Some service members struggle when they first join the military as they try to adapt to the rules and requirements of the military culture. For Tina Muller, an Air Force veteran, the opposite was true: she grew up in a military family and knew nothing except military life.

Muller joined ROTC because it felt like serving was the natural next step after college. But when illness led to a sudden medical discharge, she struggled with her transition as she realized she had no idea what people do for “regular jobs.” Her job search included a number of roles early on, specifically at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which was a major stepping stone to her role today as the Director of Program Management in Intuit’s Consumer Group.

Her journey holds lessons that can help shorten the process for transitioning veterans.

Tell us about your military experience and education background.

I joined ROTC during college and began my Air Force career after graduation. I was a nuclear launch officer, also known as a Missileer. Missiles was not my first choice, but I’m really glad I did it. At 22 years old, I had more responsibility than I probably will have for the rest of my career. I trained in California and then was stationed in Montana. I began my MBA while I was a Missileer using the Montgomery GI Bill.

Describe your transition out of the Air Force.

I was medically discharged, so it was a surprise and very rapid. I went from a good career in the Air Force to seeking a “regular job.” Because I left early, I didn’t have any friends who had left the military to lean on for advice. So, I started going at it on my own — I walked to the library every day scouring the internet looking at jobs and applying. I didn’t know where to start and really struggled to explain what I did in the military. I was unemployed for six months and that was tough. I started working when I was 16, so not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from was very hard and stressful.

How did you narrow down the job search and learn about “regular jobs”?

I had to learn to lean on others. When I first got out, a military recruiting firm reached out to me. At first, I thought I didn’t need help, I can figure this out and was very resistant. After six months with no luck on my own, I called them back. These firms work with companies who know about and want to work with military veterans. The firm that reached out to me specialized in placing pharmaceutical sales reps. I interviewed with one of the pharmaceutical companies they worked with and got the job! It was a good first job and I stayed with the company for a year.

Jobs photo

Tina MullerCourtesy of Tina Muller

During this time, my husband was also finishing his active duty service in the Navy. When he got out, we decided to move to D.C., where we felt we would have an easier time finding jobs as veterans. I did job-hop and had four different jobs while I tried to decide what I wanted to do. Finally, I landed a job at PwC where I was able to leverage my MBA and military experience.

What finally helped you find the right job?

Working with military recruiting firms and going to military job fairs were both super helpful because these companies already know the value of a veteran and want to hire veterans. And for the most part, you are talking to veterans at these firms and job fairs. I had to learn not to try to go out on my own and to lean on others.

My biggest career breakthrough came when I met a PwC representative at a job fair in D.C. The manager I met was a veteran also and knew how to help translate my experiences into the work they did. I found a home with PwC for eight years – four years of federal consulting and four years supporting Fortune 1000 customers. It was great to find a place where I could build a career and felt appreciated. After that, having PwC on my resume was really a door opener and helped me to build connections. One of those connections actually led to my role at Intuit. I love my job at Intuit and am involved in our military network.

What job search advice do you have for veterans?

  • Don’t go it on your own. You know other people who have gotten out and landed good careers, talk to them. Learn their stories and what worked for them and ask them to help you translate your resume. Translating your experience into a resume is hard. Translating from military to business language is like English to Chinese — you wouldn’t expect that you could translate Chinese on your own – so find someone who speaks business and military and get their inputs! And ask them to connect you to others.
  • Meet a lot of people. Take advantage of recruiters and job fairs that specialized in transitioning military members. Also, set up a lot of meet-and-greets, cast a very wide net. Connect with veterans on LinkedIn that have your ideal job or work in the industry you want to be in if you reach out to 100 people and 10 agree to meet for coffee – you have 10 new connections. Most veterans are happy to meet with transitioning service members and are willing to give you perspective, resume advice, and make connections. You must cast a very wide net–don’t expect to land your new career by only making one new connection.
  • Have realistic expectations. Be honest with yourself about what’s important to you when you get out. Some jobs may pay a ton, but then expect you to travel or be away from family. Know your priorities, and what you’re signing up for. Also, be realistic about the level of role you are applying for – you will not be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company on your first day out of the military, just as no one is General on their first day in the military.

You mentioned the difficulty of translating military work into civilian terms. What words or phrases should veterans use on their resumes?

Here at Intuit, I hire veterans on my team all the time! Intuit is a military-friendly company that recognizes how an individual’s military background and experience can positively contribute to our organization. Here are some themes you should think about incorporating into your resume:

  • Dependable: Veterans are reliable and can handle even the highest-stress situations which means I can depend on them to get the work done.
  • Determined: Veterans have the ability to see things through, regardless of how complex the job or how long the job will take to complete.
  • Driven: Veterans have “stick-to-it-tiveness,” they don’t give up when things are difficult.
  • Adaptable: Veterans can adapt and quickly pick up new skills, meaning I can expect they will get up to speed in new areas quickly.

Also, when writing your resume, dig deep and think about the additional duties you may have been responsible for when serving – sometimes those duties are very translatable into the civilian sector.