What Veterans Can Do to Ensure Post-Military Career Success
While most veteran’s first response to having their DD-214 in hand is something close to elation, the overall emotions associated with finishing your last military contract are rarely that simple. This is for good reason, given that most veterans have little adult experience at navigating the civilian world.
Despite that, some of the latest numbers show that only 17 percent of military serve long enough to take advantage of the retirement offered. Additionally, most jump ship as soon as the option becomes available, after 20 years of service, instead of choosing to serve longer and receive a higher percentage of pay.
This means that the overwhelming majority of veterans have a lot of professional years left to fill with a career, since even most of those who do retire are doing so at a relatively young age. Most get out with a lot of potential and life left to flesh out.
But it’s not always an easy task. It can be difficult and daunting to navigate a life where the culture, politics, and advancement opportunities vary. Not only that, veterans often face the reality that the skills they fine-tuned while serving aren’t directly applicable in the civilian world.
Despite the challenges, there are things that veterans can do to ensure their transitions are as easy and as worry-free as possible. Regardless of the specific abilities you bring with you (or don’t) from your time serving, the majority of vets utilized qualities in the service that will serve them well outside it.
Use What You Know
Overall, veteran unemployment has experienced a downward trend. In fact, last year it was the lowest it has been in nearly 20 years. However, it’s still true that a significant portion of the underemployed and homeless populations are made up of veterans.
Additionally, according to the University of Nevada, Reno, 3.8 million veterans have a service-related injury, and research from the Pew Research Center shows that physical and mental trauma are the two most significant markers of veterans who have difficulty entering civilian life.
All of that, of course, is to point out that it is crucial vets are equipped from the start of their civilian careers to utilize every possible tool they can for their success.
Best-case scenario, you are able to take the years of experience you acquired in the military and apply them to your new career. For example, those who worked in intelligence and have the tools to become an intelligence analyst are a hot commodity for relevant employers.
However, a significant challenge veterans face is they often did work that has no direct equivalent in the civilian world. When that happens, the key component to success is to remember the unique skills you cultivated and recognize how they are transferable.
When the research team at LinkedIn analyzed the 1.1 million vets in their database, they found vets are more likely than non-vets to have a distinct set of soft skills highly valued by hiring managers.
- Detail orientedness
- Team leadership
- Problem solving and critical thinking
- Team player dependability
Thus, even if your only professional experience is that of an infantryman, you still have a knowledge base you can rely upon to climb the career ladder. You have an arsenal that you can take to an interview to demonstrate how you will better serve an organization than the next guy, even if that guy actually has more direct experience in the field.
Take Advantage of All Resources
It’s no secret that navigating government-run entities like the VA can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. There are resources that veterans have that can and should be taken advantage of. While you served, the military used your skills and abilities to their fullest — no more and certainly no less. This is the time to allow them to return the favor.
According to Norwich University, there are multiple government-funded or implemented programs that revolve around giving veterans a leg-up in the pursuit of their civilian careers. Some examples include:
- The DoD’s Transition Assistance Program
- The DoL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service
- Veteran Jobs Mission
- Veteran preference laws
Any vet in need of assistance would do well to consider if any of the programs already in operation can be relied upon to help them take the right steps forward.
Additionally, Chelsy Meyer writes for Fiscal Tiger, “Unfortunately, there are far too many veterans unable to find employment. In order to combat this, there are many resources and organizations created to help veterans, reservists, and families of veterans find work and gain skills in the workforce. Most of these resources aren’t just for finding work, but also help with career counseling, skills training, resume building, and a variety of other options.” She goes on to list an extensive list and overview of resources that can help unemployed veterans find the right job.
The post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the best benefits a service member has to utilize, and yet many fail to fully use it and, oftentimes, that’s not a wise choice.
Jon Marcus writes for The Atlantic, “Many colleges and universities that eagerly recruit military veterans and the $10.2 billion a year in GI Bill benefits that come with them offer nowhere near as much support, and their student-veterans rarely get degrees, according to data obtained from the Departments of Defense, Education, and Veterans Affairs.”
That’s a problem, because education is a gateway to career success. Across the board, data shows that college-educated individuals are more likely to get good jobs and to be paid more over the course of their careers. Not only that, but in their research Pew Research Center also found that college-educated vets have an easier re-entry experience.
Sometimes the barriers to securing a career that would make one financially secure are one’s finances to begin with. But the good news is that there are options specifically tailored for veterans that can grant agency where before there was none.
Plus, the Small Business Administration currently offers small business loans to vets for no upfront fee, and they offer access to business counseling, training, and capital and business development opportunities.
So, if there are financial obstacles, there just may be a loan option already in existence with perks built in.
As we’ve noted before, “Even if transitioning from military to civilian job market is a great challenge, there’s a future for you out there. Grab every opportunity you can to get closer to your dream career and you’ll make it.”
One of the main things that separates those who have successful post-military careers from those who don’t is the willingness to find and apply every available resource. It’s true that sometimes they just don’t exist, but a lot of the time they’re there, and they can be a game changer.
Whether you’re moving on from the military after 4 years or 34 years, a meaningful second career could be just around the corner — assuming you’re willing to continue implementing the drive and work ethic that have brought you this far. So, do yourself a favor and go for it.