Leaving the military to pursue a career in the private sector can seem daunting and scary at first, but once you start seeing your background as an asset, you will be one step closer to success.


In the career of all military staff, there comes a time when they need to think about finding a new career within the civilian sector. In this regard, there are two key problems that they often face.

The first is that very few understand how to effectively market themselves in today's competitive job market.

Secondly a more fundamental concern to many involves some basic questions as to the types of jobs for which they are qualified.

The purpose of this discussion is to introduce you to some fresh thinking about how to market yourself into a new career. Our advice applies to younger staff and non-commissioned officers, through high ranking officers who have already retired from the service.


When you stop to think about it, there is no logical reason for military personnel to have any doubt about their suitability for civilian positions.

If you ignore form, such as titles and uniforms, and concentrate on the substance of what is achieved jobs in the military and civilian sector are very similar. If you look at a more subtle factor which sometimes concern military people that of management perspective it quickly becomes apparent that differences are more imagined than real.

The Similarities of Military and Civilian Organizations

About the only significant differences lie in the overall goals of the two types of organizations. The ultimate aim of the military is to provide security for the nation. The ultimate aim of most corporations is to make a profit.

Those overall goals, however, are quite far removed from the more day-to-day goals of most executives, and it is those immediate goals which guide their actions. A Corporate Vice President of Operations, for instance, is concerned with producing a given amount of goods at specific productivity and cost levels and within appropriate time frames.

To do that, it is necessary to make sure that certain materials are where they should be in the right quantities and at the appropriate time. Managers and workers must be properly trained and motivated to insure that necessary processes are carried out.

A military person responsible for operations performs the same functions. In this case, it is to make certain that assigned exercises and missions are completed as scheduled.

Military and Civilian Jobs - the Characteristics that are Required

The parallels go beyond functional strength. They also apply to personality characteristics. Consider the abilities to lead to motivate to meet strict performance standards under tight time pressures and to handle a number of complex projects at the same time.

Or, the abilities to get people at various levels to cooperate enthusiastically with you to be a good listener to analyze situations quickly be able to strip away the non-essentials and to formulate an action plan that will work.

On the other hand, consider the ability to find new approaches when existing methods aren't getting the job done to start and build an operation which quickly becomes efficient or to bring harmony to a situation where conflict prevails

Each of these is a personal strength which might at some time be crucial to getting the job done, and it remains crucial whether that job is done in the military or private sector.

What marketable assets do military people possess?

They are communicators.

They are usually people who have the fortitude to stand up in front of a group and speak to them. Many people can't do that. They have also learned how to speak with authority, even in situations where their authority might be questioned. Because of the substantial reporting requirements at all levels in the military, many people are good writers as well.

They are smart listeners.

In many leadership situations, military people must be perceptive; be able to listen; and have a sensitivity to the reactions of others. If the cliche is true that 90% of the problems of business could be solved by-better communications, then in this regard, the skills of all military supervisors should be in great demand.

They are creative.

Military staffers learn creativity. They are continually forced to find new ways to present ideas and materials that will be interesting and refreshing. They have to think quickly on their feet and be responsive their superiors, their peers and the needs of their subordinates.

They are sales professionals.

Many people are regularly called upon to sell their ideas and programs and those of others within their organization.

Persistence is another quality that military personnel learn early in their profession. They recognize the importance of not giving up on people, but instead learn how to set clear goals and make every ounce to their energy available to others in order to achieve the mission of the organization.

They are trainers.

They can take a body of information, then design and implement procedures to make sure that people can absorb that information. In addition, they are frequently forced to teach others to think for themselves, and to develop the skills necessary to learn on their own.

They are motivators.

They instill a desire in their subordinates to take an interest in the mission, and to work hard toward achieving it. What's more, military people are not able to select who works for them, so they don't always have a willing audience. Furthermore, the field and subject matter is not always of prime interest to their subordinates. The motivation skills of many can never be understated.

They are administrators.

Have you ever known a staff person who does not have certain scheduling, planning and administrative skills?

They are good at time control.

Military personnel are people who must learn to control and use their own time wisely. Their assignments may seem structured and easy for them, but all that they do in preparation, running operations and monitoring, is often performed in an unsupervised environment. This means that they have to set up a structure for themselves and then maintain the discipline of others in order to keep operations going.

They are project managers.

Many people in the military are forced to be good project managers. It is left up to them to provide the structure for the organization at their level, and the short-term goals and milestones for progress. They also have to serve as the final authority on matters which might be in dispute. At the same time, they have to understand group dynamics and feedback, so that they get the most out of the raw enthusiasm and talent that their people will bring to any activity.

They are public relations people.

Public relations and community affairs represent still another hat worn by many officers during the course of their careers. Their expertise at tactful, carefully thought out communications are one key to their effectiveness.

They are confidants.

Many Military people are often expected to provide the psychological and emotional support that subordinates and peers of all ages require. Again, the qualities of being a good listener, a person who gets behind the symptoms to the causes, and the person who is not afraid to express his feelings openly - all these come to the fore in the officer who functions as a counselor or confidant.

They are small business managers.

