A survey conducted nearly three years ago by Prudential (the Veterans Employment Challenges survey) measured the experiences of "post-9/11 veterans from all services to gauge their challenges to returning to civilian life. Almost all of them, 98 percent, reported at least one service-related challenge to entering or re-entering the civilian work force."
If one thing is clear and agreed upon in the veteran and military community, it is that transitioning has its unique set of struggles. Transitioning, in the eyes of many unfamiliar civilians and hiring managers/recruiters alike, may not like a big deal. After all, you aren't emigrating to another country or learning a different language. Yet, the transition to the civilian workplace comes with its own set of challenges and many veterans often find themselves feeling like they are lost in a cultural translation.
And indeed this feeling is something that arises when veterans don't fully realize the extent and nature of the transition. You may have made your own plan of action and milestones (POA&M) throughout your military services, but it's time to understand that a POA&M for transitioning into the civilian world is equally important.
The first point comes from an article from Business Insider:
1. You Need to Recognize That You're Starting Over Professionally
Imagine the amount of training that you had to go through and the amount of time took you to be fully accustomed to the military culture when you first joined. You spent years serving and climbing the ranks. You had to learn new skills and learn from new lessons that you had every day. You cultivated experiences, learned to speak in a certain manner, learn the ins and outs of the military and sometimes travel to other locations and "start over" with a new job at a different post.
The Business Insider article mentions that "The transition is a bit easier within the Department of Defense and Federal arenas, but you’re starting anew. It’s imperative that you understand this...Just as I would have been far better informed had I spoken to a military recruiter before I left my civilian job [to join the military], so should you be similarly informed before entering your last year of service. Use recruiters, headhunters, employment counselors, hiring managers, etc. to gain intelligence and information so you can be pragmatic in your expectations and planning. Also, getting a mentor who has successfully navigated into the private or government sector and is also a veteran will provide invaluable insight from a perspective you’ll be able to relate to."
The takeaway here is that you need to recognize that, in many respects, you are starting over professionally, and although the type of your assignments have drastically changed, the nature with which you approach completing those assignments haven't. Spend serious time considering the prospects of your civilian career.
Think about the things you have learned, the experiences you've had, and the wisdom you've gained from your years of service. But do not assume the things that you are expected to receive something like a promotion by simply staying at the company for a while. Remember to show vigor, enthusiasm, and, more importantly, a commitment to learn to how you can become an attractive employee.
2. You Need to Translate Your Skills and Experiences to the Civilian World
The study discussed at the beginning of this article mentioned the difficulties of transitioning veterans in finding employment. The same study mentioned that one of the biggest challenges for the transitioning veteran is "explaining how their military experience translates to skills of interest to a civilian employer (60%). This is a consistent theme throughout the study in terms of being a barrier to employment."
The good news is that the survey also mentioned that almost all veterans say they have the skills that would help them land a job, it's just a matter of being able to communicate those skills that's holding them back.
Michelle Tillis Lederman from Every Veteran Hired explained how to approach this challenge:
"To start wrapping your head around this, think about what you did on a daily basis in the military and how many of the skills you used are essential for the normal workforce. In the military, you were in stressful situations that required you to think quickly, be effective with limited resources and adapt to ever-changing circumstances, and as a result, you built many, many skills.
Veterans are adaptable, energetic, creative; they pay attention to detail, get the job done, communicate critical information clearly, meet deadlines, display maturity and have an extraordinary work ethic. They are problem-solvers, team players and leaders.
The first step in preparing for a civilian interview is to recognize these skills, and the second step is to value them. You want to communicate these translatable skills — and the added value you as a vet bring to a civilian work situation — at every step of the job hunt process, from resumé and cover letter right through to the actual interview."
So what are your skills? What did you do on a daily basis? What words would your close friends and your ranking officers and senior leaders use to describe you? Are you a problem-solver? An innovative leader? Quick thinker and a quick learner? These are general questions that get you to ask yourself the fundamentally more important question: how can you get the practical experiences and skills you've learned in the military and put them through a "civilian dictionary" so that others can understand?
If you're really stuck, try looking for online skills translators for your MOS. Look up sample resumés of veterans who have been able to communicate their skills and experiences and find a civilian career. Remember that your resumé needs to meet the standard civilian expectations that we've mentioned in our previous post, so keep that in mind when viewing samples on different sites or when looking through different resources.
3. You Need to Go Back to School Or Learn More Skills
You might feel like you don't know what to do or that you don't feel ready for the civilian workplace. Many veterans feel this way, and many pursue educational opportunities using their GI Bill to go back to school and learn more skills. With the post-9/11 GI Bill, "programs offered at non-degree granting schools, the benefit pays the actual net costs for in-state tuition and fees or national Maximum, whichever is less. Monthly housing allowance (MHA) is paid based on the location of the school. Up to $83 per month is available for books and supplies." (Learn more at the VA's page here.)
Among the numerous educational opportunities that veterans can pursue are online programs, college and universities, technical or vocational school and programs.
For example, U.S. News released a list of the best online graduate education programs for veterans. The methodology for ranking these online programs was explained on their website: "For the 2015 edition, the online business rankings have been split into two: one ranking of MBA programs and another of other types of business master's degrees, such as accounting, finance and organizational leadership.
Rankings of criminal justice programs, including both criminal justice and criminology master's degrees, are also new this year. To ensure academic quality, all schools included in these rankings first have to be ranked among the top 75 percent of schools in U.S. News & World Report's 2015 Best Online Programs rankings, which were published in January 2015." (More info on the methodology on their site).
Military Times also created its own lists detailing the best 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and online colleges and programs for veterans. Check out these opportunities and browse for more on your own if you feel you need to hit the books before finding employment or a place in the workplace. Remember that it's worth looking into internships with businesses, non-profits, and the government or even veteran-specific internships if you choose to supplement what you've learned with practical experience in a civilian company. (Don't forget that the internship searching process is not a walk in the park! Bring as much vigor and enthusiasm searching for internship opportunities as you would an actual job).
Join discussions related to careers and transition on RallyPoint here.