Transitioning Military Job Seekers

For the most part, the US military does a wonderful job of training our soldiers in skill sets that are transferable to civilian life upon discharge. Unfortunately, one of the items in that training package can actually be a detriment to making a smooth transition – military lingo. If you are fluent in military terms and tend to work them into your everyday conversation you may encounter significant problems during your job search.

Back in the day when resumes were printed onto bond paper and actually screened by administrative assistants to hiring managers, the degree to which military lingo hampered a job search was largely a function of the admin’s proficiency in ASL (acronyms as a second language). If the soldier had the good fortune of dealing with a vet or military spouse, the translation would be taken care of for him and full credit would be given for primary and collateral duties. Also, the more experienced the admin, the more likely she possessed some fluency in ASL.

But two things have happened in the past five years that have hampered the transitioning vet. First, the recession has caused shakeups in many administrative support positions. Experienced personnel at the top end of the pay range were often replaced by newbies at the opposite end of the pay spectrum. Besides the overuse of acronyms, vets often borrow from their evals to describe their jobs. Some eval descriptions are quite good, most reflect cookie-cutter remarks that are long on soft skills and short on keywords. Inexperienced administrative assistants assume unfamiliar lingo is irrelevant.

 

The second thing that has hammered the do-it-yourself military transition resume is Applicant Tracking Software (ATS). When job seekers respond to ads that ask them to email resumes, there is a very good chance those resumes will pass through this software. Maybe what I do, Life Coaching, might be right for you. ATS uses keywords to score resumes based on relevant experience. Military contractors usually include acronyms on keyword lists; most other employers do not. The popularity of ATS is comparable to the Kindle eReader. It was initially expensive and had serious flaws. The problems have been worked out and ATS is now available in freeware.

The military does the US taxpayer a great service by teaching and encouraging military lingo. Large chunks of information can be conveyed in seconds. But once the military career is over, those same speech and written communication patterns can cause unintended consequences in the civilian world. Over the course of 20 years, I wrote over 1000 resumes for military personnel making the transition to the civilian job market and some of them got great jobs thanks to online education degrees. For two of those years, I wrote a column for the Military Press, teaching various aspects of how to conduct a successful job search.

Several of my resume clients came to me after months of futility working with homemade resumes. In most cases, they not only expected civilians to be up on military jargon but also expected them to read their resumes in their entirety and figure out where they would best fit into their companies. On the other hand, layoffs may also have some positive effect on your perception. My resumes succeeded because we worked together to focus the objectives, found the right keywords, translated relevant responsibilities into civilian language, and equipped the job seeker with appropriate addendum documents, such as cover letters, references, and thank you emails.

If you are an employer that is currently in the hiring mode, please encourage your hiring managers to incorporate acronyms and military lingo as acceptable synonyms for standard keywords when programming ATS and keep also in mind that telecommuting can very well help balance your life as well. If you’re a vet in the transition mode, assume that most hiring managers are not going to do that and take the steps necessary to present your qualifications in a version of English that everyone understands.

I think it’s wonderful that the nation is making a concerted effort to help our soldiers to find employment after discharge through job fairs and ad campaigns. But the job search process will always be a competition where there is no consolation prize for second place. If you know a vet who is struggling to find a job please pass this information along. It just might help him or her to hear those highly desired keywords: You’re hired!