After you decide to transition, it can be hard to figure out the next step. The military requirements are confusing, the civilian job market is confusing … what do you do about it all?
Here are 10 things you ought to do before your last day in the military to set yourself up for civilian success, in (roughly) chronological order:
1. TAP class.
This is a legal requirement, and you will make it hard on yourself if the military has to bend over backwards to fit you in during the last month of service.
Also, you usually can’t go on terminal leave prior to completing your TAP class. But it’s not a waste of time. The sooner you go, the sooner you get all the resources they offer – job equivalencies, resume-building classes and connections. It’s best to do this as soon as possible.
2. Desired Destination.
It’s very important that you come up with a game plan of where you want to end up or what you want to do after transition.
Shotgunning generic resumes out to a bunch of jobs is a great way to get consistently ignored, because recruiters can spot a casual application a mile away and won’t even open your documents.
Use your desired location or industry to come up with jobs you really want, and focus on them. The more considered, meaningful applications you make, the better you’ll get at them … and the more likely you’ll land a job.
3. Additional Qualifications.
Military bases offer a host of civilian qualifications and classes through free learning centers, online learning programs and as physical classes several times a year.
Want to operate a truck? Get your commercial license, free. Want to be a mechanic? Get your ASE certification at a discount.
You can get nearly any technical or safety qualification used in the civilian world discounted or free through the military, but you have to start early enough to fit them in. Entering the workforce more qualified means a better chance of getting the job you want.
4. Online Presence.
Clean up your social media accounts: remove the wild pictures and the overly angry political postings. Those make you less attractive to employers, and you better believe recruiters will find a way to check you out online.
Also, create a LinkedIn and Indeed.com account on which to post your resume. Recruiters troll those sites constantly.
Consider taking advantage of federal preferred employment for veterans by looking at the USAJobs.com site. You might be surprised what you find there. Finally, keep updating your online accounts as you refine your resume, get better at writing cover letters, and add qualifications.
5. College or Technical School Applications.
Most schools close applications for the school year six to nine months before the start of classes. If you want to arrange things so that you get your GI Bill BAH started during terminal leave because you’re in school, you have to start early.
6. Terminal Leave.
All the planning in the world cannot guarantee that you will make a seamless transition. Most veterans, no matter how qualified, end up with a gap of several months between transition and employment. So stock up on leave (and money!) this final year as a cushion.
7. Calculate Minimum Salary.
There are lots of tools to help you translate military benefits like healthcare, retirement and BAH into a yearly salary, such as G.I. Job’s special calculator. You’ll need a number handy when it comes to pay negotiations in your new job.
8. Get Professional Attire.
It varies from industry to industry, but usually does not include trendy jeans or “affliction” printed T-shirts.
You should have at least a week’s worth of civilian clothing for your expected new profession – much of which you can buy cheaply from on-base stores (but don’t forget to compare prices!). And it’s much easier to buy this stuff when you still have a military paycheck.
You may be looking for jobs as you transition, or you may have one lined up. Regardless, if you apply for college or for another job within five years of transition (and odds are you will), you’ll want to have some recommendations handy.
You’ll be surprised how quickly you lose touch with former COs and NCOs. So get your bosses to write some general recommendations for your files.
10. Medical Records.
Depending on the institution, you may either be able to check out your records and photocopy your own, or you may have to order a copy through the bureaucracy.
You can’t get your DD-214 without a copy, so don’t forget! Order at least two months prior, even if your final physical is still pending. If that’s the case, have them print up that last piece for you right after your appointment. But don’t be empty-handed on your last day!