Civilian Candidates Transitioning from the Military

Today’s blog is mainly going to be a post to promote awareness. In the past, I have participated in discussions surrounding the struggles of military employees transitioning into the civilian workforce. HR professionals talked about the situations they were coming across and different programs they had in place to help these individuals. Military employees talked about their concerns when it came to transitioning. I knew that it was a hard situation but it wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how bad it could be for someone who didn’t have help or guidance.

A friend of mine stopped by my house on Sunday because she was getting discharged from the Air Force soon and she wanted some help updating her resume in preparation for civilian job hunting. She slapped down her resume onto my kitchen table and all I could say was, “What is this?” The resume was barely half a page long and included a couple of skills written in military jargon. I’ve known her for about four years now and she often talked about her role in the Air Force, so right off the bat I knew that this resume was not even remotely useable.

I asked her where she got the format for her resume and she quickly supplied me with a random printed out package of “information”. After reviewing the details, I soon realized that this paperwork came from the department handling the transitioning soldiers. I was stunned. What they provided was not even slightly helpful in properly preparing these people for the civilian world. It suddenly became clear why so many people struggled.

Some things that these packages “taught” our transitioning soldiers are as follows:

  • Resume: update your resume based off of ERP print outs. These print outs provided very general information that was not sufficient enough to properly showcase their experience. Additionally, the print outs didn’t help soldiers learn how to  the change the military jargon into civilian terms
  • Important things to consider for your job search:
    • Who will this be effecting? Who do you spend your social time with now? How will you keep your social relationships in tact?
    • What are your financial obligations? How much money will you have to make to cover these?
    • What career are you interested in?
    • Where will you network?
    • What type of clothes will you need to purchase for your career?

I get it. Some of those questions are important to think about but is that really all they’re left with? Vague, general questions? More importantly, the package didn’t give examples for any of these questions, nor do they provide any guidance. These candidates have no one to talk to. How is a piece of paper going to be enough to help them prepare for this? Some of these individuals have no idea what career they would be a fit for because they don’t know how their military skills will transition into civilian work. Some don’t even know what networking is or what’s appropriate for the field that they’re interested in. Basically, they’re thrown into a civilian workforce that is foreign to them. It’s hard enough to find a job in our workforce as it is, could you imagine being a job seeker with absolutely no idea how to do it?

Luckily, my friend has me to consult when it comes to updating resumes, networking, clothing, and figuring out career paths. But what about the people who don’t have friends in HR or recruiting? As we hashed out the details, my friend said to me, “I guess this is why there are so many military people going into poverty.” Many of these people sacrificed so much for us. Many of them put their lives and dreams on hold to serve our country. Is this really all we can do for them? It’s just not enough.

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Veteran Job Seeking Advice from a Veteran

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

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