Translating Military Experience into Civilian Employment
How NextOp is supporting veterans entering the civilian workforce
Typically, when we think of a veteran, we think of someone older who, perhaps, holds decades of military experience – and who may not need a job after transitioning to civilian life. However, veterans under 50 years old make up 27% of the country’s veteran population, and unemployment is the highest among the youngest subset of this group.
So, it might surprise you to learn that 80% of all military personnel are considered “middle enlisted”. The majority of the 200,000 veterans who separate from the military every year are within the middle enlisted ranks. Generally, these individuals are between the ages of 22 and 28, served between four and eight years, and may have some post-secondary education or even a two-year or four-year degree.
Why do younger veterans – a group for whom duty, responsibility, and respect are always top of mind – have such a challenging time finding meaningful employment after their service ends? This is the problem organizations like NextOp, a National Football League (NFL) and Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) partnership grantee, are working to solve.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
For younger veterans, the transition to civilian life can be daunting. Many joined the military after high school and don’t have the more traditional experience to fill their resumes. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know.
However, Shelby Mounts, executive director of NextOp and a Navy Veteran, doesn’t see the unknown as a hindrance – but as an opportunity. “What excites me is our focus on middle enlisted (E3-E7), the people who make the military really function. They have incredible training, anywhere between four and twenty years of experience.”
Through resume building, interview preparation, and expectation setting for a less regimented career path, NextOp helps veterans translate the skills and experience gained during their service into something civilian employers are looking for. The drawback of applying to jobs without a guide like NextOp is that the structure and requirements for advancement within the military are more absolute than in the civilian workforce.
For instance, one needs to have served a minimum of six years to be promoted to sergeant first class. However, in the civilian space, a job application requiring six years of industry experience is less black and white. A veteran might see this requirement and immediately choose not to apply because they don’t have this explicit experience.
A Tailored Approach To Job Seeking
Mounts is proud that the free services NextOp offer help veterans land career-oriented jobs. The impact of their programs is both measurable and important to those individual veterans, their families, and their employers.
For veteran job seekers, NextOp parses out the elements of their military service that match a job’s requirements. John Ashford, who served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2022, credits his success in the civilian workforce to NextOp. “It was nice being able to talk to someone who understands. [They] helped me get my foot through the door at Northrop Grumman by tailoring my resume.”
Additionally, NextOp takes a less than traditional approach when asking what type of job a veteran Is looking for; often, there’s not a direct comparison from the military. Rather, NextOp asks what applicants like to work with (people, data), what they struggle with, and what are their dealbreakers. NextOp uses these responses to tailor a job search that matches the veteran’s skills and interests.
Understanding What You’re Missing
The organization works directly with employers to help them understand the value added when hiring middle enlisted veterans. NextOp team members will work one-on-one with companies to show how their hiring process may unintentionally exclude veterans. This includes how
- job descriptions are written,
- opportunities for advancement are explained,
- interviews are conducted.
When possible, NextOp recommends that companies include a veteran already on their team in the interview process. This person understands military jargon and can translate specific questions and answers for applicants. NextOp finds this pairing leads to more fruitful interviews and puts applicants at ease.
NextOp knows the transition to civilian life can be a major shock, regardless of the time a veteran served. During their service, a veteran had a built-in community and always knew their next step. In the civilian world, everything is murkier. NextOp is easing the transition that not only helps veterans succeed but also their new communities.