When you leave the military, the biggest question is "what's next?" It's a scary job market right now, but the skills you've received in the military make you highly marketable. The Legion sponsors dozens of veterans hiring fairs each year, and our employment experts also provide tips to writing resumes, networking and making a strong impression in the interview process.
Human resource (HR) managers in the civilian world are often baffled by the job language spoken by the military; many of them don't know what a DD214 form is or why it is so important to veterans. Therefore, private-sector HR staff sometimes need to be educated by veterans about the value of their military training and experience, and why it is relevant to the jobs they are seeking.
This lesson was one of many learned by veterans who attended The American Legion-sponsored Veterans Transition Workshop on Aug. 24 in Indianapolis, led by Kris Urbauer, General Electric's very first program manager for veterans initiatives.
A West Point graduate, Urbauer served as an Army engineering officer and saw duty overseas in South Korea and Bosnia. She also graduated from jump school and became a senior parachutist. Leaving the Army in 1995 as a major, Urbauer was recalled to active duty in 2001 and served one year at Ground Zero, conducting cleanup operations with the Army Corps of Engineers.
The GE Veterans Workshop covered key aspects of how veterans should manage their job transition, and offered success-building tips on résumés, phone conversations, interviews and networking. Following the main presentation, veterans paired off with HR specialists from GE for one-on-one help sessions.
Urbauer said one consistent problem she sees with veterans in the job market is that “they sell themselves short. They don’t verbalize or put into their résumé properly about what they did in the military. They don’t translate their experiences well enough to impress people in the civilian world. They don’t really think about all the important, responsible things that they did in the military.”
Military culture itself, Urbauer explained, is at least partially responsible for such a drawback in civilian life since it emphasizes group success over individual achievement. Many responsibilities in the Armed Forces — commanding a company, operating a nuclear reactor, flying high-tech aircraft, conducting electronic warfare — are noteworthy accomplishments. But veterans don’t really think of them as such “because to us, it’s normal. Whereas, in the civilian world, it translates into something very impressive. That’s a lot of responsibility but (veterans) don’t think about it in those terms.”
Kate Darmstadt, an HR manager for GE Appliances in Louisville, said transition workshops for veterans are important “because we need to support our troops. They have committed to our country and our freedom. We really need to give back to them and support them in this endeavor.”
"It’s a big transition to go from military to civilian life," Darmstadt said. "So the information that we try to impart is helping them translate their military experience into words and ideas that civilians will understand. And to help them market themselves better and make them stand out in that sea of a hundred or so résumés that we’re going to look at for any one job."
Urbauer said some veterans include too much military experience and jargon in their résumés, while others downplay it to the point where it looks like they never served in uniform. “Veterans’ résumés need to be somewhere in the middle, because most companies, especially this day and age, value military experience and kind of respect it, even if they don’t understand it. So if you take it completely off your résumé, I think you’re selling yourself short there, too.
Lack of confidence is also a problem with some veterans when talking about their active-duty experiences, Urbauer said. She has seen military retirees avoid eye contact and appear quite nervous during job interviews. “It’s a strange environment, and they’re not used to it, so they need to practice, and that’s what we try to help them with too.”
Highlights of advice from the transition workshop include: