Robert Half Technology conducted a panel interview with three military veterans on our staff in an effort to better understand some of the challenges veterans face in finding new and meaningful careers upon leaving the service, and how they transitioned from military to civilian jobs.
Here, we continue a two-part series of Q&A’s based on that interview. (Check out part one of the series here.)
The panelists included Zach Torre, a former Army sergeant with experience in networking, security and satellite communication, now working as a network operations specialist; Jim Lantz, whose government and military career spanned more than two decades, including stints as a detachment commander, exchange officer and Middle East policy planner, currently working as an IT portfolio manager; and Philip Bull, a former Air Force satellite communications technician and unit deployment manager now working as a senior tech asset management coordinator.
In our second post, we discuss some of the challenges service members face finding a new career upon separating from the service. We also take a look at how these veterans linked their military skills with the needs of private sector employers and what their experiences have been like in their new civilian tech jobs.
1. Why is linking your military skills and training to a civilian career sometimes difficult and what advice would you provide to those who are transitioning?
Jim Lantz: I often describe ‘the gap’ between military life and civilian life as a bridge — with the service member on one end and the hiring manager with an employment opportunity on the other. There is a language barrier. The service member must be prepared to walk more than halfway across the bridge. Most recruiters won’t understand military jobs, jargon or culture, which means the onus is upon us to speak in their language, translate our skills into a resume and ‘elevator pitch’ that they can understand. Time spent networking and asking others for help will make the steps easier.
Zach Torre: Instead of saying ‘I was an Airborne Ranger,’ you could say, ‘I was a highly motivated, organized, leader who developed peers/subordinates through intense training, team-driven exercises, and personal accountability. I had a high success rate working on projects with challenging deadlines. I efficiently managed teams and created a vision for all to follow.’ Recruiters recognize skills such as deadline orientation, team building, and intense training. As the gap between the military and civilian workplace slowly fills with new information, more doors and questions open, and over time the gap will be completely filled in.
2. How did you transfer your military skills to a civilian tech job?
Zach Torre: Accountability and teamwork are very important in an IT setting. There’s a natural link for veterans because the military demands accountability for you and your team. They also expect punctuality and respect for chain of command. I emphasize these qualities. I explained to my manager that I graduated at the top of my class in every course I took in the military. I received honors for my leadership skills and was promoted. The leadership skills I gained in the military have been very helpful.
Philip Bull: I played up my military accomplishments. I talk to guys at the base and they’re still using programs I wrote, and I’ve been gone three years. That, to me, is better than any decoration or award I’ve gotten. We’ve got to learn how to tell our stories to employers in the private sector.
3. What have you learned from the career transition?
Jim Lantz: There are more similarities between the military and corporate cultures than I anticipated. At the end of the day, we are all essentially really good people and problem-solvers who simply want to deliver “what the boss wants” — just like those I worked with in the military.
4. Describe an obstacle you faced in your new job and how you overcame it?
Philip Bull: It was the different pace — switching from being “on” 24/7 to a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday schedule. When I first started, they had me managing hardware. I wanted a greater challenge. So I started digging and I found discrepancies and more discrepancies the deeper I dug. I went to my supervisor and manager and said here are the solutions to those problems. About two weeks later, all those discrepancies were gone. I created opportunities for myself.
5. Are there other steps you’d suggest service members take to tailor their skills for the civilian workforce?
Jim Lantz: When you’ve got time on your side, it can be an easy and successful transition. If your skills are lacking in an area required by the job you want, pursue training, get involved in a peer mentoring program or earn a certification or degree. Above all else, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help. I think that's what we’re trying to do now that we’re on the other side of the river: reach out to veterans and help them understand that it takes hard work to make the transition from military to civilian, but it’s do-able.
Robert Half’s Career Opportunities for Veterans — This website features job-search tools for the move from military to civilian jobs. In addition to job listings, the Robert Half site includes a wide range of resources for helping veterans find jobs.
Additional resources may be found at the Four Block Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit organization offering career development and transition support services to returning veterans and their families.