Veterans have a lower unemployment rate than their civilian counterparts. Largely due to the benefits provided in the GI Bill, veterans are more educated and employable than the general population. Many companies also seek out veterans or actively recruit transitioning military because they value the unique skills and work ethic that vets, like you, learn while they are in the service.
Despite all the advantages you may have, making the transition from the military to civilian workforce can still be difficult. Sometimes your skills will not directly translate into the correct corporate jargon. You may feel like you are behind your peers, competing against other candidates who have been working in your chosen field for much longer. Throw those fears aside and stick to your guns, and you can land your dream job in no time!
Here's a plan of attack for working your way to a successful and rewarding career:
Figure Out What You Really Want to Do!
If you are transitioning military, you are in the unique position of being able to choose a new career path. Make sure you think about what kind of work you are really passionate about. No matter what your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) during your service, you can choose to do something completely different! Or, if you enjoyed your MOS, look into fields that will allow a smooth transfer of those valuable skills.
Many veterans find great satisfaction exploring a career in construction management, employee training, business administration, software programming, private security, and defense. Other popular occupations include emergency medical technician, firefighter, heavy equipment mechanic, aviation technician, and even motivation speakers and life coaches. These are the types of jobs that will allow you to use your leadership skills and ability to make sound decisions under pressure.
How Much Do You Really Need to Make?
Before beginning to interview, determine your pay range that you can accept from prospective employers and still meet your financial needs and goals.
You may have had a great deal of responsibility in the military. But when you first enter the civilian workforce, you may have to start at a lower-paying, more junior position than where you really want to be. It's good to have a basic idea of how much you absolutely will need to make not only to meet your basic needs, but also to continue saving for retirement, a college fund for the kids, or other financial goals that you have set for yourself. Doing so will not only help you search for a job that meets your financial needs but will also help you negotiate the best salary when you do find a job offer you want to accept.
With greater clarity about your personal financial needs, you can more easily communicate what your salary requirements and longer-term professional goals are to a prospective employer.
If you are a VetRewards Card Member, consider taking advantage of your free Personal Financial Planning Services (a $500 value) included at no additional cost with your VetRewards CarePackage. This service can be of great help in sorting out your personal or family finances and goals.
Establish and Stick to a Job Search Schedule
If you are currently unemployed, it can be tempting to procrastinate and let the job search slide for a few days. That’s why it’s important to establish a daily schedule.
Try to wake up at the same time each morning, and set job search goals for yourself. Schedule on your calendar at least a few hours each day to work on your job search. You can read the Business and Career articles and resources on our blog, The Service. You should also search for and attend career-related events in your area that could be good networking opportunities.
It will be easier to hold yourself accountable if you share your progress with a career mentor, your friends, or your partner!
If you are struggling to find a job that you can see turning into a full career, consider taking a part-time job, volunteering, taking a business-related class, or doing an internship to build your marketable skills. That way when you interview for your dream job, you can show a potential employer that you take pride in contributing to your community or are motivated to improve your skill-set and understanding of your industry, even though you are not yet employed full-time.
Engage in the Veterans Advantage Jobs & Career Network
Whether you’re a Veterans Advantage member or subscribe to VetRewards, you can access our free jobs board with positions available across the country with vet-friendly companies that are actively seeking veterans to fill their positions. You also have access to helpful articles on everything from building your resume to interviewing advice.
Veteran-friendly companies like those listed in our Jobs and Career Network, as well as federal and state government jobs often give hiring preference to vets. Government jobs also have excellent benefits and you could have the opportunity to earn a government pension, which would be in addition to your military pension if you are a military retiree.
Seek out a Mentor or Career Counselor and Reach Out to Your Network
Sometimes the best way to get your foot in the door at a new job is to reach out to your network of friends for help. They may also be a good resource for making connections in your field and your local veteran community. According to Forbes, when you are referred for a position you are twice as likely to land an interview, and 40% more likely to land the gig! If you know a friend or family member who has a great job, ask them if their employer will be hiring and if they can help you get an interview.
