Transition. It’s the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. In the case of the veteran we know where we start (active duty) and we know where we want to end up (employed), but anyone who thinks they can wait until their final year in the service to begin planning is setting themselves up for an uphill battle. The sooner one knows they will be leaving the service the sooner they can make career decisions that can help to soften their landing into the private sector. Your last set of orders can be crucial.
The location and job description of the service members last tour on active duty has the potential to be tremendous advantage. While no single location can guarantee success, nor is it an obstacle too tough to overcome, the following factors should be considered as a service member approaches their final tour. Doing so can certainly make things easier.
1- Do the kind of work on your last tour that you would like to do in the private sector. The military has knack for exposing us to lots of different situations and using all of our talents. A military member may be trained to work as a technician on a specific system or piece of machinery, but after doing that job for a number of years you may be asked to do a completely different job for a time period. Each branch has a genuine need for recruiters, trainers, career planners, etc. but if your plans are to work in the technical field after the military, you will want your most recent resume achievements to reflect that work. Technology changes quick, don’t run the risk of NOT being able to talk smartly in an interview about the latest and greatest issues in your field of expertise.
In a similar sense, operational tours are tougher to retire from, as the nature of your work can be the most difficult to translate. Although these tours are often the most personally rewarding, spending your last year preparing for and then executing a deployment is filled with some of the most unique challenges the military has to offer. These are the toughest for the civilian hiring manager to comprehend. The simple logistics involved with producing and delivering 64 performance evaluations (on time) is quite a bit different in a combat zone than in garrison, for example. The more your last job naturally translates, the better.
2- Go to where the people are. A network is something you build before you need it and the more you expand that network to include nonmilitary people, the more prepared you’ll be for your transition. Many veterans make the process of finding employment more difficult because they don’t know how to talk to civilians. Taking orders to a job near a larger metropolitan area can be a great way to break out of the “military bubble” while still maintaining the security of a steady paycheck. This can be particularly important if a large portion of your career was spent in smaller, more isolated, military towns.
Networking with civilians in your field is critical to avoiding false assumptions about what it takes to find employment. You will even find that there are actual organizations dedicated to connecting people, but these tend to exist in the bigger cities.
For example, I recently met a gentleman by the name of Josh Shapiro. He is the founder of one such organization known as Beers and Careers. His mission is to connect people in similar career fields in low stress, social environments. The business model is more than just bringing any group of people together, his focus is on bringing people from similar industries together. These events offer outstanding opportunities for current military members to interact with their civilian counterparts well before they start the actual job hunt and can also help those already out of the military connect with possible employers.
If you’re a service member who feels isolated in your military community, I’d recommend hitting up some events like these, even if it meant making a short road trip. Take a couple of friends from the shop, get a hotel near the event, see some sights, and then hang out at bar for a few hours. I can think of a lot worse ways of career development. Believe it or not, your presence at these events is good for all veterans, because not only are you learning about the private sector, those in the private sector are learning about the military. You are helping to build bridges that will help us all. So don’t be afraid to tell some (appropriate) seas stories.
I’m not saying that everyone must have the right job, in the right location, for a successful transition. The factors above, however, should certainly be considered when negotiating your last set of orders. I also believe the tips above can help service members avoid going on the “ROAD program” (For those unaware ROAD is Retired On Active Duty, and it’s an unofficial acronym used to describe someone who no longer cares about their current job because they are about to get of the service) . If a service member is working in the same field they hope to eventually find civilian employment , they will be more inclined to produce tangible results. That’s good for all parties involved.