11 August 2015

Dispelling Civilian Expectations: What You Don't Know You Don't Know

A little background on myself: I was an artillery officer in the Marine Corps from 2004-2012. I spent my time as an artillery liaison officer, forward observer, executive officer, and platoon commander. I also worked as an infantry platoon commander in Iraq and a JTAC/Firepower Control Team Leader in Afghanistan. I conducted a total of five deployments: Iraq twice, Afghanistan, and two Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments. I left the Marine Corps in 2012, was able to find a job before my separation date, and have worked in that job for nearly three years now. I work in the manufacturing industry, initially as a shift supervisor and after a promotion, as a superintendent.
I want to begin by dispelling some expectations you may have of the civilian job market place. For starters, no one is obligated to hire you. No one sees that you are a vet and immediately puts your resume in the “to hire” bin. Your status as a veteran does not necessarily help your job search. It doesn’t hurt in most cases, but do not expect anyone to roll the red carpet out for you. I have found that this is a common misperception that separating service members have. To be clear, there are companies that prefer veterans and there are companies that have veteran transition programs. When those resources are available, use them, but don’t assume you have a leg up. It’s better to expect and prepare for the worst case scenario and be pleasantly surprised than the other way around.
Now, as a veteran, you have some disadvantages. First, you don’t speak the same language as the people looking to hire you. Second, your career accomplishments are not in line with what hiring managers are typically looking for. Finally, you probably have a very limited network outside the military. For most of us the military is the only job we’ve known since leaving high school or college. As such, we don’t know a lot of professionals that aren’t family or service members. This disadvantage is probably the most significant, because a network is what will likely get you hired.
That leads me into my first piece of advice: start your transition early! I cannot overstate how important it is that you start transitioning at least 12 months out. That is the minimum. Ideally, I’d like you to start 18 months out. If you have less than a year before you separate I strongly suggest that you try to push your date out. You will need this time to polish your resume, work on interview skills, and most importantly to build the network that will get you a job.
How do you build that network though, and in what field should you focus? I can’t speak to anyone else, but I had no idea what I wanted to do outside of the military. I am willing to bet, though, that a lot of service members are in the same boat. As I said, most of us have never had a career outside of the military and don’t know where to even start figuring out what to do. I think this is why so many people end up in law enforcement, security, and government jobs after separating. There is nothing wrong with those careers, but don’t limit yourself just because they’re familiar.
Fortunately, there are methods to find out about various career fields. I used the local (San Diego) Chamber of Commerce and American Corporate Partners (ACP). The Chamber of Commerce was extremely helpful. They provided me with personality assessments and an idea of what fields I may fit in. They also gave me an opportunity to shadow people in those fields. This was great for two reasons: first, exposure to career fields I may not have considered (or, ones I did consider but was able to rule out), and second, it was an opportunity to start building a professional network outside of the military. The Chamber of Commerce has offices throughout the nation and, from my experience, is focused on helping veterans transition. It is a great idea to reach out to them and see what programs are available, both in the city that you’re separating from and in any city you’d want to move to.  ACP has a program that will link you up with a mentor in various fields. This mentor is a veteran with a few years of experience in the field you’re interested in. This can be a great resource for getting some detailed information on a career field you may be interested in, along with advice on how to get into that field and some contacts to help you do so. There are more resources out there, and if you’d like to get in touch I will be happy to provide some links, but I found those two most helpful. Look around a bit, be open-minded, and put yourself out there though you’ll find a lot of people willing to help you.

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