Simultaneously scared and excited is how I imagine most veterans approach their separation from military service. I remember how I felt; primed to take my experience and knowledge into a new direction. The excitement of something new and fresh with new opportunities yet infused with the fear of not knowing what to expect. I knew I needed a plan but how should I prepare?
As I look back, my expectations regarding the transition to civilian life was neither realistic nor accurate. I had been blinded by the circulating rumors about people who had landed lucrative positions before they had finished their final out-processing appointment. That rosy rumor gave me a false sense of confidence which definitely affected my attitude toward preparations.
I had no idea how competitive and unpredictable the civilian job market was! When my date arrived the economy was heading toward a recession, and that was creating a much different environment than the one I imagined was out there. Today the market seems to favor the employer. With more applicants than available positions, companies are able to make candidate decisions much more carefully. The once lenient job-skill requirements are now mandatory before an applicant will even be considered for a position. Organizations are searching for candidates with a wider range of skills which can improve their opportunities for cross-utilization.
To compete, it is important for veterans to quantify their expertise before firing resumes at potential employers. This can be accomplished through a realistic and comprehensive skills assessment. It is critical to decipher the military qualifications into a civilian-friendly terminology. The next step should be to prioritize those attributes according to the requirements of the desired position. Information about job skills is available through the Department of Labor’s O*Net website. This is a wonderful resource, and it is free.
Assessing your skills and translating them to the civilian work-world is one of the major undertakings most veterans will face. An ideal opportunity to accomplish this is during the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) briefing. This seminar usually occurs within the final months of service and it can help the transitioning military member develop their plan to make the employment search much more efficient. TAP counselors are specially trained to provide a conduit to help veterans prepare for each step in their relocation. The TAP is an important initial step and only lasts for a short time, it is important that the time is used wisely.
After a member separates there are numerous employment assistant services available; some of these we would never realize are open to veterans. The VA is the most obvious benefit but others include state employment agencies, veterans groups and networks, veteran friendly employers and even staffing agencies. Personally, I had never considered the unemployment office as an option, but it is. Many state employment offices have representatives who specifically assist military vets.
Transitioning to a brand-new career can be fraught with challenges for anyone. Transitioning from a military background presents its own set of difficulties. Thoughtful preparations can help identify milestones, plan for challenges and help mitigate anxieties along the way.
Having completed that evolution and survived, I offer the following suggestions to help develop your own roadmap. A caveat to this list is that it need not only apply to transitioning veterans. These same methods can help your possibilities if you are changing careers; which usually means starting over in something in which we have more desire and passion than experience.
- Complete an assessment of your skills and training (include any leadership or service academy training). Utilize TAP and O*Net.
- Start building your network before your final separation date: LinkedIn, professional groups, civic organizations and clubs, seminars and workshops.
- Take advantage of base agencies to assist with resume writing and interview preparation.
- Become familiar with civilian employment services in your relocation area.
- Learn about any federally hosted programs which offer tax incentives to employers hiring veterans. –not all of the employers I spoke with knew about the incentives approved through the government (VOW, WOTC).
- Have copies of all of your military documents (hard copies and digital copies).
- Become familiar with federally recognized veteran’s status classifications, and which classification you fall under. These can aid in your consideration when applying to federal jobs.
Transitioning into a new career doesn’t have to cause insomnia. Excitement, yes. Scary…perhaps. If you prepare and have a plan you should sleep better at night. Incorporating flexibility into that plan allows you to pursue your goal without having to accept something just to provide for the family. That dream career, for which you have longed, can be within your grasp.
As a veteran I feel we have more resources than the average job seeker or new college graduate. Become informed about those resources and use them to their full advantage. Network, ask questions, and search for local veterans resources. You have served your country honorably. Your country wants to thank you and has established many avenues to help with your success.
This post was written by JD Schwind, MHR. He is a veteran of the US Air Force and currently works as a Recruiter for Veteran Programs at Training Concepts. For more information about veteran recruitment and veteran programs, feel free to connect with JD on Linkedin