“Thank you for your service”
Now that I have your attention, just know that this post is done out of love. Nobody is calling you entitled.
One of the most challenging life stages for a military member is that transition from soldier/sailor/airman/marine to civilian. Having done it myself in 1998 and in working with hundreds of transitionees over the past 10 years, I can personally vouch for this.
The Department of Labor and other groups have provided resources, namely the TAP and ACAP/SFL programs but those are just “check the box” programs that may contain dated content and are often attended either too early or too late in military member’s transition.
Often when I meet with folks in transition, they’re close to getting out or have already done it and are experiencing anxiety, frustration, and a sense of hopelessness. I’d like to offer up some ideas that I think will help. Please share them if you know someone who is struggling in transition.
Concept #1: “Thank you for your service.” Now let’s move on.
Having been in the Navy in that quiet period between the Vietnam war and 9/11, I never experienced the love and support that active duty and veterans get today. Nobody ever stood and clapped for me in the airport, gave up their first class seat, or bought me drinks. It’s ok. Me and all of the other veterans from this period are over it.
That said, the current love and affection will someday wane and those offers of employment or support will vanish. Ultimately, it will be up to YOU to achieve career success. Make sure that you’re building your connections and networks NOW. Your service may get you noticed, but your performance will get you in the door and keep you in your job.
Concept #2: Embrace the Pain
My transition from civilian to sailor in 1983 was a painful one. Navy bootcamp, while probably not as hellish as some of the other services (save for Air Force bootcamp where it was rumored recruits were told to pack bathrobes and slippers) was still tough. In a short 13-week period we were transformed in rapid fashion into sailors, complete with new clothes, haircuts, language, mindset, goals, and skills. No day of training was shorter than 14 hours and there was no such thing as a weekend.
If it took that long and was that painful to go from civilian to sailor, why would you expect it would be any less long or painful to return to civilian life? If this is you, quit complaining and spending your days feeding resumes into the online black hole and get busy networking yourself into a job!
Concept #3: What Makes You So Special?
While transitioning veterans may not have some of the tangible, specific skills civilians look for, they are told there are some transferrable skills that actually set them apart from the competition. The list usually includes leadership, ability to work under pressure, adaptability, multi-tasking, driven, etc. Those skills are useful particularly with an organization in crisis. Unfortunately though, some organizations just need worker-bees. They want players, not necessarily superstars. Their expectation might be as simple as wanting someone to show up for their shift, on time, and sober. They may also want someone with a particular set of technical skills you don’t possess and that need isn’t negotiable. Here’s some thoughts.
First of all, realize that leadership, ability to work under pressure, adaptability, multi-tasking, etc. are not unique to military veterans. Not every transitioning member has them nor is every veteran a superstar. I met plenty of lazy troublemakers during my 15-year career who I would never consider hiring. Not only that, I’ve met plenty of great leaders, pressure-performers, multi-taskers and hard chargers that were never in the military. All I’m saying is that you need to identify and demonstrate how great you are and be prepared to prove it.
Secondly, if you’re a veteran and you’ve told people you have these skills, how about putting them to use in your own job search? There is no organization in bigger crisis than your household is if you don’t have a job. Pushing through pain is what got you through your active duty so apply that same drive into your career transition. Doing the hard stuff like picking up the phone and calling strangers, networking at meetings, and talking about your accomplishments sets you apart from your job seeker competitors. Get busy using those transferrable skills NOW!
Concept #4: Accomplishment vs. Activity
Activity is good. It makes us feel productive. In a job search, activity becomes the trap that actually prevents accomplishment. If 80-90% of all jobs are found through networking, why are you spending 80 – 90% of your time mindlessly shotgunning your resumes out to online postings? It’s so you can tell folks you’re too busy to go to networking events. If you’re honest though, it’s because you’re afraid to network. You put effort into the thing that gives you the lowest return on your investment to avoid the discomfort of talking to people. If you’re following Concept #3, you HAVE to switch these activities around!
Concept #5: Can’t vs. Won’t
All of your hard work is paying off. Now you’re getting interviews. All is well until the dreaded salary questions comes up.
“What kind of salary are you looking for?”
If you haven’t practiced this one, get busy now. Rather than stand there like a dummy, give your answer. If you’ve done your research, you have an idea of what the range is. That number is probably a fixed number.
If you were making 60K per year in the military and the job is offering 52K, you’ll probably say:
“I can’t work for less than 60K per year.”
You CAN’T or you WON’T?
“Can’t” suggests your budget won’t allow it. But if you want the job, can you rework your finances at home? Spend less on entertainment, phones, and eating out? Can you take a part-time job to supplement until you gain the experience to promote or find a better paying job?
“Won’t” suggests your ego won’t allow it. There’s nothing wrong with this. Just be clear on what you’re willing and not willing to do.
But be realistic. Nobody cares that you need a higher salary since you made more in the military. A civilian job has a budgeted salary. Your job is to be educated enough to speak intelligently in that process and negotiate what is actually negotiable.
Concept #6: Assertive vs. Aggressive
Assertive means that I ask for what I want. For you this includes the information on the process of getting the job, the job itself, and the salary that’s negotiable. It also means you ask for the next steps in the hiring process from that hiring manager and follow up by phone (yes, by phone, email is another one of those ACTIVITIES, calling gets you an ACCOMPLISHMENT!)
Aggressive doesn’t work. Demanding, showing arrogance, boasting about how your service makes up for their experience requirements will not help you. Be assertive, not aggressive.
Please know that you will eventually succeed in your new career if you push as hard in your transition and second career as you did while in the military. You have to. If not, poverty, unhappiness, and maybe even homelessness could be in your future. You served to keep the wolves away from this country. Work just as hard to keep the wolves from your career, your checking account, your family, and your ultimate success.
As a fellow vet, I am always available to answer your questions, chat with you about your situation, take a look at your resume, or just be available if you want to vent. As your shipmate, I have the responsibility to look after you, even if you’re in the Army, Marine Corps, or Air Force!