You’ve served your country in a branch of the military for years. You’ve put the lives of others in front of your own to help America continue to be the “Land of the Free.” But now you’re back on home soil and looking to transition from military to civilian life.
While many across the nation would be apprehensive to be the first in the line of duty, many veterans can be apprehensive about making this transition. But entering the civilian workforce can be easier than you think. There are people across the nation who want to help veterans make the transition from military life to civilian life as successfully as possible.
Take time to consider the following four steps to make this transition as smooth as possible:
1. Get a Degree
One of the most important first steps for any person transitioning from the military to the civilian world is to determine the career path you’re most interested in and examine your current credentials and areas of expertise. Some of the experiences obtained in the services can parlay into college credits.
Seeking out colleges and universities that offer military-specific courses and work with veterans—including the Military-Veteran Services Center at Bellevue University—can be helpful in making the transition from the military to an educational program. Many of these military-oriented programs give veterans meaningful career skills, as well as general education credits, that allow them to go directly into an accelerated degree program afterwards.
Additionally, it’s important to make sure the degree program fits into the career you’re seeking. Enrolling in a degree program that doesn’t match your interests or long-term goals is counterproductive and may not help your transition to the civilian workforce. Understanding what your background, qualifications and interests are before deciding on a degree program will ensure that you make the most of the time and money spent working to earn a degree.
2. Seek Out a Mentor
Mentorship works. Connecting with someone who has made a successful transition from the military to the workforce can give you an added advantage by providing you with someone to give you advice and feedback from the perspective of someone who has gone through similar experiences.
Check out the mentorship programs that some universities offer, such as the Bellevue University Mentor-Protégé (BUMP) program. This three-member team approach begins with the Protégé, who is an individual at or near the beginning of their pursuit toward higher education. The Protégé is matched with another student, the Mentor-Protégé, who is in the same geographical area and is a recent graduate (or soon-to-be graduate) from a similar Bellevue University program. The two are then paired with a third member, the Mentor, a Bellevue alum who is successfully working in a related field and dedicates time to aid in the success of the other two.
Being a graduate successfully working in a related area of interest, the Mentor is in a unique position to assist the other two BUMP team members. Programs such as BUMP are beneficial because seeing the steps necessary to get to the end point (a desired career) can help encourage veterans at the beginning of the road to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Be Active in the Job Search
There are a variety of types of career fairs to consider. The obvious is the traditional job fair, where a single person walks around from vendor to vendor introducing themselves, handing out their resume and making connections. Attending veteran-specific job fairs is a great way to get your name out to many companies and take control of your job search. As veterans return home across the country, more and more of these military-oriented job fairs are popping up around the nation.
Veteran centers at colleges and universities also bring in large companies one at a time to allow veterans more time to present themselves and interact with veteran-friendly companies. These types of job fairs can be more beneficial to veterans than the traditional job fair, as they can ensure that veterans are meeting the right people and spending time with companies that understand the value their skills and experience can bring to organizations.
4. Follow Up with a Support Network
Keeping in contact with a support network, including your mentors, can help veterans work through any issues that arise in the workplace, on campus or at home. It’s difficult to make the transition from life in the military to a typical 9-to-5 job, but surrounding yourself with support from others who have made that transition successfully is important and can help you continue to grow personally and professionally.
And don’t hesitate to repay the favor. Working with the programs that assisted you with the transition process can put you in a mentorship position once you’ve successfully made the transition to the civilian workforce. Helping out someone else who’s beginning the process you started after leaving the military can continue a cycle that will benefit many people for years to come.
JR Richardson is a 24-year veteran of the United States Air Force and is currently the Director of Military and Veteran Services at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska.