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By Curt Smothers

Getting a job after military service

Whether your hitch is up or you are at the end of a 20-year-plus military career, chances are you will be "retired, but not tired." You still have a good quarter of a century to compete and thrive in the workforce. What should you do to prepare for the next chapter in your life?

Retiring after a long military career is a life-altering event that needs preparation, planning and attitude adjustment. The preparation and planning should start the very second you decide to hang up your uniform and go back to civilian life. The attitude adjustment will be the most difficult part (more on that later).


You'll need to answer these questions: (1) Do your retirement plans include a second career? (Probably yes, since most military retirees leave the service in their early- to mid-forties.) (2) Will your new career require upgrading your education? If the answer to number 2 is yes, then you'll need to check with your local Veterans Administration counselor and tap into your education benefits.

If you have no plans to upgrade your education, then you'll go right into job search mode. You will quickly learn that seeking employment in the civilian job market is almost like a job itself. If you're fortunate enough to have high technical skills (aerospace, engineering, etc.), you'll probably be recruited before you even retire. But for most, especially senior and middle management, expect to spend a lot of time sprucing up your resume, seeking interviews, and possibly settling for a position at a lower level of responsibility than you had before you retired.

The résumé and realistic expectations

As you begin your post-retirement job search, think about the general type of work you would like to do. Match your qualifications and experience to your desired second career and write your résumé. There are loads of free résumé samples on the web. You'll even find résumé templates in Microsoft Word. The important thing to remember is that one résumé style is NEVER sufficient. Remember: You probably have years of experience in a variety of technical and supervisory roles. Mold your résumé portfolio to match your job search.

Also, be realistic in your expectations. Do not expect to be hired immediately, and remember that you are competing in a turbulent job search environment. You will be in an age group where your counterparts have years more experience in the civilian sector, so if you want that interview, you'll need to do an exceptional job on your résumé.

Attitude adjustment

When you retire you lose your rank and precedence. Get used to it. You'll need to loosen up a bit. Consider taking some of the sharp edges off your demeanor and appearance and relax a bit. Most career military people are conservative and outspoken in their social and political views. If you fall into the category of "most," try not to be overly zealous in volunteering those views. On the other hand, most career people have the dedication and work ethic employers are looking for. Projecting that dedication along with a demeanor of good humor and cooperation will give you a leg up.

Don't drop off the grid

Prepare for a sudden transition from a military career with its travel, responsibilities, comradeship and status of hard-earned rank. That transition can be softened if you "hit the ground running." Retirement counselors recommend that the new retiree start work (or the fervent search thereof) immediately after retiring. Don't wait or hang around the house in your bathrobe.

Get out there! There's a new life waiting for you! Your country is proud of you and grateful for your service. You can look forward to a lifetime of generous retirement checks and medical benefits, but the future quality of your life is up to you.

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