Being a veteran and having the opportunity to work with 8,000+ separating military professionals, I’ve had the unique experience of seeing a lot of successful transitions. However, I’ve also been privy to a lot of unsuccessful ones as well, especially by senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers.
Many servicemembers put more time and effort into planning their retirement ceremonies and what they’ll do on terminal leave than they do into their transition planning. They often make the mistake of thinking they’ll have no issue landing a job when they’re on leave because of their military experience and having a college degree
Here are six things you need to start doing today, whether you have two years or two weeks left in the uniform, to better ensure your success:
1. Start Now
The Department of Defense trained you for approximately eight weeks to be a Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, Guardian or Guardsman. When you do the math, that’s about 384 hours of preparation time. Translation: If you spent two hours each day working on your transition, it would equate to about six months of time invested.
This matches up very well with what Dick Bolles outlines in What Color Is Your Parachute? In this book, Bolles says the rule of thumb is to expect about 1-2 months of active job searching for every $10,000 worth of salary you may want to earn. That equates to 4-8 months of active career planning or job searching for a $40,000 salary.
As a former Executive TAP, Transition GPS facilitator and military recruiter, I’ve found this rule of thumb to be extremely accurate. In a nutshell: Don’t procrastinate, start as soon as you can and encourage your colleagues, both junior and senior, to do the same.
Have an actual written plan of action and milestones for your own transition. It’s amazing to see that we often do this for every critical military assessment, but not for the most significant event of our adult careers.
2. Identify Gaps
It’s critical that you identify the gaps you currently have in both your professional network and your skill set. Your professional network includes those folks who can actually put you in front of a hiring manager. If you currently don’t have anyone like that in your network, you need to. This self-evaluation will tell you how employable you are and whether or not it’s a good time for you to leave the uniform (if you have a choice in the matter).
A fatal mistake I often see? Those who solely rely on people still on Active Duty or people who haven’t looked for a job in years to give them job search and resume advice. Instead, use your time to meet as many recruiters and hiring managers as you can in order to get candid insight and feedback on your true market value in the civilian world, as well as how readable your resume is. (Hint: It should not read like your Evaluation Report.)
3. Education and Certifications Matter…Period
The temptation (and flawed decision) when looking at a job description that requires experience or a degree is to apply anyway. This is the same as playing the lottery, with even worse odds.
In the first hour of posting a job, a company can receive as many as 200 resumes. Chances are at least 10% of these applicants have both the experience and the degree required. And employers will generally choose one of these candidates. A full-time job seeker only has 8 hours each day to conduct their job search, so don’t waste your precious time applying for positions for which you’re not a competitor.
When someone says “I’m qualified XXXX in the military; why aren’t employers willing to recognize it?” I generally ask, “If I had a civilian qualification, would I still have to do the military qualification if I wanted to do the exact same job in the military?”
Sound a bit harsh? Well, another analogy is to ask yourself: If you were going before a military promotion board and a special qualification (e.g. a warfare device) was the norm, what would be your chances of getting past the initial screener? The same rules apply in the civilian labor market, especially when you’re navigating it on your own.
I generally suggest you maximize your job search by applying for jobs for which you’re a 95% or better fit, simply because of the odds involved. It’s better to scan 100 jobs and find the 10 you’re most likely to get than to stop at 10 and have zero probability of being called in for an interview.
4. Think Twice Before Claiming You’re a Subject Matter Expert
At job fairs, I tend to hear many military professionals make the claim that they’re a subject matter expert at X, Y or Z. However, I suggest you think twice before making this claim to a hiring decision-maker or recruiter.
By all means, I encourage you to make the claim if you’ve done the research to determine whether or not that specialty you’re a “subject matter expert” in is in demand in the labor market. If you haven’t, then Google that specialty plus the word “jobs” to determine if there are job postings that are asking for it. You can also use Google Adwords to determine how many times that skill has been searched in the last month.
It doesn’t do a job seeker any good being a subject matter expert on typewriters if there isn’t a demand for it in the local job market. If you have several skills you’re staking a claim to, it’s imperative that you determine which one has the greatest potential in terms of market demand, job opportunities and the years of required experience for which the employer is looking.
5. Manage Your Health Care…For the First Time
We’ve all heard about the challenges the Veterans Administration is facing with the backlog of claims that have been filed. While the process is getting a lot better, there are some things you need to do right now.
First of all, stop being so stubborn and take your butt down to medical. More importantly, get everything documented. Believe me, your claim adjudication with the VA is based on “show me that it’s service-connected rather than telling me.” At least 12 months before your last day on Active Duty, be sure to make two copies of your medical and dental records. Better yet, have them scanned and saved to a thumbdrive or similar device.
Secondly, don’t wait until the last minute to get your record reviewed by the DAV, AMVETS or American Legion to provide guidance on filing your claim with the VA. Try to get this done at least 6 months prior to starting your terminal leave. After this is done, make it an imperative to go to the VA workshop and get your package submitted as early as possible.
6. Include Your Spouse or Partner
It may sound like common sense that your spouse or partner be actively involved in your transition process. However, I see all too often candidates who can’t accept one of our employers’ job offers (that matches their geographic, skill set and salary preferences) because they haven’t spoken to their significant others about any of these parameters.
It’s a necessity that you have a frank and candid discussion with your life partner as early as possible. This may be the time when a spouse is thinking about starting their own career after being supportive for 20+ years, the children may be in high school, etc. Geographic flexibility is a major factor in employability, and each family has to realistically weigh the pros and cons instead of leaving it to chance and unrealistic expectations.
In a Nutshell
Your transition is much more than your retirement ceremony and terminal leave. It’s a lengthy, involved process that only yields the amount of time and effort you put into it before you’re piped ashore for the last time.
Sultan Camp contributed this article