What About Bob? My Transition Update.

Ok, so it’s been a month and half since my last posting and I think that’s far too long.  I do have some other ideas bopping around in my head based on the lessons I’ve learned thus far and I look forward to getting those out very soon.  In the meantime, here’s a bit of personal update.

After quite a bit of thought we’ve decided that “home” is North Carolina, so we will be returning to the house we own down there after my separation.  Once this decision was made it meant that the job focus would be in that direction.  It also meant having to say, “No thank you” to at least two organizations here in Baltimore that were actively pursuing my services.  One position was as a recruiter, and another working for a local university.  It was definitely tough to do that, especially since both organizations are true class acts.

This meant both my wife and I would need to focus our job search on a location other than our current area.  Thank goodness for the internet!  I’ve subscribed to a number of job boards which means frequent email updates, mostly about positions that I either don’t want, or aren’t qualified for, but inside those emails are also postings from organizations that are truly in the market for my skills (recruiter/trainer)..

The past few weeks I’ve certainly run the gamut of emotions; frustration at not getting calls, elation at getting a call, anticipation waiting on an answer, excitement as I prepared for the interview, and then a little disappointment finding out that I was not selected for a position I really wanted.  I will say, however, that the interview process both on the phone and in person was very well done by the organization that considered me and I learned a lot from the experience.  But I’ve now learned first hand that second place on a job interview is not success.

In addition to hunting for jobs, I also passed the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification exam  last week.  This involved quite a bit of study time, usually in the early hours before work, which was typically my blogging time, hence the lack of posts recently.  Attaining this certification before I got of the Navy was a personal goal I had set, so for that, I’m definitely proud of myself.

Speaking at the ClearedJobs.net Career Fair with Chrissa Dockendorf on May 8 2014 in Washington, DC.

Speaking at the ClearedJobs.net Career Fair with Chrissa Dockendorf on May 8 2014 in Washington, DC.

I’ve also been afforded opportunities to participate in some formal presentations on veteran hiring issues.  Last month I partnered with a terrific local recruiter by the name of Chrissa Dockendorf  to speak to other HR professionals about ways in which private organizations can better access the veteran talent pool.

This went so well that we did another round of the presentations at a job fair in Washington, DC. This time, however we be spoke to transitioning veterans instead of recruiters. I’m happy to say that both the morning and the afternoon session were very successful. This was my last hurrah working (at least in person) with some really great individuals associated with Clearedjobs.net.  I highly recommend them for anyone seeking work in the super-secret, cleared, cyber/intel communities.

My retirement ceremony is also quickly approaching (May 22, 2014) and this has become its own little job.  I’ve completed my final physical, and have all the moving parts in place for a great ceremony.  It’s certainly more work than I realized. My orders have not yet posted, which I need in order to set up my household goods. A delay of much more than another week could end up pushing our ability to completely move our furniture before our lease expires. Even to the end it seems, the military is still “hurry up and wait.”

So as you can see, it’s been a busy couple of months. I do have quite a few topics that I will address individually, many based on the experiences mentioned above, and will do so soon.

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Use Your Last Duty Station As A Springboard For Success

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.

Organizations like Beers and Careers are prime opportunities for military members to network with their civilian counterparts.

Organizations like “Beers and Careers” are prime opportunities for military members to network with their civilian counterparts.

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.

How long will veterans be trendy?

Right now it’s cool to be a veteran, at least in some ways.  Organizations are spending a lot of time and money to cast their nets far and wide to find veteran talent.  Not only are they doing this, but in many ways they do it very publicly, especially around Veterans Day.

One thing we can’t lose sight of, however, is that they are searching for Veteran Talent….two words there….Veteran AND Talent.  At some point we as a group will not be the “in thing”, and once that happens many of those organizations will revert back to just looking for talent. The other focus is to find said talent quickly and efficiently. After all, it’s really about the bottom the line.

The military will continue to be a great place for young people in America to master the skills that organizations need, but we will  never have a monopoly on producing that kind of person. Civilian colleges and trade schools exist for the explicit purpose of making individuals employable. Not so with the military, future employability is just a by-product with us.  The recruiter may have told you will be able to master the skills that companies are looking for, and while that is in fact the case,  it’s not the whole story. The truth is, the military really provides you with great opportunities. Some people take advantage of them better than others.

Remember- It’s not about being a veteran, it’s about making the case to a potential employer that you have a talent that they can use.  When this “Veteran Hiring Craze”  dies down, it will be even more critical that veterans reach out and initiate those conversations with people in the civilian sector.  I hope those currently serving understand this and are preparing themselves appropriately.