Come on. You know it. Any employer would be lucky to hire you. You bring a certain unique skill set to the organization that others, not having a military background, can’t even come close to matching.

Simply put, you know stuff. Lots of stuff.

As you transition into a civilian career, though, you have to be careful about all that stuff you know. Just because you know it doesn’t mean you or an employer who hires you can benefit from that knowledge after you leave the military. They don’t call it classified for nothing, after all.

There is certain "insider information" that can’t be shared with those outside the organization for personal gain. This applies to many leaving the military but most specifically to the majority of military officers. Taking advantage of information you gathered during time in uniform could jeopardize you, your civilian employer, and your security clearance.

As you transition out of service, you will be required to complete a Preseparation Counseling Checklist. At that point, you should be briefed on these employment restrictions.

At the very least, you should be directed to a service provider who can give you the need to know guidance such as staff judge advocate or the installation’s ethics representative. When in doubt about a particular career option or opportunity, don’t hesitate to contact these individuals.

Here are the basics, in layman terms.

  1. If you were an active duty military officer, you can’t represent someone else to the U.S. Government (i.e. an employer who hires you) regarding particular matters that you worked on while you were in the military. This applies to you, well, forever, unless you served in the enlisted ranks in which case this doesn’t apply at all. What it means: you can’t jump straight out of uniform and into a suit and do the same job as a government contractor, most likely. It may seem unfair, but it’s similar to rules banning federal government civilians from doing the same, and it’s why federal government contractors may be required to disclose the former government workers they hire.
  2. Former military officers also have a two-year ban from being able to represent someone else (i.e. an employer who hires you) regarding particular matters that you didn’t work on but that were pending under your responsibility during your last year of Government service.
  3. For one-year after leaving the military, former military officers are prohibited from aiding, advising or representing someone else (i.e. an employer who hires you) regarding trade or treaty negotiations that you worked on during your last year in uniform.
  4. After you leave the military, former officers can’t accept compensation for representational services, which were provided by anyone while you wore the uniform.
  5. If you are a military retiree or a reservist, officer or enlisted, you are not allowed to receive pay from foreign governments without Congressional authorization. This can include receipt of pay from a U.S. contractor or sub-contractor for providing services to a foreign government.
  6. The DoD wants to avoid the appearance of favoritism. To that end, military retires have, in the past, been prevented from being appointed to a civil service position within the first six months after retirement. This has included appointments to non-appropriated fund positions as well. The restriction has been temporarily waived but that waiver may not be permanent.
  7. Those who served as officers in the military may not hold a "civil office" with a state or local government while still on active duty to include terminal leave.
  8. If you are on terminal leave and accept a civilian position with the U.S. Government, you are permitted to draw your military pay and your new job civilian pay until your terminal leave ends.
  9. Military officers on terminal leave may begin working with a defense contractor but only in a "behind the scenes" capacity at the contractor’s office or away from the Government workplace.

Employment restrictions, just like any other provided guidelines, can be open to interpretation. If you have any questions or concerns, consult with a military staff judge advocate officer.

While there’s a lot you can’t take with you, there’s so much more you can. Keep these thoughts in mind when applying for your next position:

  1. Your security clearance. One of the biggest employment perks out there, your security clearance can be the ticket to landing your next job. Try to find a job that requires the high-level of clearance you have. Keep tabs on your clearance status and be sure to find our when your last reinvestigation was before you separate from service.
  2. Your veteran’s preference. Be sure to list your veteran’s preference on your resume. Government contractors and agencies are looking to hire service-disabled veterans and those with military experience. Listing your veteran’s preference shows you have it.
  3. Your training. Highlight your military training. Be sure to put it into laymen’s terms where necessary, but don’t exclude it just because it didn’t come from a university. That practical experience may be the critical factor that helps you land your next job.
  4. Your contacts. While there are restrictions against jumping directly into certain contract positions (especially if you were a program manager or oversaw certain contracts), the network of contacts you built during your military career is absolutely something you take with you into the civilian workplace. You probably already have an idea for the companies, offices, or areas you’re most interested in. Reach out to individuals working within those organizations or similar ones and let them know you’re on the market. Start building your career network before you separate from service, and reenergize your efforts once you’re officially out.

Knowing what you can take with you when you separate from service, and what you can’t, can make the difference in landing your dream job, or landing yourself in hot water. Keep in mind that many post-military employment procedures are up for interpretation, and when in doubt, ask your transition assistance officer or legal representative for advice. Happy job hunting!


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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.