“You don’t know what you don’t know.” Steve Jordon, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s (NVTC) Veterans Employment Initiative (VEI), often tells the veterans that turn to him with questions surrounding finding employment after coming off active duty. “The military does nothing to really prepare you to get out,” says Jordon. “There have been some improvements with TAP (Transition Assistance Program).” But he says at the end of the day, the military’s main priority is preparing people to serve, not retire or separate. “The good news is, the services are getting better for veterans.”
Have a Successful Transition Plan
Jordon says one of the first things a service member coming off active duty needs to do is have a conversation with their family and more specifically their spouse. “They really need to ask themselves, ‘What do I want to do?’ The answer to that question will drive much of their transition planning.”
Major decisions need to be made first such as where to live; do you want to go back to school; what job interests you. It’s more than just deciding whether you want to transition from SGLI to VGLI or whether you want to buy a home for the first time. Your transition plan needs to encompass a variety of issues such as housing, health care, insurance, and employment to name a few. Additionally, you need to include your spouse in all this decision making. Unfortunately, there is not one centralized veterans career transition program. So you have to look at all your resources.
Some 250,000 veterans transition out of the military each year. Jordon says about a third stay in the region they are currently located and purchase a home. Another third head home to their state of origin to be near family and the other third chase opportunity which could look like a job or education.
5 things necessary for a successful transition from active duty
• Build a Professional Network
• Develop Your Value Story
• Translate Your Military Experience
• Educate Yourself on Available Resources
• Formulate a Strategy
Make Valuable Connections
One of the biggest challenges for many vets is building and utilizing a professional network. “We are all familiar with our military network, but those seeking employment need to really put themselves out there and create a broader network.” Jordon adds, “This is not a skill set most are ever called upon to use on active duty.”
When Jordon retired from the Navy after 29 years, he knew he wanted to work in the non-profit space, so he started with a friend who worked on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Over a cup of coffee, Jordon learned about the non-profit world, picking up crucial information which came from his friend with experience and connections.
“No one ever says ‘No.’ Most people are very generous with their time, and they enjoy mentoring,” says Jordon. “Let the person know you are out there and you are looking.” He suggests casting a wide net. “Most people consider it an honor to be asked to mentor.”
Your Value Story
Use your connections to develop your value story. Your value story is exactly what it sounds like, all the reasons why you might add value to a business’s payroll. Learning from people in the job field you want to move into will help with this. “Your value story should not be off the cuff,” says Jordon. “Brand yourself and be prepared to tell a potential employer what you can do for their company. At the end of the day, businesses have to make money. Convince them you can do that for them.”
Having a well-thought-out value story will help potential employers to see why they should hire you.
It’s all Greek to me!
One of the issues veterans face with trying to enter a civilian workforce is what Jordon calls “civilianizing a resume.” He says most veterans are generalists with a variety of skills that while on active duty were mission focused. Most communicate well and have good organizational skills.
It is the specialized skills that vets have the most trouble showing value to a potential employer. “Someone flying helicopters or driving a tank may wonder how to translate those skills to a civilian workforce.”
Over the last decade, there have been some useful online tools created which translate your MOS or specialty skill for a civilian resume. Jordon says U.S. Tech Vets is one of several organizations which offer a military skills translator for those building a civilian resume. Google Military Jobs and Military.com are two additional online tools available to vets.
Educate Yourself on Available Resources
There are so many more resources available to the veteran community than even five years ago. Organizations such as U.S. Tech Vets, USO Pathfinders, Hiring Our Heroes and any of the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) such as DAV have a variety of resources available. Everything from resume services to help with building your LinkedIn profile to military skill translation services are available through a variety of organizations.
Do your research, ask around in your network, and utilize those services you need to begin your post-military life.
Formulate a Strategy
The number one issue many vets have is they start planning to come off active duty too late. “Many wait until they are three months out,” Jordon recommends service members start making a transition plan at least a year out. “Use the year to invest time into yourself by building your network.”
A LinkedIn profile should not be hastily set up in a couple of hours. “You need to think strategically about your profile. Is it set up to go after the job you want?” Jordon recommends taking your time with setting up your profile to make sure it highlights your specific skill set.
For some vets attending veteran job fairs is their post-military life strategy. Jordon says this approach is not usually very successful. “If you are attending veteran job fairs for informational purposes, then fine. You can establish a profile on the company’s career site. But most company reps at these events are not the decision makers for hiring.” Many times, you offer your resume, and you rarely receive an answer back or any feedback for that matter.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Leaving active duty for a civilian job, whether it’s after a 20-year career or following a 3-year tour, can be a bit intimidating. The civilian workforce can seem very foreign to those used to the structure of the military work environment. But using these five basic tips will help you feel less like a fish out of water and may help you to see the value the civilian employer sees in you.
Carla Olivo is a veteran milspouse who has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children.