Finding the Right Civilian Role for Your Military Skills

How do you find a civilian role that aligns with your military skills?

Planning ahead can make a world of difference, but putting effort toward building your professional network or even attending career fairs could be the deciding factor.

Retired Indiana Army National Guard officer Eric DeRue’s military service spanned from 1989-2023, and for the majority of his time in the service, DeRue was an infantryman. In 2008 he became an executive recruiter and in 2014, DeRue became a human resources officer, a combination that became the essence of his newfound role as Human Resources Recruiter, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the Indianapolis facility.

In early 2023, DeRue attended a DAV | RecruitMilitary career fair, where he planned to get a feel for the current job market. He left with a job offer.

We sat down to discuss his approach to leaving the military and finding his new role.

What surprised you about the transition from the military?

Eric DeRue: I heard all the stories of how difficult transition would be, but I kind of dismissed them because I had worked in the civilian sector before I was in the service.

I retired as a colonel, so I was going from a senior position into a workforce that I almost knew nothing about. I had to learn new systems, new processes, new people, everything. It was far more difficult than I thought it was going to be.

What did you do to plan ahead for your military separation?

ED: I dropped my retirement paperwork about two years out and started looking at what I needed to do to set conditions to be successful.

I didn’t plan to start interviewing in earnest because my terminal leave hadn’t started, but I wanted to at least see what was out there and test the water, or the market, so to speak. I found out about the DAV | RecruitMilitary career fair in Indianapolis, which is where I was stationed.

I really honestly just wanted to see what was available in the market since I hadn’t been in the civilian market for 22 years at that point.

What was your experience at the career fair?

ED: I liked the variety of employers there, and I absolutely loved the option of the QR code for a resume. I thought that was just outstanding, much better than carrying paper resumes around or trying to email it after.

It was a well-coordinated event. I went into the room with the employer booths and did about three laps around to see which companies were represented.

I stopped at a construction booth even though I have no construction background whatsoever. I wasn’t an engineer. But the employer at the booth articulated how program management in the military is no different than running a job site or running a construction run or whatever the case may be.

And that was my initial discussion with an employer. His ability to help me translate that military skill really helped me bring my guard down and rethink what I could bring to the table for an employer.

How did you discover your position with the Department of Veterans Affairs?

ED: As I was doing my loops around the room, I walked past the VA table multiple times. One of the exhibitors called me over and said, “I’ve seen you walk past. Aren’t you going to come talk to us?”

I had job alerts set for the VA, DHS, Border Patrol, and agencies that were stationed here in Indianapolis but all I was seeing was doctors and nurses, and I don’t fall into that medical realm. He asked me what I did and I told him I was chief of staff, that I had been the division G1, and that I had been a J1. He said,“I’ll hire you on the spot.”

He made a great offer that allowed me to use my human resources background. His offer would also allow a much better work-life balance than what I was able to have in the previous decade. Everything just seemed to flow.

What is your new role and what do you enjoy about it?

ED: My role is Human Resources Recruiter at the Indianapolis VA and I’m in charge of a recruiting team for the entire hospital to facilitate everything that they need, to include developing a marketing plan and running appropriations and budgets.

I love the Indianapolis facility. Anybody who served in the military understands that there isn’t always a work-life balance. This particular facility is adamant about having that work-life balance, and it’s more than just lip service.

I love being around my soldiers and taking care of veterans. It’s amazing, the number of veterans that are employed here in very meaningful and relevant positions. I would say that it’s not the same as wearing a uniform, but it’s probably the next best thing.

My intent is to travel with my wife, which we’ve never really been able to do. Two of my kids have graduated college and moved out. My last one is in college. Hopefully we can spend time with them in a way I couldn’t before.

What advice do you have for others who are transitioning out of the military?

ED: I think it is important for transitioning military, former military, and military spouses to attend DAV | RecruitMilitary career fairs. You never know who’s going to be there that might be able to take you to the next step in the process.

If you can, spend some time doing some research on the employers who will be there so you arrive at their table informed. When you have that face-to-face conversation with them, your chances increase to land interviews with them as opposed to going in blind.

The communication from RecruitMilitary was fantastic and gave detailed instructions for every aspect of the career fair, from parking to how to load your resume to what employers were going to be there.

RecruitMilitary has been impactful enough that as a VA recruiter, I’ve already signed up to utilize their services to help fill our needs because it’s run so professionally. I would highly recommend using it as one of the tools in your transition “kit.”

Take the next step in your career and create your RecruitMilitary candidate profile today.