Two Years to Civilian: (Part 1)
Too often I am asked how soon one should actively start looking for a job when leaving the military. A transition is a process, moving from one stage to another. When transitioning out of the military, you must start early so you can begin building your personal brand as you navigate through the process.
Most service members know they will be transitioning from the military roughly two years prior to doing so. The three most important things you can do to help yourself in this transition are: have a degree, network and begin to build your personal brand. It’s also wise to start saving money during this two-year transition period.
Having a degree tells a future employer that you are are motivated to learn and have the skills to execute the position in question.
Earning a bachelor’s degree online has become easier than ever. With online classes, you are able to work at your own pace, depending on the school you choose to attend. Often you can finish a semester in half the time with just a little extra work and determination. In my opinion, a bachelor’s degree has become the new associate degree. It has become so widely available to the active duty service member that there is no reason not to obtain one. Just be sure to do your homework to ensure the school you are interested in attending has quality accreditation.
For those who already have a bachelor’s degree, get your master’s! A master’s degree only takes two years or less to complete. Since you are at the two-year starting point, now is the time to get that degree. I realize this will require some sacrifice from family time and military responsibilities. However, you must think of this two-year transition as a process that leads you to greener pastures. Get motivated and get that degree! After all, a degree can be the very thing that stands between you and your next career.
When you ask yourself which bachelor’s and/or master’s degree is right for you, you need to answer that for yourself. What do you love to do? What area of study is right for you? What have you been doing in the military that will benefit you for your next career? What do you plan to do for your next career? What will benefit your unique skills and abilities? Then make a choice that will bring success to you and your future career path.
Should you go to school after the military?
Choosing the school that is right for you can feel like a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. MilitaryFriendly.com has worked diligently to identify universities, colleges and trade schools across America that do the most to help military and veteran students succeed. These schools understand the challenges that arise for those working to complete schooling while still active duty and traveling the globe. The website helps you navigate through the process to find and compare schools best selected for you.
There are schools all across America that have programs specific to the needs and educational desires you seek. Not everyone will be a business major or a chemical engineer. I am not a business major, yet I run a business and a non-profit. So be sure to really research what you desire to do and choose a school that provides the best curriculum for it.
A degree, whether it be a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, will provide you with more options in your job search, as well as an increase in salary. As a transitioning service member, this can be a crucial ingredient for future success.
Benefits After the Military
There are numerous educational and vocational benefits available to military personnel. The key to finding what is out there for you is to be responsible for your own education. Be diligent in seeking what benefits the VA offers you. Ask questions. There is a saying, “Ask not, get not.” This is why you must actively seek the assistance and benefits you are eligible to receive. Most military friendly Schools have someone on campus who works specifically with military and veteran students and is able to answer questions regarding that school’s specific assistance programs. I highly recommend finding out what your benefits include and using them when selecting your school of choice. You can research your benefits at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. If you are active duty and using Tuition Assistance, visit your installation education center.
Also, keep in mind there are schools that take military service and life lessons as college credit hours. This is a huge deal for those looking to complete a bachelor within a two-year period. The key is actively pursuing your degree and doing what it takes to make it happen. It is possible to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree before transitioning out of the military.
Throughout your years in the military, you have been told not to use social media and/or share photos, or your military experience with the outside world. This is all true. However, you now need to also focus on what is coming next for your life and how to translate your military experience into words so that you can articulate this to others you wish to be in business with.
If you do not have a LinkedIn profile, get one! If you have a profile, make it stand out.
Get a professional photo of yourself from the chest up, be sure to smile, do not wear a hat or sunglasses, and be well-groomed. Do not use a logo for your picture. Your photo is important when hiring managers are searching for you, and trust me, they will be. Your name should only have your professional name. No call signs, nicknames or anything of that nature needs to be in your name.
