Translating Military Service For The Civilian Work World

Aug 28, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

As Johnny and Jane come marching back from war to prepare for the next chapter of their lives, they face the daunting challenge of turning their military experience into machine-readable resumes and elevator speeches that convince corporate recruiters to give them a second look.

“The novelette of their experience in the military,” says Sherrill Curtis, doesn’t always translate clearly.

Agrees Carl Blum, “The hardest problem they have is translating their military experience into civilian language so a recruiter can understand what they have to offer.

Curtis, Blum, and Blum’s partner in an organization called Tip of the Arrow, Bob Deissig, and Sgt. Major James Clark were the prime movers of a program last month at New Jersey’s  Ft. Dix called “Ultimate Warrior Career Workshops and Job Fair.”

They had plenty of help. The Garden State (New Jersey) SHRM council signed on early to the project, supplying dozens of recruiters, supplemented by career coaches from the state’s professional association, and representatives from federal agencies and area colleges.

But this was no ordinary job fair, although some 70 employers showed up and Blum tells us 200 of the participants expect offers.

What made this different were the one-on-one counseling sessions and workshops that prepped the servicemen and women — and some dependents — for the next day’s recruiter meet and greet.

Blum and Deissig, who founded Tip of the Arrow, began working with returning soldiers at Ft. Dix last year. Retired from careers in staffing and search, they both quickly discovered that while the men and women they met had held positions of leadership and responsibility, they were not skilled at explaining to a recruiter how what they did had value in the corporate world.

Blum told a story about a 24-year-old National Guardsman returned from Iraq who described himself as a clerk who had also been in charge of a security detail.

“I had to draw it out of him, really talk to him about what he did,” Blum says, learning the soldier had traveled Iraq returning money recovered from captured terrorists to their victims. In another assignment, he was in charge of protecting teachers and students from attack.

Saying he was a military clerk who also had worked security wouldn’t have meant as much to a corporate recruiter as explaining he was entrusted with a small fortune in cash and was responsible for the lives of a classroom full of children. Putting it that way, Blum says, lets a recruiter know that the soldier in front of them has integrity and has handled more responsibility than any job they may have is likely to require.

When Blum and Deissig connected with Curtis, who heads the state council’s Workforce Readiness committee, they found a firecracker of organization who mobilized the council and local chapters to provide the training the military personnel would need to launch successful civilian careers.

“I saw bright, articulate people,” Curtis reports. But like so many workers in the civilian world seeking a career change, “they have a very difficult time explaining what they are, what they have done, and how it applies.”

Career coaches and professional recruiters met one-on-one with the nearly 500 personnel — many of them  Army — who attended the workshop the day before the job fair. The volunteers would review resumes, teach basic job hunting techniques — there was a how-to session on career networking — and even do role-playing to help the job seekers get a feel for interviewing.

There was a panel of experienced, senior recruiters to answer audience questions on everything from what to wear to concerns about military related disabilities. International recruiting consultant Gerry Crispin, a principal in CareerXroads, talked about using technology for job searching. He also set up a LinkedIn group to carry on the day’s work.

The goal of the workshops was to get the military job seekers ready to “meet with an employer with confidence and articulate what they have done and how it applies to their job,” Curtis adds.

Curtis and Tip of the Arrow, which was founded to provide just that kind of help, are hoping that other state SHRM councils will pick up on the project and hold their own workshops and job fairs, with the Ft. Dix program as a model.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.