Ha ha, you’re getting out of the military and have no idea what you’re going to do next! And it’s not like this was a sudden surprise. You’ve known for months, maybe years, that this day was coming. But did you plan for it? If so, then maybe you don’t need to read any further. But if you find yourself in an “OMG, what am I gonna do?” moment, then don’t worry. We’re here to help. Let’s take a deep breath and figure this out, because you’re not the first person to go through this. There is no shortage of mistakes you want to avoid after the military while searching for a civilian job. But five classic job search mistakes are:
Job Search Mistake #1: Not Knowing Your Own Skills
What was your occupation in the military? Did you work in a single, specific aspect of that profession? Or did you move around and get to explore new elements of the job?
Perhaps you started out as an entry-level worker but got a promotion and learned more about the behind-the-scenes operations. Maybe you spent years in the field, and got exposed to a variety of functions related to the job. You even got to the point where you were so knowledgeable you became the subject matter expert.
Maybe you were elevated to positions where you were writing policies and procedures for others to follow. Or you supervised the work of others, at home station and perhaps during deployments. Look back at the scope of your work and all those marketable skills you picked up along the way.
You’ve probably done so much that you don’t remember it all, but now’s the time to take stock and assess your past duty history. So dig out those old performance reports and take a trip down memory lane. Create a document and start transferring over bullet points, then gaze in awe at the vastness of the skills and experiences you’ve acquired over the years.
But before we move on—what about all those ancillary duties? Don’t forget those! We know you had them. Everyone in the service gets called upon to take up additional workloads unrelated to their primary job. Whether it was managing budgets, procuring supplies and equipment, overseeing vehicle maintenance, running a fitness program, or getting tagged to coordinate a large event. Whatever those extra duties were, they were experiences which contributed to your existing skill sets. Write it all down and avoid one of the most preventable job search mistakes.
Job Search Mistake #2: Not Knowing How to Market Yourself
It’s on you to translate your past to demonstrate to future employers why you are qualified for their open jobs. Don’t expect them to figure it out—they don’t have the time or inclination.
Military members often enter the service soon after high school or college. If you enlisted, you didn’t have to “apply” for the job, you just went to a recruiter and signed up. If you commissioned as an officer, you went through a commissioning program such as ROTC, but still, it wasn’t like writing a résumé and submitting a job application.
The civilian world is a whole different ball game. It’s time to adapt and overcome because selling yourself is what is expected in the civilian job market.
As with anything, the best way to sell is to know what you’re selling and know who you’re selling it to. You’ve done your analysis of your skills, but now you have to translate them into jargon understandable by civilian hiring managers and supervisors.
A few tools which can help you with your writing are your Joint Service Transcript and O*Net Online’s Military Crosswalk. These can help you decipher the most applicable phrasing for tasks and functions you’ve performed in the past, but didn’t know how to describe in layman’s terms. For instance, you’ve almost certainly helped plan and execute a mission with the the help of a team, while tracking progress along the way so you knew you were on task and on target. Great, this is usually referred to as project management in the civilian world.
Apart from the above, one more insightful website to review is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which offers in-depth Occupational Handbooks on virtually every conceivable profession. These can help you look into every aspect of a potential new career.
Job Search Mistake #3: Limiting Your Search Scope
How are you looking for jobs? Employment opportunities are posted across multiple sites on the web, but many people restrict themselves to just one or two. You want to cast as wide a net as possible to improve your odds!
Attend job fairs in your local community, run searches via USAJobs, put up a profile on LinkedIn, and upload a general résumé on Indeed.com. Many businesses still post job openings in the newspapers and on Craigslist, as well. But if there is a specific company or industry you want to work for, then head directly over to their online career page and see what’s out there.
Many times an organization will put up an ad to gather applicants into a “pool,” which they will review later if and when a job is actually funded and posted. In other words, sometimes you may see a job advertised, but the intention is for them to front-load their work and get applications before they’ve actually established the job (USAJobs tends to do this a lot).
This can be one of the more frustrating job search mistakes if you are in need of immediate hiring, but if you have some time then it never hurts to submit an application. Just don’t expect a call right away. Sometimes such postings remain open for months because they forecasted so far in advance.
Job Search Mistake #4: Not Considering Entrepreneurship
If you have a fair amount of time before separating, you might want to strongly consider your options for running your own business. If you’ve got a unique service-based idea or a product you’d want to sell, then being your own boss might be your best bet!
The complexity of your budding business will dictate the amount of foreplanning you’ll need, so obviously if you’re getting out in a month, you probably won’t want to start on a business plan for a restaurant or other product-based business. You need a lot more lead time than that.
Acquiring funding for a start-up business takes time, too, and banks get shy when it looks like you don’t have your ducks in a row. But if you have the time, or if you’re business model requires low-to-no overhead—or if you’ve secured enough angel investors or crowdfunding—then it could be worth a look to break out on your own or with a group of partners. That’s the great thing about being an entrepreneur is getting to determine what you want to do and how you want to do it.
The not-so-great thing is that it can be one of the most risky job search mistakes. Very risky.
You’re already “quitting your day job,” but if time is short before you make the leap then consider the option of getting a civilian job first. You can start working your business plan on the side, in the evenings. This will allow you to stay financially afloat with a secure paycheck while you work out the kinks of your self-employment strategy. Jeff Bezos didn’t get where he is by rushing in with a half-baked business model. Take the necessary time to do it right, and your odds of success will skyrocket.
Job Search Mistake #5: Neglecting Further Education
Many service members take advantage of the tuition discounts they get while on duty, but not everyone finishes a degree before getting out. If you have GI Bill benefits available, strongly consider putting them to their intended use and going back to school. Finishing your degree, getting a graduate degree, or obtaining a certification will give you an advantage over the competition. There are endless options, so figure out what best suits your long term goals.
A lot of vets transfer their educational benefits to their dependents, which is commendable. But never forget, if some higher education can help you get ahead in your civilian career, then it could lead to a higher pay. That means, in the long run, it could be worth it to transfer back some or all of the benefits to yourself, so that you can get ahead and then be in a better financial position to help your dependents when it’s their time to go off to college. This is one of the job search mistakes that could cost you in the long run—something to think about!
In the end, this list just scratches the surface. But luckily, most exiting service members are required to attend mandatory Transitional Assistance Programs to help educate them on best practices for switching back to full-time civilian life. It can be tricky for some, and a breeze for others. But the best way to have a smooth transition is to learn as much as you can ahead of time, and not wait ‘til the last minute to plan your future. If it’s too late for that, don’t worry! G.I. Jobs has multiple resources to help you find the right career choice, and countless partners who are actively seeking to hire vets just like you!
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