Given the Obama administration’s launch of a new program to boost veteran hiring at federal agencies, here are some tips to help members of the military and veterans make the transition:
* Surf these Web sites: the Veteran’s Employment Resource Center at USAJobs.gov; the intelligence community’s careers page at intelligence.gov; the CIA’s careers page for military transitioners at www.cia.gov; the Homeland Security Department’s veterans outreach page at www.dhs.gov; Defense Department opportunities for veterans at www.dodvets.com and www.godefense.com; and the Defense Logistics Agency’s information for prospective employees at www.hr.dla.mil.
* Explore all options. Most agencies — including those in the Defense, intelligence and Foreign Service communities — sponsor dynamic, well-paying internships and training programs that fast-track young professionals into management. However, most of these programs are only announced on agency Web sites, not on USAJobs.gov. For example, the Army Material Command’s Fellows Program is announced under civilian careers at www.amc.army.mil, and many Defense Department programs are announced at dodvets.com.
* Prove that you wielded responsibility. Identify in your applications your final rank, the number of people under your command, and the positive feedback you received, including promotions, medals, honors and positive annual evaluations. Also, prominently cite your past or current security clearances in your applications and interviews. Such clearances may increase the number of jobs for which you qualify and boost your salary offers.
* Describe your generic, transferable skills. Discuss in your applications the challenges you faced in the military and what you learned by conquering them. For example, describe how your experience as a combat infantry leader sharpened your leadership skills, enhanced your decision-making skills, taught you how to allocate assignments to team members based on their skills, increased your adaptability to changing circumstances, and improved your ability to effectively communicate with people of diverse backgrounds. Other selling points include technical expertise, self-discipline, experience handling confidential information, attention to detail, international experience, knowledge of geographic regions, language skills and an ability to excel in high-pressure situations.
* Translate your military experience into civilian terms. Remember that hiring managers are only impressed by applications they understand. So define technical terms, titles and acronyms that will stump civilians or avoid using them altogether. Also, explain the importance of your work to your unit. Confirm your application’s effectiveness by testing it on civilians.
Here is an excerpt from the rejected resume of a veteran who ignored these principles: “I prepared Mission Need Statements (MNS) and Capstone Requirements Documents (CRDs) that were mandated when Joint Strike Fighters or IMDs were introduced. The audience for these documents was the Flag-level officers in the J1, J2 and J3 Directorates.”
* Submit all required documents. Many veterans sabotage their applications by neglecting to submit or failing to label documents proving their military service or disability, or by failing to bring such documents to career fairs.
* Negotiate your salary. The most important question in salary negotiations is usually, “Is this offer negotiable?” Just asking for a better offer is frequently all it takes. The time to initiate salary negotiations is after you receive an offer and before you respond to it; once you accept a job, you lose your leverage.
If the human resources’ contact for your target job is unwilling to negotiate your salary, ratchet your request up to your target job’s hiring manager. Support your request with an explanation of how your education or military experience exceeds the basic qualifications for your target job.
But even more importantly, remember that your target agency will probably base its salary offer on your military salary. You should explain how your military salary underestimates your true income by excluding bonuses, overtime pay, or benefits such as housing allowances and child care. And if accepting the job offer would require you to move to a location that would increase your cost of living, say so.
By using these techniques, one of my clients who transitioned from a military weapons specialist to a federal weapons analyst increased his salary offer by more than $25,000. Also, request reimbursement for moving expenses and tuition, and support for continuing education, if appropriate.