Between months spent in boot camp, years of overseas deployment, and sometimes over a decade of service, it’s easy to say that — for many people — the military becomes their way of life. When they receive their honorable discharge or end their reservist deployment, they may have a tough time shifting back into civilian mode.
On a given year, 200,000 service members return to civilian life. Thousands will struggle with finding a fulfilling career path. In a recent survey of new veterans, two-thirds (66%) of respondents said that the transition in general was tough, and 80% said they were looking for “the right job.” They usually don’t just want a decent paycheck, either. What they often want is a replacement for the structure and camaraderie that had become built into their daily schedule.
“Leaving the Army is a very difficult thing. They literally train you,” Bill Sweet, former U.S. Army Captain, explained to CNBC News. “They move your goods when you move. And they tell you what to wear and what time you show up for work.”
Sweet was an Iraq War veteran, but he now serves on the board of finance firm Ritholtz Wealth as their Chief Financial Officer. He revealed that his assignment as a tax assistance officer was a critical foothold in his transition to the civilian career world.
But it’s not always that easy to apply your military-trained skillset to civilian jobs. Service members may not know how to represent their skills. Many lack the veterans’ career training they need to be qualified for the career path they want to pursue most. They may also not know what resources are available to help them make the transition and find a rewarding job.
With these challenges in mind, here are five things a U.S. military service veteran can do to find a fulfilling career and to help make their civilian transition easier in general.
1. Make an Inventory of Your Skills
Start with a blank sheet of notebook or printer paper. Draw a vertical line straight down the middle. On the left side, write down all of the duties you had to handle during your military experience. Anything as simple as loading a truck or helping inventory food stocks can be relevant.
You can also list skills you’ve acquired from military experience. Don’t overlook the importance of things like “following orders,” or “monitoring a remote team.”
Feel free to get creative. If you went on patrol, for instance, what sorts of tasks were you doing? You were observing, assessing threats, following your teammates, thinking about whether to report certain observations to your superiors. All of these small things can get taken for granted, but they matter.
Sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen may sound like homework, but this little exercise can go a long way towards organizing your thoughts. It may even help you become inspired.
Remember that nothing on the list is official. It’s just there to help your brain think through it all. If something seems silly or irrelevant, write it down anyways. You can always cross it out or make a new list later.
2. Reflect on Your Personal Skills and Career Interests
On the right side of your piece of paper, you can list every single career or job that you’ve ever been interested in.
Don’t feel limited by what you consider realistic. You can put “doctor” on there even if you aren’t sure you will go through the 4-7 years of school it takes. “Movie star” and “astronaut” are fine answers, too.
Don’t limit yourself to things you consider “right” answers, either. If you liked driving a transport vehicle, maybe put down “truck driver.” You can add a question mark if you won’t commit to the idea yet.
You should also list your personal skills on the right-hand side of the paper. Are you a good communicator? Are you organized? Are you self-sufficient? Do you work well in a team? Do you follow through with things? Do you like taking things apart? Do you like the idea of serving people and making them happy?
Don’t be timid about your skillset. Think of yourself as a business owner managing your own limited time. What sorts of things would you pitch to people in exchange for their pay? How would you explain the value you offer to their organization?
3. Connect Your Military Skills/Experience to Your Career Skills and Interests
Once you have a nearly full sheet of paper, you can start to connect the dots between the left side and the right. Do some of your military skills connect with your possible job skills? Do some of your duties crossover into your career interests?
You can draw lines between things that connect, or you can make shorter lists of them.
The whole point is to get your brain going. You want to accurately represent your personal skills and experience while honestly evaluating all of the possible jobs you might have passion for.
4. Don’t Wait to Ask for Help
Some people develop a habit in the military of trying to handle everything on their own. If they were supposed to have help with a task, their CO would have ordered it.
But in the civilian world, help is there for anyone who asks for it — especially veterans. The U.S. government and private businesses both have an interest in helping make the most of veterans’ skills. The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is one such program, and nearly every service member has to go through it.
There’s a world of non-profit agencies dedicated to helping, too.
Some programs have specialized purposes that help funnel returning service members into specific industries that can benefit from their skills. Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ), for instance, offers mentorship programs for enrollees interested in journalism careers. Veterans on Wall Street (VoWS) is another such organization, and it helps military personnel find jobs in finance and banking.
The earlier you enroll in a program like these, the quicker you can get adjusted and set yourself on the right career path.
5. Consider a Veteran’s Career Training Program to Build Your Credentials
One of the biggest challenges for veterans is that they have all of these skills and abilities but lack any sort of formal credentials for them. For example, they may have worked with radar or telecommunications equipment, but they won’t have a degree in that field. Or, they may have had administrative duties but not a formal Business Office Administration certification to show for it.
Luckily, there are many organizations out there that can provide affordable, efficient career training to our veterans. Career training programs like the ones at the Center for Employment Training can be completed in less than a year, opening the path to a new career and further advancement. Financial assistance is offered.
There’s even job preparation training available, which teaches you how to write a professional resume, apply for the right jobs, and wow people in interviews. Best of all, everything’s included in the tuition for your chosen program, including supplies, tools, books, and uniforms, so there’s no hunting around and no added cost for your essential equipment.
Learn more about how you can kickstart your civilian career when you visit a CET campus near you or contact us to speak to a Center for Employment Training representative.
The Center for Employment Training thanks all veterans for their service and wishes them a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2020!