We Want You: 5 Tips for Transitioning to Civilian Accountant

Tips for Transitioning to Civilian Accountant

Making a move from the armed forces to civilian life may seem daunting, but your training as a military accountant can help you transition smoothly into the corporate world. And here’s some incentive: In the next year, average starting salaries for accounting and finance professionals in the U.S. civilian workforce are projected to rise by 3.5 percent, according to the 2015 Salary Guide from Robert Half.

If that's not enough, know this: Financial services are among the fastest-growing industries. They appear in the “top five” lists of more than half of U.S. geographical regions, which adds up to significant employment potential.  

If you're preparing to take the next steps in your job and move into civilian life, take a little time on Memorial Day to consider these five pieces of career advice. They can make you more valuable to potential employers.

1. Expand your education.

Continue working toward education goals outside the military. The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides tuition and other education benefits. Plus, some colleges and universities, such as the Military-Veteran Services Center at Nebraska’s Bellevue University, offer specialized services to former members of the armed forces. Many of these institutions also grant education credits that will put you on track for an accelerated degree program, while equipping you with valuable career skills.

2. Aim for professional certifications.

Earning an MBA (Master of Business Administration) or becoming a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) are crucial in the eyes of many employers, but sometimes all that education isn’t an option. In that case, take your years of experience in accounting and get a professional certification like the Certified Accounts Payable Associate (CAPA), Certified Accounts Payable Professional (CAPP) or Certified Bookkeeper (CB). According to the 2015 Salary Guide, these professional credentials could push your starting salary 10 percent above the market average.

3. Solidify your software knowledge.

This career advice, to perfect your computer literacy skills, applies to nearly every profession. For accountants, this means upping your proficiency in applications like Excel, SQL, IBM Cognos, MicroStrategy, Hyperion, QuickBooks and ERP packages. Do an online search of these programs to identify areas you need to brush up on.

4. Update your professional language.

One challenge as you transition out of the military is learning the language of business. Military acronyms may be puzzling for some employers. So update your resume accordingly. Be aware, though, that a one-size-fits-all document may not get you where you want to go.

As Ranelle Dunnam, diversity & inclusion senior manager at Robert Half, says, “Veterans should tailor their resume as much as possible to each job posting, translating their experience into civilian terms before applying for a specific job.”

Consult websites like O*NET, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, to help you portray your military skills using descriptive business terminology.

“You can also research companies that offer a military-to-civilian job translator,” Dunnam says.

5. Emphasize your skills.

While military lingo should be left to the military, the skills you acquired in the armed forces are fully applicable to the civilian world. Make clear how your military environment taught you valuable workplace skills like team leadership, problem solving, respect for your superiors, punctuality, loyalty, collaboration, initiative, adaptability and accountability.

Preparing for a transition into civilian life can be stressful, but with the right attitude and planning, you'll find that opportunities abound. On this Memorial Day, keep in mind what you’ve accomplished and use this career advice to build on your achievements.

Have you recently transitioned from the military to civilian workforce? We’d love to see any career advice you can share.