You can try using the job resource benefits provided to you by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where you can sign up to receive career counseling and get personal help writing a great resume. Reach out to a local veterans organization or group in your area and make friends with fellow veterans who might want to help you find your career path. Also, complete your profile on LinkedIn and then join the many veterans or industry groups to inquire about open positions.
Use Technology to Make Your Resume Stand Out
The do’s and don'ts for resumes have changed considerably in the last 5 years, and you have more options for preparing your resume than ever before, thanks to technology. Free websites like Canva have dozens of templates that you can choose from when making your resume online. Sites like resume.com also provide more traditional templates that help you build a professional, well-formatted CV.
When writing your resume, avoid using military acronyms. While you may know exactly what they mean, the hiring manager is likely clueless. Make sure you include your hard and soft skills. Hard skills are job-specific skills, and soft skills are assets that you carry with you no matter what job you perform, like your ability to work effectively in a team, shine under pressure, and stick to important deadlines.
You may also choose to build a personal website to refer employers to show your ability to be modern. It’s pretty easy and affordable to create a website using Wix or Squarespace, and there are lots of free templates to make it look great! If you are able to build a more sophisticated site, this could also be a way to promote that you are tech savvy while showcasing your military accomplishments.
Make sure to pay special attention to details when you are filling out applications, building your resume or building your own site. You will only get one chance to impress. It’s especially important to cross your t’s and dot your i’s when applying for government or corporate jobs. One small mistake can mean your application will be tossed out. Use free sites like Grammarly to check for errors. Tailor each resume you submit to the job you are applying for. Make sure to write an accompanying cover letter that shows your personality and explains why you are perfect for the position.
Work to Ace the Interview
When you land a promising interview, you’ll want to make sure you look your best and are projecting a positive, confident, and welcoming attitude. Bite the bullet and shell out for a nice suit, dress, or, at the very least some high-quality separate pieces that match well. It doesn’t need to be super expensive but a salesperson can assist you in finding a style and size that fits you well. The last thing you want is to look like you borrowed someone else’s clothing for the interview!
When you are interviewing, don’t be afraid to show your personality. Be professional, but not too formal. You don’t need to address your interviewers only as sir and mam! Definitely be polite, but don’t be afraid to be friendly and show your genuine excitement for the company and the position you’re applying for.
Do some research online and come prepared with a list of questions that will show real interest in the position. Don't inflate your skills and experience to try to land the job. Even if you don’t have the most experience, many hiring managers look for attitude, willingness to learn, and a good fit with company culture before specific job skills anyway.
Another good tip is to pay attention and mirror the attitude and body language of your interviewer. This will help you build a rapport.
Keep an Open Mind
Don’t limit your job search too much. If you are a little adventuresome, you may end up loving a career path or employer that you never dreamt you would. When a friend or fellow veteran reaches out to you with a job prospect, at least apply and accept an interview to get a feel for the position before you turn down any opportunity. And, its' a good idea to grab any opportunity to practice your interview skills.
If you can, be open to the possibility of relocation. If you are just getting out of the military, you may be able to be more flexible, especially if you have not started your own family or have not yet purchased a home. Do your research and find out which locations have the most openings in your preferred field. Consider things like the cost of living of the area versus average salaries, real estate prices, and sales and property taxes.
Also, you can research the best locations for vets to get hired in general. This can give you an idea of which industries might be especially lucrative for vets in each state.
Consider Your Alternative Options
The Department of Veterans Affairs has plenty of education and training programs to assist you in getting a bachelor, graduate degree, or technical degree or certification after your service. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, and Reserve Educational Assistance Program have all helped thousands of veterans further their education and improve their chances at a successful, high-paying career.
The VA also has plenty of programs and resources available for veterans who wish to start their own business.
Veterans Advantage offers many discounts that are helpful for veteran entrepreneurs trying to finance a new business, so make sure to check out the Home & Office and Career & Financial Services areas of the Military Discounts Marketplace.
Whether you are just leaving the service or have been in the workforce for a while, but want to change your career path, we hope these pointers help you land your dream job!
Do you have any tips of your own we have not thought of? Please let us know and we will share them with the fellow veterans in the Community.