The title should be used to tell those looking at your profile what your hard skills and career path may be, such as “Project Management,” Operations Specialist” and “Engineering.” The title is very important. Do not waste it by filling it with soft skills such as, “Team Leader,” “Energetic,” “Open to new things” and even “Transitioning.” This does not tell someone viewing your profile what you do. A well-equipped LinkedIn profile is vital to you, whether you think so or not. In the first 3 seconds, a potential employer should be able to get the straight-forward hard facts about you, not the fluff.
The summary should tell a viewer about your experience in civilian terminology. A transitioning veteran’s summary should mirror your resume summary (I will get to resume writing in part 2).
When adding your work experience on LinkedIn, if you have worked for the U.S. Navy or any other U.S. governmental department the entire time, there is no need to write U.S. Navy five times due to a position change. You will simply add the last position, total number of years spent, and under description, you can list all other positions and a brief. This keeps a cohesive smooth flow for the reader.
If you have only gone to high school, that is wonderful, but leave it off your resume. The education portion for a transitioning service member is for degrees or other credentials received from a qualified institution of higher learning. To be in the military you would have had to have completed high school with either a GED or diploma. (This has now changed and only a diploma is accepted now.) You would have also obtained certifications and training. So a high school diploma is simply unnecessary for your profile.
LinkedIn was created to network and connect. Do not be shy! Reach out and connect to whomever you feel would be someone worth connecting with. Send them a message. Ask them questions. That is what LinkedIn was created for. Not everyone will get back to you; that is OK. The ones that do will help you begin to build your network and find what it is you desire to do. You are always one connection away from everyone in the world … imagine the possibilities. Learn more about LinkedIn For Veterans below.
Be pro-active in seeking local events in your areas at which you can network. Create and print business cards for yourself. They do not need a company; simply your name, phone number, a personal professional email, and one to three key features about yourself, e.g. “Risk Management,” “Protection,” “Security Specialist.” Put on a new suit, go to these events and mingle. Ask questions, learn from others and begin making connections to help you transition into that new career once you have left the military. After an event, follow up with those you have made connections with and form a relationship. This type of networking makes for great practice at interview time! Interviewing is very important.
Job Search Engines
If you are reading this article, then it is safe to say you are already searching for help. Job search engines that specialize in helping veterans are a huge benefit and can lead you to that next career in more ways than one. G.I. Jobs was created with you in mind. They have found employers who recruit veterans. These job search engines have also worked hard to compile helpful tools and a large network that is ready and able to work with you in order to help you be successful in your transition. Check out our job board for veterans to see who is actively hiring veterans.
Abilities & Skills
Every person is unique and holds specific abilities and skills. Every individual also has character, personal ethics, and desires for his or her future. When you put these things together you are presented with your individualized personal brand that sets you apart from everyone else. The secret to this is discovering what makes you special! For some, it is easy to decide what they want to do and how to get there. Others may need some help figuring it out. The two-year transition is the perfect time to begin discovering what sets you apart and how to make those characteristics shine!
In the military, you did many different jobs that taught you how to operate under pressure and navigate through challenging situations with ease. Along the way, you went through situations and challenges that, though done with a team, can still be viewed from your individual perspective that your fellow team members do not share. You did a specific job that contributed to the success of that mission. These are the things you need to bring to light. You can be a part of a team, but you can still shine and stand out for your contribution to the project.
I have found that many transitioning veterans do not feel comfortable promoting themselves because they feel they may be in some way taking full credit for a job or making themselves out to be better than those whom they worked alongside of. Sure, there are those out there who do that, but this is not the same as personally branding yourself. Personal branding simply highlights your own unique qualities, abilities, desires, and achievements, and promotes how you contributed to the success of a whole. In business, you want people who work well on a team but bring their own personal flair to the table. When you bring your specialized brand to a team, you then can work together to bring about even bigger success.
