How do ex-Military personnel get a job?

How do ex-Military personnel get a job?

Posted by designerwebsites on June 29, 2016

One of the biggest challenges when making the transition from Police, Military or other services, can be finding the right role to start or continue your civilian employment. Here is an excellent article written by David Penman from NJN, one of Australia's largest ADF transition specialists.

The civilian world plays by a different set of rules to the military. We speak completely different languages, which can make life after Defence difficult. As miltary veterans, we are often launched headlong into a surreal world of corporate suits and endless banter. A world where unacceptable topics for water cooler talk include pretty much everything we know how to talk about. many civilians, we're all "Trained Killers".

It’s no wonder that finding a job after serving your country can be difficult – we think in terms of enemy contact and hostile fire...but civvies are looking for corporate strategy and competitor analysis.

It’s hard to put your best foot forward when you know damn well that civilian employers are looking you up and down and wondering how many people you’ve killed....or whether you'll run around the office barking orders and garotting people!

There’s an easy solution though. The reason getting a civilian job is difficult isn’t because, contrary to popular opinion, we aren’t good at anything except the military. It’s because the world of civilian job seeking is completely foreign to us.  ADF members have a huge amount of value to give … we just need to know how to express it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to navigating the murky waters of civvy employment.


Treat searching for a job like a mission: you’ve spent a career honing your planning and organisational skills – now isn’t the time to go in blind. Identify some industries you'd like to work in and break these down into target companies (You can use LinkedIn for market mapping or we can help). Split your target companies into active and passive – those advertising jobs right now, and those who aren’t but will likely hire for positions you’re interested in at some point.

As you plan you’ll get a better idea of where you want to work, which skills you need to work there and who the key players in that industry are. Do your want a solid understanding of each company and their role within the industry.  One of the main hurdles that veterans have to overcome is the assumption that we know a lot about ADF and nothing about anything else, so this market knowledge is going to be invaluable to proving them wrong. 


Translate your military experience into terms the civilians understand: trained killers have transferable skills too…

Seriously though, ADF members have an impressive list of skills relevant to the civilian job hunt. From exceptional organisation skills to time management, motivating to negotiating, and strategizing to mentoring, securing a civilian job is about communicating what you’re already good at.

ADF members make much better hires than civilians – you’re a unique applicant with a unique skill set, so communicate that in a way that does you justice!


No-one cares about you, they only care about them. Cynical, I know, but it’s true. Rather than listing your many skills, highlight the skills that are most important to that employer.

Target their need – if the job needs someone who can juggle multiple projects and teams, focus in on your team and multi-tasking skills, and so on. Each job will be slightly different so focus accordingly. 

The same applies to your resume, which should highlight the skills most relevant to the job you’re sending it for. You might have a couple of resumes tailored to different types of role, so you can tweak the key skills that you emphasise most. If it jumps across the desk and grabs the employer by the throat you’re doing it right (Defence and civilian life aren’t so different…)


The thrill is in the chase, etc. I’m lying, it’s not, but you still need to do it.

Follow up everything – stay on their radar until you secure a phone call, an interview, interview feedback, a second interview and so on. Don’t harass them, a call once a week is fine, but do stay on top of them. For all you know they read your resume, loved it, meant to call and then had to rush out of the office urgently and completely forgot.


Asking the right questions is vital.

The military is great at giving everyone a sense of the bigger picture – mostly everyone knows what their boss and leap boss needed to achieve, and so on. The civvy world, not so much. That’s a major skill vets bring with them so flaunt it and ask about broader company deliverables and how your position contributes.

What you ask gives employers a big insight into the sort of employee you’d be… and the sort of employee everyone wants is one who thinks strategically, is results-orientated and will work hard to drive company success.


People hire people they like, so building rapport with employers is really important.  One of the most effective ways to build rapport is to share things about yourself (pick something non-controversial… you don’t want to reinforce their ill-formed perceptions about military folks!)

Tell your story: make yourself memorable. The advantage that Defence members have over civilians is that we have truckload more stories to tell… Keep it relevant, but if you can weave bits of yourself into the generic interview patter employers hear every day, you’ll stand out from the crowd.


You wouldn’t wrap up a mission without a post-op debrief, so don't finish your job hunt that way. If they turned you down, find out exactly what you did well and where you could have improved so you won’t make the same mistakes again.

Many employers will be open to giving feedback and it means you can hone your tactics for next time. Every piece of feedback brings you one step closer to landing a job.

Follow these 7 steps and finding a civilian job after life in the military should be a little easier. If you’re still struggling, there’s always Step 8: Look the employer straight in the eye, remind them that you’re a trained killer and hope for the best…