Many military people have put together start-up organizations which are similar to small businesses.They are forced to operate and to produce results with a minimum of staff. They also understand the pressures involved in controlling quality the importance of systems to control operations the importance of selling their ideas the need to make adjustments when things aren't going as planned and all of the other aspects of running a business.

For all of the people who have run sections, departments, bases, squadrons, divisions or groups, there are tens of thousands of very logical potential employers. They include most fast growing mediumsized businesses in the United States.

They are general managers.

Some military people have developed skills of superior general managers. They can oversee an operation and make sure that the job gets done right.

They can also help plan the direction of the company, serve as an articulate spokesman with customers and the local community, train and organize as required, recruit, motivate, and essentially do all the things that a good general manager of a small business has to do.

The title isn't all that's important. The fact is that most companies can use a few good people who are able to handle different functions and a wide variety of problems as they occur.

Many, by the very nature of what they have been doing, are well equipped to do just that. Those who have run many organizations in different locations are especially well-equipped to do just that in business.

How to Expand Your Horizons to Where You Fit in a Civilian Organization

If you are now in the military and are just beginning to contemplate a switch to industry, there is a simple exercise which may be quite helpful for you. It will help keep a positive perspective on your ability to contribute in industry.

(1) Describe your current role

Take a blank piece of paper and put a dot at the center. That dot should represent you in as narrow and as specific a manner as possible. For example, perhaps you have managed a group of specialists in data transmissions via telecommunications. Write down how that dot would be described for you.

(2) Describe the role of the closest group around you

Now draw a circle around the first dot. The circle represents a group of which you are a part. By virtue of being the specialist, you are automatically a part of a larger group, which is all of those military people who manage groups of specialists in data transmission via telecommunications. Write down the way you would describe the corresponding group in your case.

(3) Describe the role of other groups you are involved with

Now draw another circle slightly larger than the second one you have drawn. This represents a still larger group, which includes all of those people in the military who manage groups of specialists in telecommunications whether they are transmitting voice or data. Who does it include for you?

This circle might include all those who manage any operation connected with communications, whether it be direct broadcast via satellite, cable TV, radio or network TV broadcasting. How will you label that circle?

Now step back and take a look at these circles. You can sell your talents at any level just indicated.

These circles simply illustrate different levels at which a potential employer might decide to buy your talents.

Let's look for a moment at what happens when someone might buy your talents at the level of the dot in the middle. In most instances, they would have run an ad or hired a recruiter to find someone. When they do find you, the process is largely an objective procedure.

They need a specialist with functional strengths of A, B or C - and you happen to match all of them. If you are able to sell your talents at that level. But now let's assume that it's not quite so easy for you to sell yourself at such a high level of specialization. What do you do?

The answer is to move out a few circles

Let us suppose that you visit the local hardware store. The owner, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, is talking to another member, who happens to be the president of a small manufacturing company.

You are introduced, and in further conversation it turns out the company manufactures electromedical devices. A conversation follows, and soon you find yourself invited to a barbecue. Soon, you have a job offer to direct the development of a new product area. Even if you don't know much about it, the owner of the company is confident you can handle it.

At what level has he brought your talents? Certainly not at the first few circles. In fact, you probably have to go all the way out to a circle that says: "Managers of technically oriented operations regardless of whether they are in the military, civilian or government sectors."

What prompted this person to buy your talents at that level?

Human emotions played a big role. For all you know, perhaps he liked the way you spoke and thought, or the way you looked or carried yourself. In most hiring decisions, personal characteristics and positive human feelings play a much more significant role than objective analysis.

Even if the skills you developed in the military have 100% application to a job in the private sector, it doesn't really make all that much difference if you are selling your talents outside the first few circles.

As you begin your efforts to transfer your talents to the private sector, keep this simple but important exercise in mind. Remember that many of the things you have done will find ready applications, and all of your personal strengths will increase your chances for winning offers for which you may not have any of the desired experience.

Areas Available to Military Personnel

  • Telecommunications
  • Distribution
  • Project Management
  • Security
  • Purchasing
  • Data Processing
  • Personnel Administration
  • Operations Analysis
  • Materials Management
  • Fleet Management
  • Construction
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Electronic Equipment Systems Design
  • Information Systems
  • Recruiting /Public Relations/
  • Promotions/ Community Relations
  • Strategic Planning
  • Assistant to Senior Executive/Officer
  • Start-up/Streamlining Operations
  • Real Estate/Site Identification
  • Leadership/ Motivation
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Warehousing
  • Human Resources Management
  • Career Counseling
  • International Logistics
  • Performance Review/ Evaluation
  • Technical Editor System Assembly
  • Records Management
  • Retail Management
  • Consolidation of Operations
  • Facilities Maintenance
  • Training
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electrical/ Electronic Engineering
  • Computer Operation
  • Plant Shutdowns
  • Counseling
  • Contract Negotiation
  • Aircraft Pilot
  • Food Service Management
  • Sale of Products
  • Sale of Services

This list represents only a fraction of the situations available to people in the military. It is long enough, however, to make a point.

In Summary

What is most important when a military person looks for a civilian job? A primary consideration is that you need to understand your options, and then you need to market yourself in an intelligent manner. This is precisely where our professional assistance or our professional job search products can be of help. For information on how we can help you market yourself into a new job, please feel free to call or write for more information.