What Companies Are (and Are Not) Looking for In Transitioning Military Members

Jason C. Anderson

Since a majority of you transitioning from the military are going to the private sector as employees, it’s important that you become familiar with what companies are (and are not) looking for in prospective employees.

As we discussed in an earlier article, as a starting point, it’s critical to understand that the military ecosystem and the private sector operate under completely different circumstances. There is no mandate for the private sector companies to exist. In order to thrive, companies have to create products and services that specifically address a market need whereby customers pay for the products and services they find valuable.

From a practical standpoint, this means private sector companies are constantly adjusting, and optimizing their organization and business practices to meet anticipated needs of the ever-changing market. All while keeping an eye on their competitors.

Because businesses have to address a very specific market need, the business unit and its leader and managers know exactly what type of person they are looking for to fill a particular role. In fact, as part of routine leadership meetings, leaders will work with their Human Resources (HR) counterparts to ensure job descriptions are constantly updated to reflect new requirements the business may have instituted to address the ever-changing market need.

To make you, the prospective employee, aware of their very specific requirements, companies post Job Descriptions (JD) to their company job boards. The job board is the mechanism that notifies you and other prospective employees that the role is available and you are free to apply for the position.

Which gets me to the point of this blog—what companies are, and are not, looking for when assessing you as a member of the transitioning military talent pool.

What Companies Are Looking For

  • A specific candidate to fill a specific need in the business. There is really no ambiguity here. As part of the JD posted on the job board, you will find some version of the following:
    • Role Name or Position Title
    • List of Primary Responsibilities
    • List of Basic Requirements
    • List of Desired Skills
  • A candidate who generally understands their business. This includes what markets they participate in and what products or services they offer their customers. To help you in understanding this, companies typically include a company description in the JD so you can better understand—to some extent—how that unique job description supports the overall business.
  • A candidate who fits the company culture and wants to stick around. The hiring process can be lengthy and expensive. So, for companies, not just getting talent in the door but also keeping the talent happy are equally important goals. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data from 1983-2018, the median tenure of all wage and salary workers aged 25 and older has stopped at approximately five years.

What Companies Are NOT Looking For

  • A “generalist” who can fit anywhere. After reading thus far, it should be clear to you that companies have a very specific candidate with a very specific skill set in mind to fill a specific role in the business. In this regard, the military ecosystem and the free market private sector are very different. For example, during your military career, you were likely shifted to different roles—or were certainly given additional duties—that were designed to fill an organizational need, whether they capitalized on your individual talents or not. Oftentimes, the military places you where there is a need and they expect you to adapt to that short-term or long-term role. Spending a significant amount of time in this common military ecosystem environment leads to the common mindset that organizations value generalists who can adapt to any role.This is one of the biggest obstacles military members face when they look for work, because the private sector is not looking for a generalist. In stark contrast, they know exactly what qualifications and skills they need to execute the business. However, given your time in the military ecosystem, don’t feel bad about overvaluing the “generalist”; this is simply one of the notions you have to overcome to be better aligned with the private sector to plan for your successful transition.
  • A candidate who is not a good fit within the company culture. Every company has a different culture and a method with which they pursue customers and engage in business. To get quality candidates in the door and keep them, cultural alignment is an important element for both parties to make sure there is a good fit. As a candidate, it’s incumbent on you to research a company’s culture as part of your job-seeking activities.
  • Someone who leaves the company in less than 2 years. At PreVeteran, we emphasize the importance of overcoming the historically 2-year exit period following military transition. Unfortunately, for the past 30 years, data consistently shows that a vast majority of transitioning military members leave their first job within 24 months. This turnover is more than 2 times faster than your counterparts within the general public and is problematic for companies that want to attract, hire, and retain veteran talent. Talent, once hired on, is difficult and costly to replace.

Announcing PreVeteran’s Employment Prep Course

Understanding what companies want and don’t want is essential to aligning yourself with the private sector and gaining meaningful employment in a company that meets you and your family’s post-military needs.

Knowing what companies do and do not want is an important step in the self-transformation process. And it is a process, which means it takes time and requires the right framework, tools, and support to be effective—and most importantly, transformative. Becoming effective leads to increased confidence and clarity. Increased confidence and clarity will lead you to many more successful outcomes doing what you want to do, post-transition.

If you’re ready to get started on your employment journey now, sign up for our “Employment Prep” course by going to this link. Also, be sure to download our 5-step guide to getting the job you want after the militaryHow to Get the Job You Want After the Military.

We’re excited to help you in your military transition journey!


Craig Copeland, “Trends in Employee Tenure, 1983-2018,” February 28, 2019. https://www.ebri.org/content/trends-in-employee-tenure-1983-2018

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