By Dr. Daniel Hladky
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veteran unemployment rate for 2013 was the lowest it has been in years, registering 5.5 percent. This is due mostly to a positive national response to the request that employers “hire a vet.”
Although this figure is encouraging, many of the jobs secured by veterans have been low-paying or entry-level positions. The focus now is to ensure that veterans find meaningful and viable employment as they exit the military.
For the most part, former military job-seekers typically fall into two categories. The first is comprised of individuals who entered the military right after high school and are exiting the service after their initial military commitment has ended. They may find themselves entering the civilian job market for the first time ever as working adults.
The second category of exiting military job seekers includes individuals retiring from the military, usually after 20, or more, years of service. This category of individuals finds themselves looking for meaningful work in the civilian market for the first time in many years; some for the first time ever.
Both categories of job seekers have little or no knowledge of the civilian work world and their intimate knowledge of how things work in the military is of limited use. Is it any wonder then that there is so much confusion and frustration on their part when seeking employment after exiting the military?
What makes matters worse for transitioning military members is the fact that many employers and human resource professionals are not knowledgeable about military training, experience, or the capabilities of transitioning military members. So, what can transitioning military personnel do to increase their chances of finding meaningful employment?
As a former Army career counselor and retired sergeant major with the U.S. Army for over 23 years, and now as a full- time faculty member with American Military University (AMU), I understand how daunting and almost overwhelming the transition to a civilian career in any meaningful field can be. In my experience, one of the best things a military member can do to find desirable work after leaving the military is to prepare academically and professionally before exiting the service.
Currently, I have several students on active- duty with different military services. What they all have in common is a desire to incorporate their military experience from various disciplines and training into a viable profession in a civilian career of their choice after leaving the military.
In addition to pursuing further education, there are other things you can do to help secure a civilian career of your choice:
- Define the field of work that interests you. Be honest with yourself and assess your strengths and weaknesses. Understand your experience level, formal education, and basic knowledge of your chosen field so you know what you need to do to be prepared for your desired job.
- Talk to one or more professionals in the field to learn what they look for in a new hire. One way to accomplish this is by contacting them through LinkedIn. Research the essential experience and formal education needed to enter the field and compare those requirements against your current qualifications.
- Study and learn the terms and acronyms that are significant to, and associated with, the profession so when you interview for a position you “speak the language.”
- Join a professional organization associated with your career choice. Find out where current professionals gather in person or online and participate. These organizations will keep you current and abreast of topics and strategies affecting your chosen field.
- Work on a degree in the field if you are able, but look for other formal education options such as certificates and professional certifications.
- While still on active-duty, visit the installation education center for assistance with benefits explanation and degree planning. Stop by the transition assistance center for help writing a professional resume and to find out about the education benefits available to you while you are both on active duty and after you leave the military.
Remember, the skills you learned in the military are extremely valuable in the civilian sector as well. The values and ideals that made you successful in the military will make you a successful manager and leader in any organization, because you have that real-life experience.
Learning and education are life-long endeavors. It is estimated that technology becomes obsolete within an organization every 18 months; so do employees if they do not invest sufficient time and energy in re-educating and re-inventing themselves continuously to remain current and essential to their organization’s overall success. Prior military members have the training, experience, and knowledge to go the distance with any organization.