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From Service to Civilian: Four Career Challenges Veterans Face

By Lida Citroën

Your Next MissionYou served your country. You fought the fight. You returned home from military service, put together a resume, and began the transition into a civilian career. What no one told you, however, is the challenges in making the transition will not come from the experience and expertise you bring, it will be because you have not been taught how to promote yourself – veterans don’t know how to market their personal brand - your reputation, what others use to assign you value and relevance. Below are four unique challenges veterans face and tips on how to overcome them:

1. Speaking about personal successes and accomplishments

Your personal brand is how you will articulate your value to a prospect. It is not about boasting or bragging. I recognize that during your military service the word “I” was not endorsed or supported. In the civilian world, individuals have become accustomed to being able to deliver a clarified message from employees and colleagues to recruit relevant talent, develop strong corporate culture, and run a business effectively and efficiently.

A clear personal brand enables you to concisely articulate your value proposition (“Why me?”) to a future employer, gives you a lens to evaluate opportunity (“Does this a company support my vision?”), and provides a map for your career, not just a job (“Will this opportunity fulfill my passion to collaborate and bring dialog to disparate parties?”).

By uncovering your personal brand assets and promoting yourself consistently across social media, networking with peers and new contacts, and developing marketing materials, you can promote a set of values and an offer to a future employer that is meaningful and focused.

2. Determining value to potential employers

Why would recruiters want you to spell out your uniqueness? Because most job candidates spend too much time formatting their resume when they should be making it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to see what makes them valuable, and a perfect fit for the position.

As a veteran, you know the importance of building alliances and creating strong teams. You have worked under pressure, where your ability to think and respond quickly was not only appreciated, but crucial. Are you explaining this to the hiring managers? Are you listing this on your resume? If so, be sure to be succinct and clear in your descriptions.

Hiring managers are looking for some aspect of who you are that is unique. What is it about you that will make your application stand apart from the thousands of others they might be reviewing – all listing the same depth of expertise and skills?

3. Networking

While in active military service, relationships and contacts are established primarily by proximity (geography), rank, and role. There is not as much “networking” in the same sense that we network on the civilian side. I understand that one of the biggest challenges is that you network with the same types of people, so everyone else’s networks all look the same. It is critical to start building a diverse network of contacts (military and civilian) long before you step away from the military.

A network of viable contacts is critical in today’s competitive business climate. Your network serves not only as lead sources for new business but also as a sounding board, support system, and news source. It is the “circle of influence” that will guide you through your career, if carefully planned and managed.

Some networking tips to remember:

Write down the names of people you have worked closely with, while active or after you transitioned. Stay in touch with your network, and let them know the kinds of jobs you are pursuing.

Networking is not just about being social and outgoing. Make it your job to meet people. Set a goal of how many people you will meet and stick to it. This gives your networking a sense of purpose and direction.

Ask open-ended questions. Instead of “nice party, huh?” ask, “What did you think of the boss’ presentation?” or “What type of work are you in?” You are seeking to start a conversation, not conduct an interrogation.

Be yourself. Authenticity is the most attractive feature in people. When we feel someone is genuine, we feel most at ease in their presence.

4.  Understanding future employers

While you might be evaluating future employers based on their ability to pay you a desired salary, offer work you are able to perform, and are geographically desirable, consider that designing your career means understanding your employer more significantly. Those employers who will find you compelling must first be able to find you; then they must find your offer to be relevant and differentiated. We call this branding and competitive differentiation. For these target audiences, your personal brand and reputation are very important. When these employers perceive that you share their values, will contribute to their vision and are of significance to them, they are more likely to want to engage you for a great opportunity.

Lida Citroën is the author of Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition and Principal of LIDA360, a consulting firm that helps corporations and executives create effective market positioning through the use of brand strategies. She regularly presents at conferences, events and programs, teaching transitioning veterans how to understand their unique value and market them to future employers.

Citroën is an active member of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and works closely with General Peter Pace’s program in Philadelphia, Wall Street Warfighters Foundation (WSWF). For more information, please visit,  and connect with her on twitter, @LIDA360.


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