Transitioning from the Military to the Civilian Workforce with Mike Barger

Kasey Lynch

Starting a new job is nerve-wracking for anyone — but for those transitioning out of the military into civilian life, the stresses of finding and starting a new job are amplified. 
 

How can organizations and veterans improve the hiring process to make their transition into the civilian workforce smoother?
 

Last week on Talent Experience Live, we were thrilled to have hosts of The Bo and Luke Show podcast, Robert “Bo” Brabo and Luke Carignan, alongside Mike Barger, co-founder of JetBlue and former US Navy TOPGUN Pilot and Chief Instructor, joined us to talk about how veterans can successfully make the transition from the military to the civilian workforce. Read on to catch the highlights or stream the full episode below. 
 


Companies Should Authentically Communicate Their Employer Brand


Luke Carignan kicked off the show by pointing out that businesses should meet veterans in the middle when it comes to transitioning into the civilian sector. 
 

When members of the military transfer out, they’re not only readjusting their existing relationships with their personal family, “but they also just lost a work family that they were spending 24 hours a day with,” Carignan remarked. 
 

By highlighting career site content and videos that authentically showcase an organization's employer brand, veterans can get a better sense of what the company cares about, what its mission is, and what they value. Without this content, it can be harder for job seekers and veterans alike to find alignment with the organization as a whole, regardless of the position they’re interviewing for. 
 


4 Tips for Veterans Transitioning to the Civilian Workforce 


Transitioning to the civilian world can bring on a sense of culture shock. With different work environments and expectations, veterans may feel overwhelmed when trying to find their place. 
 

For companies, strengthening their employer brand and leveraging AI-powered technology like military search can help ease the transition and make it easier for veterans to find the right work. But as a former service member, what can you do to set yourself up for success? 
 

Here are four tips to keep in mind:
 

1. Identify your top priorities 

Before members of the military become veterans, they have to make a tough decision — to stay in the military or transfer out? This question may seem like an early place to start when talking about the transition into the civilian workforce, but thoughtfully making this decision sets the foundation for the entire process. 
 

When facing such a life-changing decision, it can be hard to determine what your next steps should be — especially if you don’t have a job lined up that you can step into shortly after processing out. 
 


“For folks that are kind of grappling with the ‘what do I do? How do I make the decision?’ My advice is to start with the things that are most important to you,” said Barger. By determining your priorities, making the decision to stay in or transfer out becomes clearer — which can take some of the uncertainty away. 
 

Barger went on the say that the “biggest challenge is that folks are focused on the whether to stay in or out question rather than say, okay, what are the most important things to me right now? What do I want to accomplish?”
 

This shift in mindset can help veterans set clearer goals for their transition right off the bat. 
 

2. Find an organization that aligns with your values

Today, job seekers are looking for more than just a job — but what does that mean for veterans? 
 

When looking for your first job in the civilian workforce after processing out of the military, it’s important to think beyond salary, benefits, and office perks. Barger’s advice is to look for an “organization that speaks to who they are as a person.” 
 

This means taking a closer look at what the company stands for. When searching for jobs, keep these questions in mind:
 

  • What does the company value?
  • How do they align with my personal values? 
  • How does the leadership team present themselves?
  • What’s important to the organization? 
  • What’s their mission and vision for the company? 


“This is a truly unique time for veterans … they’ve got a lot of opportunity, but they want to make sure that they take advantage of an opportunity that speaks to who they are as a person and what their priorities are,” said Barger. 
 


3. Embrace short-term thinking when it comes to your first civilian career 

The world of work has changed, and the average number of careers we’ll have in our lifetime is around 12. This should take a lot of pressure off of those looking for a new job. 
 

“I do think that people generally feel like whatever choice they made for that next career is a lifelong decision … think about it as the next step in your professional career,” advised Barger.
 

When looking for your first civilian job, don’t stress about finding a role that you’ll be in until you retire. Instead, approach it as a new opportunity to learn new skills that will help you be better prepared for your next role. By adopting this frame of mind, you can go after roles that support your short-term goals and needs as you transition out of the service. 
 


“Even if you get out and hate what you’re doing … there’s going to be an opportunity to do cool things. So keep your hope up, keep it alive, and know that there are people out there that can help point you in the right direction,” Brabo stated. 
 

Embrace the idea that your first job in the civilian workforce doesn’t need to be your be-all-end-all. Think of it as a fundamental building block in your lifelong career journey. 
 

4. Being a veteran is an asset in any work environment 

The uncertainties and complexities that come from ever-changing work environments mean that people aren’t always performing the duties that were included in their job descriptions. 
 

Veterans have been trained to succeed while facing adversity every day. From joining the military on day one to years later, service members have become accustomed to adjusting to new assignments, new leaders, and new locations across the globe. 
 

Military service members “not only experienced adaptability, but a real willingness to kind of lean in and do whatever it takes to learn whatever needs to be learned to do a good job — which is something that folks that haven’t come from a military background just don’t seem to have,” stated Barger. 
 


By leaning into the concept of adaptability, veterans can put themselves in a great position in the eyes of hiring managers and recruiters alike. 
 

Barger concluded by adding, “It doesn’t matter what rating or sector or part of the military you are in — all of us have had to endure assignments that were bigger than the resources that we had, required more people than we had, and better tools than we had. But we figured out ways to get it done. Those kinds of people are just priceless and that is what recruiters are looking for.”
 

Veterans Bring Agility and Field-Tested Perseverance to Any Team


For companies looking to employ more veterans, it’s important to think about the bigger picture. With upskilling and reskilling becoming more essential characteristics of an agile workforce, consider adjusting hiring efforts to focus on culture fit first, and skills second. 
 

Then, be sure to attract and engage veteran job seekers by authentically communicating your employer brand through your career site. If you have a supportive company culture that’s team-oriented, show it off! These types of environments can be appealing to recent veterans looking for a sense of community in the civilian world, and make it easier to take the next step in their career. 
 

For more about military hiring, check out "The Value of Veterans: Adding Military Soft Skills & Resilience to Your Team".