As military members prepare to transition back to civilian life a lot of questions come up. Chief among them, “Can I make it ?” it is a surprising one, given the time, effort, sacrifice, and amount of taxpayer dollars pumped into individual service members to prepare them for everything from a gas attack to public speaking. One would believe that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are ready for anything, and yet many of us spend long nights staring at the ceiling wondering.
The Department of Defense created the Transition Assistance Program to help ease reintroduction into the civilian sector for military men and women. It consists of a series of workshops with subjects ranging from resume writing workshops to ‘dress for success’ and a Q&A with entrepreneurs. There are mock interviews, a guide for federal employment and a lot of very high energy civilians who seem genuinely interested in helping us get back to work after the military. I learned a lot in those workshops and I also heard a lot of things that made me question who this advice could possibly be for – clearly not for a well-equipped.
Here’s a round-up of some of the best tips I received:
A wide range of state, local and federal benefits are available to veterans.
For military personnel who are at the end of their term of service and in transition things like Unemployment Insurance, VA healthcare and the G.I. Bill prove invaluable and act as anchors when things are fairly turbulent.
Resume writing: It’s incredibly subjective but necessary.
My first time through one of these workshops, which include mock interviews to help prep, I approached with an open mind and I came out of there feeling like an accomplished professional and a stellar addition to any organization that would have me. Quantifying skills, writing them down and regurgitating them to an audience (or the mirror) is something I still do to this day as prep.
Perfecting Your Elevator Speech.
I learned how to articulate who I am, what I’m doing, where I’m going. Confidence in your background varies depending on who you are, what you’ve done and for how long. Being able to talk yourself up is particularly difficult for veterans, mostly because you’ve spent the last few years actually doing and not talking about doing or what was done. It is a great skill to have and one I’m glad I picked up at TAP.
A lot should be said about personal responsibility as well, there has to be ownership of who we are and what we do as our own representatives. The civilian world brings it’s own unique set of challenges and it would be great if TAP could cover everything, but it can’t, and it doesn’t. Some things that were not addressed that should have been:
Networking: it isn’t “a” thing, it’s “the” thing.
Having spent the last three years pursuing a degree, I fell off the professional map. Moving back to South Florida post-Army, after almost 8 years away, I discovered that despite my skills, government clearance, and willingness to work, I could not land a job in video production or broadcasting because I didn’t have a network. I applied incessantly and after 8 months of no feedback, not even rejection, just a black hole, I quit and decided to focus on my studies. That was a mistake, I isolated myself, and I didn’t have a network to tap in to, again. When I was ready to get back in the game I discovered I wasn’t registering professionally so I got to rebuilding: cold calling, email, social media, all avenues I used to reconnect with people I could help and who in turn could help me now that I was back on the market. It worked, I’ve been contacted by several organizations and individuals about possible leads and that’s after months of rebuilding, imagine if it had been years. Network!
Nonprofits can be a critical resource.
They are wonderful organizations that help bridge the gap between military and civilian more effectively than any single workshop could. Wounded Warrior Project, The Mission Continues, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Team Rubicon are some of the nonprofits I have aligned with. They are created and staffed by some of the best and the brightest, with veterans at the heart and soul as founders, CEOs, and clients.
A better roadmap of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill
I was one of those who took the bait and wound up preyed upon by a for-profit school who took me for my G.I. Bill in exchange for a piece of paper. Unfortunately, these are the same schools that sponsor and host events for veterans and display themselves prominently at job fairs and networking events. Do your research and look out, you’re your own best advocate.
The needs of the labor market vary wildly. It helps to be prepared in the transition, and TAP tries to see us through the process. Take what you can from your military transition program, but also be prepared to fill-in the gaps.