you can overcome, just like you did when you joined the Navy.
There a lot of industries where administrative experience is needed. Insurance, banking, transportation, retail and government are examples of these industries. A degree open more doors for you.
International assignments are also available from the international jobsites, check them out. Do you know any other languages? That ability can be leveraged into a exciting job.
Look into the oil industry, a lot of opportunities.
You have a lot of value from the Navy.


Taube Weiner Dedham, MA

Hi Brandon,
I am a career coach and have been helping folks in the military at no cost. This is my way of saying thank you for your service.

I suggest you go on to my website and take a look at who I am. If you want to work with me, contact me and I will set up skype or telephone time to help you determine what you want to do and how to write that resume.

Taube (pronounced like Toby)


Roger Garate Chelsea, AL

Hey Brandon: Networking is more than just meeting people. I would recommend looking at professional certifications that are associated with your dream job. Take advantage of any transition assistance you can get to obtain and pay for these certifications. Business Analysts can take many forms. As a senior admin in the Navy, you have built many skills you may not be aware of including very tight deadlines, emerging tasking beyond admin, deployments for long periods of time, etc. Many companies are looking for the one thing many civilians lack - dedication to accomplishing the mission regardless of obstacles. You may not be able to land your dream job upon transition, but as Emanuel stated, entry-level jobs can be a good way to get in the door. Smaller companies may also be a good source, because typically they do not have the depth of staff to satisfy all contingencies, so there can be opportunities that become available. I know mentors have been mentioned as well. If you can find someone you know that has already made the transition to a job similar to what you want, try connecting with them or have them connect you with someone they know. The transition is not always easy and TAP does not adequately prepare you for it. Good lcuk.


Emanuel Carpenter Alpharetta, GA

Hey Brandon: What exactly IS your dream job? The degree you are pursuing could lead to various career avenues like marketing manager, sales manager, salesperson, etc. Are you sure that a degree is required to obtain your dream job? Even with the degree, will that and your military experience be enough to get the job? Just some things to think about.

When I separated from the military, I only had earned a few college credits. I took a job at a community college bookstore to get the free education benefits while receiving G.I. Bill benefits. Later, I took a customer service job at another company that gave 100% tuition reimbursement for a "B" grade or above. I was still receiving G.I. Bill benefits so I used it for other expenses. After the military, it took 7 years of working full time and going to school part time to get my bachelors in Business with a Marketing Management degree. Now I do pretty well in a sales career, and I have a side hustle that earns additional revenue.

Here are a few ideas for you:

1. Take the highest paying job you can get right out of the military, and go to school part time to finish your degree. The dream job can wait a few more months. Unfortunately, too many businesses require the degree versus the experience so getting the degree is important if your dream job requires it.

2. Consider alternate sources of income like driving for Uber, renting your car to an Uber driver, or renting your house out for AirBnB. You may be able to go to school full time while doing this and maybe working a part time job.

3. Start looking for the "companies" that hire for your dream job and take ANY job with that company while attending college part time. Many companies hire from within before posting jobs to the general public.

4. Go to LinkedIn and start connecting with the most likely hiring managers at companies you want to work for. Ask if you can pick their brains regarding how to proceed with your career goals. If you haven't created a LinkedIn profile yet, do it today. Be sure to make it apparent that you are a military veteran.

5. Look for local military-to-civilian transition programs that help veterans finds jobs. Many companies specifically want to hire veterans. Sites like can help you find them.

6. Don't be so quick to dismiss an entry-level job. Some of them actually pay well. And if they offer tuition reimbursement, it's even better. If you use the G.I. Bill, you can use that money however you want as long as you are in college.

7. Know that any injury you obtained (physical or mental) while in the military makes you eligible to apply for financial benefits through the VA. You are considered on duty 24 hours a day. So even if you got hurt outside of work, you are eligible to apply for benefits. Every little bit helps.

8. Consider being your own boss. Look into becoming an entrepreneur and all it entails rather than depending on a company for your livelihood.

9. Email your resume to everyone you know and let them know that finding a job is crucial. Most companies prefer to hire people through employee recommendations versus hiring strangers.

10. If you can't find a job right away, file for unemployment benefits.

Best of luck to you.


Brandon Small Silver Spring, MD


I appreciate the outlook and insight. This is the kind of gouge I've been looking for. All the ideas in the world won't help if I am not able to focus them into actionable steps. This definitely allows me to do that.

I have a LinkedIn account that I just upgraded to Premium for the free 1-year for transitioning Service members and I've sent a few In-Mails. As far as in-person networking, I want to look into at least one organization to get involved with and one social engagement opportunity to rely on at least monthly.

I'll check out that book. I always welcome opportunities to add more knowledge to my arsenal.


Brandon Small Silver Spring, MD


I am trying to be more intentional about networking. I just don't really know the first place to begin. Most of the people I work with are in the military and the civilians in our organization are primarily permanent government employees so their agency contacts extent to other government jobs. I have had a hard time breaking through to sectors outside of the government.

I want to work in consulting or as a business analyst abroad and I can't think of any place to go to build that foundation.

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