Transitioning from the military to a civilian career?

Written by Jason Cook, MA, PHR
Manager, Talent Acquisition
at Kellogg Company

Jason Cook pictured with his sister Amanda in New York City.

Ask early and ask often!

The anxiety was palpable – one month until graduation and despite what seemed like thousands of job applications submitted, not one interview. Surely, the four years of experience I gained in the Air Force coupled with the bachelor's degree I would be receiving in four short weeks was every employer's perfect candidate, right? Why then could I not get an interview? It was at this point when I sought advice from someone I trust – my sister, Amanda, who is very accomplished and successful in business. Amanda helped me quickly realize that my one size fits all resume wasn't the right size for anyone. Amanda explained the importance of tailoring my resume toward the job I was applying. For example, a resume outlining my Security Forces experience in the Air Force, such as flight line security, might make it challenging for recruiters to see how those experiences aligned with the skills of the Human Resource roles I was applying to.

Photo of Jason Cook after graduating from Basic Training

Now that I had a good resume writing strategy (thanks Sis'!), I needed to put that approach to the test. As luck would have it, I soon found my target – a Labor Relations Specialist opportunity. Although I did not have previous Human Resource experience (nor had I worked with unions), the job posting mentioned manager and employee training; managing the grievance process (complaint resolution) and advising managers on policy interpretation – all things that I had related experience in. As a result, I created a resume that focused on the accomplishments and skills I gained while in the Air Force. Investigation, conflict resolution, and training facilitation became major sections of my resume and I provided a few bullet points of accomplishments and experiences for each. After several revisions and a once-over by Amanda, I ‘Aimed High' as they say in the Air Force and completed the application and submitted my resume. Several excruciating weeks passed without a call or email about the Labor Relations role. Although friends and family offered up the sage wisdom of ‘no news is good news' more often than I liked – they were right! I remember the exhilaration I felt after learning I was selected for a phone interview! I also remember thinking that I should have sought advice earlier and more often. My elation and critical self-reflection, however, was quickly replaced with anxiety. Did I oversell my ‘HR' experience and skills on my resume?

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
– Benjamin Franklin

To quell my fears, I began to prepare for the interview in earnest by researching the employer and learning all I could about their union representation and collective bargaining agreements via the employer website and many Google searches. I also did a deep dive into all things labor relations (also Google searches). Through my preparation, I was able to gain a better understanding of the role and what would be required, which allowed me then to think through what experiences and skills I had that were related to the Labor Relations role.

When the day finally arrived for the phone interview, I felt confident that I'd be able to explain how my previous Air Force experiences provided me with a foundation to be successful in the role – and I was right! The recruiter asked me to provide an overview of my experience and how I thought I was qualified for the role. Based on my copious research and thinking through how my skills and experiences were related, I was able to provide several examples that resonated with the recruiter. As a result, I was selected for an on-site panel interview with the manager and a couple of her peers.

My approach to the panel interview was the same – prepare, prepare, prepare. In addition to reviewing the research I had already completed, I searched online for common interview questions and began to rehearse responses. Ultimately, I was offered the role!

Networking + Gaining Experience = Increased Opportunity

Although I landed a job right away after modifying my approach, I know that rarely happens. So what else can you do while you are seeking a new opportunity? I recommend gaining experience where you can, whether that be through internships, volunteering or becoming an active member of an industry group. Also, leverage your networks to assist in making new connections that might ultimately lead to a new opportunity. If you do not have a LinkedIn account, create one - it's a great networking tool! And don't forget your favorite know-it-all friend, Google!

I'm the type of guy who thinks in formulas and processes, and the header title says it all. Determination coupled with intentional networking and a hunger for gaining experience (no matter how big or small – as long as it's relevant) is the best formula I can recommend.



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