I’ll use what I do as an example. I write resumes for the transitioning veteran, help him with brand management and provide tools, tips and networking connections where needed to better help in the advancement of his next career. I am often asked why I do not do other things in regard to the transitioning veteran. My answer is simple. “It takes a village. I stay in my lane and give the veterans the best possible version of me that I can, based on my professional expertise.” I am contributing my special skills at the same time that I am part of the larger effort of easing transitions.
Communication is a big deal when you are trying to navigate the waters of new territory. Corporate America is foreign to most service members transitioning from the military. Learning how to communicate who you are and what you bring to the table is key. It will take trial and error, time and practice. This is why starting early is best. Attending networking events will help you learn some dos and don’ts, as well as asking questions. Finding mentors can be a great help to you if you are willing to approach them and ask for help. There are people all over the U.S. in corporate America who are always willing and able to lend sound advice to help you in the process of transition. All you have to do is ask! Be confident in who you are and what you have done. Be sure to also be humble; hot heads rarely become successful due to their own ego getting in the way of growing and learning. You can never grow and learn enough. Stay determined to use communication as a tool to grow and learn each and every day so that when the time comes for you to interview and land that dream job, it is more than achievable – it’s a reality.
Communication is a large part of how you learn to translate yourself from military jargon to civilian terminology. As you begin to communicate with new connections, you will learn and find better ways to relay what it is you want them to learn about you, as well as understand what you are capable of doing without using words and acronyms they have never heard before.
Taking a speech and communications class at the local college wouldn’t be such a bad idea either. Find a night class or day class that works for your schedule and sign up.
The more you talk and learn from those you are connecting with the more you will find yourself coming into your own personal brand. You will find yourself saying over and over who you are and what you do, and as you do this, you will become more confident and aware as to the clear direction you want to go.
In the military, you wore a uniform every day. If you think about a suit as a uniform you will be sure to wear an up-to-date suit, clean and polished shoes, and be sure you are professionally groomed. With that said, you wouldn’t have gone to the office in the military with an out-of-season uniform or an out-of-date style. You want to consider the same things when getting dressed for interviews and, once hired, the daily grind. Throw out the old suits that have been sitting in the back of your closet collecting dust. Invest in something new that will help in branding yourself as the success-driven enthusiastic leader that you truly are! If you do not have the funds to do this, there are foundations all over the U.S. helping transitioning veterans purchase or provide a new suit. One of my favorite organizations is SuitingWarriors.org. The founder was in fashion prior to founding Suiting Warriors and is married to an ex-Navy SEAL. She really knows how to make a veteran look like a million bucks!
Be sure to consider not just the clothing, but the shoes, hair, face and nails. You want to look your best from head to toe. If you have tattoos, consider ways to cover them for an interview. Your military tattoos are awesome but can distract from interviews and daily work once hired.
I recommend appearance early in the transition for numerous reason. First off, it can be a challenge to discover your personal brand and make the changes to your appearance due to having to step out of your comfort zone all of a sudden. You want to feel comfortable and confident in who you are. Secondly, it may take time, to build up a new wardrobe full of goodies that help make your personal brand really stand out in the crowd. Money is a consideration here, so I understand this takes time. Thirdly, as you evolve into your civilian corporate American self, your style may change and you may find you like some of the new trends that you had not cared for in the past until trying them on. Be sure to try new things when it comes to apparel. Sometimes something does not look great to you on a hanger, but once you try it on, you feel and look like a million bucks. After all, that is your goal! Happy shopping!
By: Jena Muller is the CEO & Founder of Trident Transitions Veteran Foundation and Director of Development for Elite Meet out of New York City. She has been a part of the US Navy SEAL community since 2006 and is an intricate part of the transitioning Special Operation Force community. With 13+ years of success-driven experience in resume/CV writing and brand management and consulting, she is bridging the gap between military and Corporate America. Jena is passionate about the success of the SOF community after the military and works tirelessly to ensure their success. She is always open to collaborate with like-minded organizations in order to assist elite military veterans into highly competitive job markets.