Military life is one that must be lived to be understood. No movie, book or story can possibly give an accurate representation of the experience because so much of it is felt in the soul. But, once you’ve been there, it becomes part of you. Your core becomes Military. The way you think becomes military. And the way you interact with others becomes military. This makes the armed forces beautifully cohesive but also creates a challenge for those who return to the Civilian workforce after they complete their tour. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the challenges, tips, tricks, and resources in making the transition a seamless one.
1. One of the greatest challenges when making the military to civilian transition is figuring out what kind of work you’re qualified to do and interested in doing. While some soldiers can see a direct correlation between their Training and the civilian sector jobs (Physicians, Nurses, Small Wheeled Mechanics, Pilots), there are many whose military experience is less relatable to the needs of the general public (Infantrymen, Combat Engineer, Special Forces). It’s important to take some time and consider the following:
- What are your goals/interests going forward, and do they align with your military training?
- If you don’t wish to continue in a similar field, what field are you interested in?
- Is it time to return to school for a civilian degree (keeping in mind that some of your military training may count as credits towards that degree)?
- How can your training help you in the position that you’re hoping to land (leadership training, physical training, emotional intelligence, dependability, ability to think on your feet, task-specific training, etc.)?
Tip: Try asking family/close friends what they think you should do. Often times they have insight into your interests and strengths or remember your interest in an experience that you may not think of. If you still need help with this step, be sure to jump over to the VA Career Counseling Center or try out the VA’s CareerScope Assessment.
2. Another major challenge when re-entering the workforce is landing the interview. Weapons Specialists, Tank Commanders, Drill Sergeants and others might find that while they are in high demand in the military sector, their civilian opportunities are limited. For those in this position, finding a new job is all about MARKETING! While “led a platoon of 40 soldiers through a combat readiness training exercise” might sound good on the military side, it doesn’t communicate much on the civilian side. Taking some time to re-write your resume or portfolio to match keywords and verbiage specific to civilian positions that you’re seeking will make a great difference in your chances of landing that job! Here we might change your previous statement to, “Successfully managed and organized 40 personnel during a physical training exercise.”
Tip: Read through available jobs posted on boards such as https://www.hospitalrecruiting.com/jobs-by-category/ and write down keywords that are used frequently in the job descriptions. These words are often used in resume scanning programs to weed out eligible/non-eligible candidates, and including them in your resume can move you to the top of the candidate list!
3. For many service members, preparing to work alongside civilians is a big step in their transition. While still a soldier at heart, it’s important to consider social and behavioral norms that are conducive to success in the civilian world. For some, this is the most difficult part of the transition. This struggle can lead to stress, depression and anxiety. If you are having a difficult time emotionally, please seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or click here to chat with someone to receive help. While there may be some major differences in communication styles, organization and uniformity between the military and civilian sectors, always remember that your training as a soldier teaches resilience and adaptability that will make you highly successful in anything you choose to do. You can walk into any industry and know that you have basics such as the ability to work with people from any background, to think on your feet, to lead others, and to speak up with confidence when needed! Job specifics can be learned, but those fundamental traits are something that will set you apart from other applicants!
Tip: Check with the resource center at the post nearest you (don’t forget about National Guard and Reserve stations). Many of them have career centers and hold classes that will assist with interviewing skills, and how to transition to a civilian career. Additionally, it’s a great idea to keep in touch with other soldiers who have made the transition SUCCESSFULLY, so you can receive support from someone who understands the unique challenges you’re facing.
4. Career resources are wonderful if you intend to continue in your trained field. But, what if you’re looking to move on to something different? Going back to school to learn a trade or train for a career that is in high demand is a great option for those making the military to civilian transition. The time spent in school can be used as a time of decompression and reflection, and with a plethora of resources available to assist in finding, paying for and surviving school, it’s sure to be a successful step!
Tip: Check out resources such as CareerOneStop and the VA for information on programs that will help you throughout the entire process. Use multiple resources and you may find yourself with enough financial overage that you may not need to work full-time while you study!
5. Nothing instills an entrepreneurial spirit like a few years of military service. Starting your own business is an exciting and realistic option for those wanting some freedom in their future and the ability to be their own boss. Before you get started, be sure to be thorough in your research. Market saturation, outlook, and regulations are top of the list! Need help? Many colleges offer small business counseling for just a nominal fee or donation! Be sure to brush up on employer/employee regulations, as you may find that your civilian employees require benefits and treatment that weren’t offered during your service time.
Tip: The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal offers a wide array of resources that include information on how to start, fund, grow and be successful in your business!
While the military to civilian transition may seem overwhelming at first and can leave you feeling a little like a fish out of water, rest assured that there is a world of opportunity and resources available at your fingertips! Remember to be patient with yourself during the process and allow some time for decompression and reflection as you plan out your next steps. When you’re ready to make a move, do so using the support of loved ones and the many resources available to you, and you’re sure to be successful!