A Dialogue About Changing Careers between Military Veterans and Civilians

Two military veterans, one career coach, and an HR executive walk into a bar…

See below what those parties say about language barriers between HR and veterans, the transition from military to civilian professional life, and how veterans can expand their non-military relationships.

HR Executive (Anonymous): There’s a language barrier between HR professionals and veterans. It would be helpful if military veterans would use civilian lingo to better explain their experiences.

Military Veteran (Stephanie): We can, however, it would be difficult to explain the magnitude of responsibilities that we had while on duty.

Career Coach (Melissa Llarena): Stephanie, perhaps rather than focusing on how huge your responsibilities were (ex. leading 500 soldiers to complete a mission) think about the skills and qualities that were necessary to successfully finish those jobs.

For instance, if you transported expensive equipment then you used your logistical skills and ability to give clear directions. As a result, write on your resume those qualities when describing your role in accomplishing that mission.

Military Veteran (Shane): Actually, I applied through Monster for my first post-duty job and it worked out well because former military professionals saw my resume and interviewed me. As a result, I didn’t have to translate military speak.

Career Coach (Melissa Llarena): Organizations should hire more HR professionals with a military background (former military wives, children, etc.) to review veterans’ resumes and interview them.

At the same time, there should be internal “train the trainer” programs where that niche knowledge becomes spread widely from these HR military experts to HR generalists.

Military Veteran (Shane): However Melissa while I did find a job during a recession, for which I am grateful, I wish my military to civilian professional transition program had been more comprehensive.

A stronger program would have included giving veterans access to see what a “day in the life” looks like across various industries. I would have preferred knowing how organizations were set up, where my skills would best fit, and what expectations were.

Military Veteran (Stephanie): Shane is right. Expectations were clear in the military: “Soldier’s First, Mission Always.” I knew to care for my solders and to get the job done whereas in business the goal is more along the line of garnering profits. Thus, a transition program that would make this clearer would help better prepare military veterans.

I would even add that veterans should work for small companies so that they can learn about various functions.

Career Coach (Melissa Llarena): All great ideas. Internships also help. Some military veterans may avoid internships but Stephanie, as you put it best: a military veteran should get the same guidance as a recent college graduate because civilian jobs are very different than military ones.

Military Veteran (Shane): I wish I would have figured out what I wanted to do rather than to have jumped on the first opportunity that came up.

HR Executive: Shane, military men and women should enlist the help of a career coach who can make that transition smoother.

Career Coach (Melissa Llarena) Obviously, that makes sense to me. I tell prospective clients to email me (Side note: Melissa@MelissaLlarena.com) to learn how I have helped veterans make the leap from the military to civilian opportunities.

For instance, my approach has always been centered around getting veterans to expand their professional networks outside of the military by using their pre-military relationships.

Create a LinkedIn account, connect with old classmates, speak with them to learn about what they do in their jobs. Veterans can also speak with former elementary and high school teachers. Ask these teachers about the types of jobs available in their fields and ask for introductions to their acquaintances who work outside of academia in those roles.

HR Executive: Actually, why don’t military veterans take the initiative to talk to HR professionals? HR professionals will carve out at least 15 minutes to explain their businesses and where you’d fit in.

Career Coach (Melissa Llarena): I would add that military veterans should prepare before speaking with HR folks by finding interesting open jobs online, looking up the jargon on those job descriptions, and asking HR professionals specific questions (maybe even using some of that jargon). Ideally, that HR professional, should look up the jargon on a military resume too.

Military Veteran (Stephanie):

“I can deal with stress, chaos, war, and even drinking from a fire hydrant – however, the job hunt was challenging for many of us.”

HR Executive: Stephanie your leadership is not debatable. Instead, we both need to do a better job of being on the same page – we need to teach you how we work and you need to teach us how you worked.

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Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.


  1. Sgt. Wilson on November 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Wow, great post – just shared with my unit. Companies are so afraid of hiring outside of their comfort zone.

  2. Delilah Lora on November 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for the forward. This is definitely a great article, in line with what I am witnessing day-in, day-out at my firm, a Fortune 500 group that actively meets with veterans weekly.

  3. Jerry Miller on November 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Informative post; pretty balanced. However, we seem to always want to put the onus on the service member to make all the adjustments. If companies are serious about hiring veterans then they should be doing more outreach. Work with local veteran’s support groups. Take advantage of veterans currently employed by the company to help with the language barrier. Maybe someone could even come up with a military/civilian dictionary or thesaurus. We owe these men and women a tremendous debt of gratitude. Is it too much to ask that we as employers take the lead and guide these returning service members back into civilian life?

    • Melissa on November 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Jerry, I agree that companies need to do more than they currently do. I didn’t get to ask the HR officer this question however I wonder if introducing goals for hiring veterans makes sense or if it’s common practice. Honestly, the sure way to impact this issue is by making it part of an HR professional’s performance evaluation.

  4. Lorraine Kirkland on November 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    That was a great post! I volunteer with Honor Flight and even the WWII and Korean vets still use “military speak” when they travel with us. Thanks!

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