How Military Leaders Can Make the Career Transition to Civilian Life

How Military Leaders Can Make the Career Transition to Civilian Life


By Dr. Jerry Pionk (Sergeant Major, US Army, retired) (1950-2014)
Former Faculty Member, School of Management at American Military University

Dr. Jerome Pionk was dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through scholarly activity. As we honor his memory, let us reflect on his final article written on behalf of AMU.

“…we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honour heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honour the Pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone.”
R.J. Palacio

In today’s climate of shrinking military budgets and personnel reductions, military members and recently released veterans must be prepared to make the transition to civilian life. The following are tips gleaned from various sources that may be helpful.

1. If you are still on active duty, you should attend a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshop

TAP is a Department of Defense initiative that was created to give employment and training information to military members within 180 days of separation or retirement. TAP offers a three-day workshop that covers career exploration, job search strategies and preparation of resumes, cover letters, and interview techniques.

You can find more information and procedures for each military branch at

2. Learn how to network

Many job seekers rely on the Internet and online applications. In reality, networking will put you ahead of the pack, because recruiters are bombarded with hundreds, possibly thousands, of openings.

Do some research and seek out veterans who are already successful in the corporate world. Contact them, not so much for a job, but to get to know them, to ask their advice, and learn about their experiences transitioning from military to civilian life. Also, ask them for referrals or leads for future jobs. The more leads and people you talk to, the more successful you’ll be in landing the right job for you.

To connect with veterans for your career search, visit the Career Network.

3. Transferability of skills

You have a lot of experience, and you must translate what you did in the military into civilian terms that relate to the position you are seeking. To describe your military experiences in civilian terminology that is relevant to a corporate setting, consider these examples:

  • You successfully trained over 50 people on the Stryker Fighting Vehicle. Consider the training conducted and how it was prepared, delivered, and the results of that training, as well as how it could be applied in a civilian organizational classroom setting.
  • When you saved the Air Force $2 million dollars by managing travel vouchers for your command, think how this experience could apply to a financial manager position.
  • Your experience managing an Army maintenance team resulted in a streamlined and more efficient service. Consider how the management principles you learned would apply to a supervisory position or related position.

4. Search out employers and major recruiters who are looking for veterans and are military-friendly

Employers such as Verizon, U-Haul, Proctor and Gamble, Home Depot, and General Electric actively recruit former military members. For more military-friendly employers who are currently hiring, visit’s Career Center.

Three of the major recruiting firms include the Lucas Group, Cameron-Brooks, and Bradley Morris. The Lucas Group has helped 25,000 veterans transition from military service into civilian careers. Cameron-Brooks specializes in placing junior officers into business or industry. Bradley Morris is a military-focused headhunter that boasts a 96% customer satisfaction rate.

5. Change your way of speaking

Unless you are applying for a defense contracting job, you have to translate your military skills into civilian terms. Civilians don’t understand your acronyms, positions, and military terminology, and they aren’t going to take the time to learn. Rather than military time, be sure to use civilian time. Typically address professional contacts by their first name—not “Sir” or “Ma’am.”

6. Play up your strengths

Military veterans communicate precisely and demonstrate leadership, accountability, and execution. These skills are very much in demand and should be highlighted during any interview. These, along with the ability to handle stress, are strengths that many non-military applicants lack.

About the Author

Jerome L. Pionk, Ph.D., Sergeant Major, United States Army retired, served as the Chief of the Recruiting Incentives Branch in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (Army G-1) in the Pentagon. Sergeant Major Pionk retired from the Army after 30 years of active service. He was a native of Watertown, South Dakota. He was an associate professor with American Military University.

He published four books, including “Prairie Vignettes,” a book of short stories about South Dakota; “The History of Military Retention,” a compilation of events that impacted on military retention throughout history; and “Distinguished Veterans Who Made a Difference.”

He held a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the State of New York, a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Liberty University, and a Doctorate in Business (Human Resources Management) from Northcentral University of Prescott Valley, Arizona. He is survived by his wife, son, daughter, and four grandchildren.



We Are Military- And Veteran-Friendly

American Military University (AMU) has service members and veterans studying with us around the world, supported by a vast array of staff and faculty who are also veterans. As a result, AMU truly understands the specific needs of our country’s veterans. To support you, we have dedicated advisors skilled at addressing the questions veterans face when enrolling in school, such as how to utilize benefits for financial aid. And, if you are a veteran with a disability, you are not alone. AMU has staff trained at empowering our disabled veteran students to succeed.

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