Getting Started on Transition: What to Do While Still in Service

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So you’ve decided to take your talents to the civilian world. It’s a big decision, and now you’re equal parts excited and nervous. What can you do to get started on a job search while you still have months of military service left?

Here are six things to do that will make you competitive for jobs upon transition:

1. Identify your marketable skills. In the excitement and anticipation of entering the civilian world, it’s easy to imagine that employers will throw jobs at you because of your former-military awesomeness. That kind of mentality is tempting, partially because there are people who will actually tell you those things and because it conveniently lets you off the hook when it comes to working on your transition. But employers aren’t interested in hiring veterans because of patriotism, they want veterans because employees who can do the job, and who also have discipline and integrity, will help their company do better. The starting point is “can do the job,” and you’ll have to convince an employer you can do that before you’ll get any goodwill from your veteran status.

The bottom line? Sign up for TAP classes as early as you can – even a year or more before your EAS. Their instructors will help you define your job skills, identify jobs where you can claim to have experience, and teach you the lingo of job hunting so you can make a case for yourself beyond, “I’m a veteran!” Until you get into TAP, you can visit sites like this which spit out civilian equivalent jobs for your particular rating or MOS. Use TAP as the introduction for your job search skills, which you will likely need to develop while you still get a steady paycheck from the military.

2. Narrow your focus by deciding where you want to be, or what you want to do. When you first decide to transition, or “put in your papers,” the possibilities seem endless. And for many veterans, thinking about what they could do is an easy way to avoid the hard emotional work of figuring out what they want to do. As soon as you decide to make the transition, you should do some soul-searching with your family and loved ones about what’s important. It may be a certain kind of job, or a next level of education, or a specific location. Use that goal as a means to narrow your search for your next job or your education.

Many veterans are reluctant to narrow their job search because it feels like they will miss opportunities. But narrowing the search to a specific industry or location can be very helpful because it provides focus. It often takes several months of applications before a job offer pops up – several months of learning the priorities of civilian jobs, refining your resume, and attempting interviews – so beginning the process early and practicing for the particular opportunities you want is the surest way to accomplish a fast transition. “Keeping your options open” is usually a refusal to commit, and usually looks like a veteran who “shotguns” out a generic resume to hundreds of job postings and never gets a call back.

3. Research thoroughly the jobs in which you’re interested. Whether you’re focused on a location or an industry, you need to have a solid grasp of the job requirements for your target positions. Employers separate potential employees from pretenders by screening applications for candidates who either clearly know the job or have clearly researched it. It’s easy to tell the difference – serious job applicants answer each job requirement explicitly, while casual ones just put out their experiences and hope the employer connects the past experience to the available job. Employers are much more likely to interview someone they know is qualified, because they proved it in their resume, than they are to risk wasting time on someone who has impressive-sounding qualifications which may (or may not) apply to the available job.

4. If you need them, sign up to get classes or licenses. One thing your job research might turn up is that companies prefer employees to have additional qualifications. Perhaps it’s a commercial driver’s license, or a CPR qualification, or expertise in a particular field. Padding your resume like this before you leave has several advantages: first, it’s at very low cost or even free on most military bases; second, it gives you a marked advantage over civilian peers if you “hit the street” with more qualifications than they have; and third, it shows your commitment to self-improvement. And in case you missed it the first time, these classes are discounted or free on bases, and there are people to help you access your GI benefits to pay for such things if you want – none of which is true after you leave the service.

5. Apply for jobs. Veterans always have questions about when they should start applying for jobs. If they apply too early, employers who offer jobs might regard the wait for EAS as a deal-breaker. But if they apply too late, they may have a period of unemployment between the military and their first civilian job. How do you strike the perfect balance?

The answer is most often, you can’t. The advantage of applying early to jobs is that you can get practice tailoring your resume to specific positions and you can experience the interview process before it’s crunch time. Besides, if you are offered a job that you can’t take because you’re still in service, there’s always a chance that when you call back on terminal leave, they’ll have a spot for you. On the personal side, companies who are interested in candidates typically give out a lot more information about the position available and the company than you’ll find in a job posting, which will help you decide if you actually want the position in the first place. So regard the applications you make when you still have (hopefully) six or more months left in service as essential practice and networking.

6. Post your resume online. Job recruiters troll through thousands of online resumes looking to fill roles in their companies. Two of the biggest sites are LinkedIn.com and Indeed.com. There’s a reason why this is the last step in the pre-EAS transition journey, however: your resume won’t get picked up by a recruiter if it’s generic.

By the time you get to this step, you should have figured out your goal location or industry, learned enough about the particular lingo of your target jobs that you can write a resume that will stand out to an employer of those jobs, and combed through enough job postings to see what skills and qualifications are important. You will have practiced the art of connecting your experiences to the requirements of various jobs so that employers will see your military background as a predictor of success in the specific job they’re offering. And with those job-hunting skills developed, you can write a generic resume for the particular job you want.

Keep in mind, this “generic” resume is actually quite specific. It’s not tailored to a specific job posting, but rather to the “average” job posting in the industry you want. It says you’re in the location where you decided you want to end up. And it increases the odds that you’ll get a “cold call” out of the blue with interest for a job.


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