Navigating the Transition from Military Service to the Civilian Workplace


Veteran Resources

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Military life is full of ups and downs and the same can be said for returning to the civilian workplace after your military career has ended…

Much like entering the military, leaving the military is full of challenges, mixed emotions, surprises, and excitement. One of the most significant hurdles veterans face when they reenter the civilian workforce is managing expectations in an unfamiliar professional environment. 

Let’s explore some of the difficulties veterans experience and share some strategies for overcoming them successfully…

Challenges of Leaving Military Service

According to studies, 27% of military veterans have a difficult time readjusting to civilian life and that number nearly doubles for those who’ve served since the terrorist attacks in 2001. According to the VA, some of the reported difficulties veterans face in making the switch include:

  • Loss of Identity: It can be difficult for veterans to reintegrate and relate to people who don’t know or don’t understand military life. Additionally, re-establishing a role within one’s own family may be difficult as new routines have been created around military absences and work schedules.
  • Career Change & Employment Difficulties: 87% of new recruits are under the age of 25 when they join, which likely means the military has been their only professional experience as an adult. Learning skills like resume writing (a resume is not the same as an EPR), translating military skills to civilian workplace, interviewing, job searching, and networking may be all new to veterans creating a steep learning curve. 
  • Finding a New Mission: Some veterans struggle with rediscovering their purpose after military service when their mission is no longer as clear. Which is why sources like INvets prove invaluable in connecting prior service members with purposeful, meaningful employment.
  • Mental or Physical Health Issues: Every veteran is affected by service in some way. For some, that may include mental or physical health challenges that require ongoing treatment. Navigating the world of benefits and healthcare after service is a hurdle many struggle to understand.

The transition from military to civilian life involves a shift in culture, language, and expectations. As a result, veterans may find themselves overlooked for employment opportunities, under-employed, or assigned to roles that don’t align with their expertise. 

According to the Pew Research Center, most veterans say that while military training prepped them for active duty, only about half say they were well prepared to make the transition back to civilian life. Because of this, it’s important to understand how civilian workplaces operate and how they differ from life in the military.

Understanding the Civilian Workplace 

Unlike the military’s structured and hierarchical environment, civilian workplaces can vary widely in how they are organized and what their culture is like. Some of the barriers servicemembers face when reentering the civilian workplace include:

  • Lack of experience in civilian job market: As previously stated, many service men and women join the military under the age of 25, meaning they have little or no experience in the civilian job market.
  • Translating formal education & degrees: The military provides invaluable skills and training for its forces internally, but military skill and training certificates may not directly translate for the civilian workplace.
  • Resumes that don’t translate: Translating military skills and experiences proves difficult for service members. For example, key phrases and internal terminology used in service may not apply outside of service making it difficult for employers to fully understand an applicant’s abilities and work experience.
  • Misunderstanding by employers: Civilian employers may not have the understanding necessary to properly evaluate military candidates.

While making the leap to the civilian workforce proves challenging, the majority of veterans, along with a little preparation and support, leave service looking forward to making the most of their military training in their next career.  

Managing Expectations

When veterans leave military service, they can face a host of challenges that can make the transition to civilian life tough-one of the biggest hurdles being adjusting to a new work culture. But service men and women are well-equipped to overcome obstacles- both personal and professional-thanks to the skills and training they learned in service.

To smooth the transition from military to the civilian workplace, veterans should proactively manage employer expectations. Here are some strategies to help:

  1. Self-Assessment:  By identifying their strengths and areas of interest, veterans can better showcase their value to potential employers and align their expectations with realistic career goals. 
  2. Education and Training:  Acquiring new skills can open doors to a wide range of career opportunities. The military provides resources and programs to transitioning veterans to help, so learn about and take advantage of those benefits before leaving service. 
  3. Networking: Building relationships with fellow veterans, mentors, and professionals can provide valuable support during the transition process. Veteran-specific programs, like INvets, offer avenues for connecting with individuals who understand the challenges veterans face and can offer guidance and support.
  4. Resume Building: Your resume is often the first impression you make on a potential employer. Focus on crafting a resume that communicates your military experience in a civilian context. For example, avoid using military jargon and acronyms that employers may not understand.
  5. Interview Preparation: Be ready to discuss how your military experience has prepared you for the specific role. Practice answering common behavioral questions using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to clearly articulate your experiences and accomplishments.

Support for Transitioning Veterans

Transitioning from military to civilian life presents numerous challenges for our military service men and women. In particular, a lack of support networks after service, lack of mental health care, and the failure of employers to recognize unique talents and skills of military applicants compound the transition back to civilian life and work.

By understanding these challenges prior to leaving military service and applying strategies to manage expectations successfully, veterans can overcome employment barriers and enjoy their post-military careers. Through self-assessment, education, preparation, and networking, veterans can leverage their professional skills and experiences and make meaningful contributions to their chosen fields while enjoying a smooth transition back to civilian life.

As a society, we must continue to recognize the value of our veterans’ contributions and support their transition efforts so they can receive the opportunities and respect they deserve after their military service has ended.

Your Next Steps

At INvets, we take your success after military life personally. Our team is made up of veterans who have been where you are and want to help smooth your transition from one life phase to the next…At INvets, we help transitioning military members find work they can feel good about in a place their families will be comfortable calling home. 

Get started by filling out your profile today and get connected to over 500 employers in Indiana.