Are you so excited to get out of the military that you’ve forgotten to start your job search? Have you been told that nobody will offer you a job unless you can start right away? Do you figure that you’ll have time to apply to jobs during terminal leave, or after your EAS?
If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then you’re setting yourself up for a significant gap between your last military check and your first civilian check – and you might have to figure out how to support yourself in the interim. The following guidelines will help you avoid seeing any gaps between your service and civilian employment.
Keep an open mind regarding possible jobs. Many service members focus on one job when they transition – maybe it’s the job a friend or family member can give them; maybe it’s their dream job; maybe it’s the only work they see themselves doing in the location they want. For some, the civilian world looks so confusing (after experience in the military) that considering different jobs, in different locations, with different requirements is overwhelming – it’s just easier to focus on one thing. Unfortunately, not every job works out (even ones that were promised to you), so be ready to consider different locations to get a job you want, or different jobs for a location you want, or a combination of both to get the pay you want.
Start Early. Whatever you plan to do, start early – months (if not a year) before your EAS. Most service members, when they decide not to reenlist, have at least that much time before they transition. Use it wisely! Take your transition classes as soon as you can: they provide valuable tools for building a civilian-friendly resume and they have tools for finding jobs which require your specific experience and training. Another benefit of transition classes is their job-hunting resources. They teach you how to take advantage of preferential hiring programs for veterans, especially in federal agencies. Starting your job search early allows you time to pursue the jobs you want, whether in your dream industry or your dream location.
(Short on time to take full advantage of your transition classes? Check out our TAP Class Overview to catch up on the cliff notes!)
Take care of certification requirements before EAS. If you have a marketable hard skill in the military, such as vehicle maintenance, you’re in a good position to do the same kind of work in the civilian world. However, you can’t simply show up with your DD-214 and expect to be hired. For nearly every military-assigned MOS there’s a civilian certification, and most companies won’t hire you unless you have the civilian credentials. Fortunately, however, many military bases offer civilian certification courses (e.g. truck driving, heavy machinery, etc.) free to active military, which is a great opportunity to enter the civilian job market with both the appropriate credentials and solid experience. If you need a certification course that’s not offered on base (and costs money), it’s much easier to afford while you’re still drawing a military salary…and if you choose to pay for it with GI Bill benefits, it’s easier to negotiate that paperwork drill with the resources available to active service members.
Finally, many jobs require – or desire – that applicants have specific safety or medical training, such as CPR. Some of those classes are offered through service e-learning portals (e.g. Navy Knowledge Online); others are offered for free on base – and they’re another way to make sure that you step out into the civilian world as the most desirable candidate you can be.
Develop relationships with actual people. It’s easy to shotgun out a bunch of resumes to online job postings, but that’s also easy for every other schmuck who’s looking. Although recruiters do comb through online-submitted resumes, don’t count on your military experience being enough to make you stand out: there are lots of veterans trying to transition these days, and they mostly look for the same types of jobs; also, there’s always someone out there more impressive than you on paper. That guy who was in Special Forces, for example. Or that guy who already has 10 years in the industry. The moral here? You should try to speak to actual people at the jobs you want.
One of the best ways to start a relationship is calling to confirm they’ve received your resume. If you’re talking to an HR person or a manager, you can then tell them how you’re a transitioning veteran, that you’d really like to bring your skills to their business, and that you hope they give you consideration. That makes a much bigger impression on someone than a piece of paper, especially if you present yourself as eager, humble and willing to do what it takes to contribute (you can even point out that you’re taking certification and/or safety classes to show how motivated you are). Don’t be afraid to do this before your EAS, either: while most companies won’t hold a job for you, they will remember you when you actually do become available, and if they can’t use you themselves they might recommend you to another company.
Prepare for a date gap, just in case. As much as you try to get “all your ducks in a row” before receiving your DD-214, it’s fairly common to have some time off. So prepare for it by stocking up on terminal leave, saving money, and making plans to live inexpensively until you start working. A lot of veterans are surprised when they can’t get a job right away, and end up falling into the first thing that becomes available – and it’s much harder to search for your dream job when you’re trying to keep up with whatever pays the rent. Having a safety net gives you period of time worry-free, which you can use to attend interviews (with additional benefit of being able to start for potential employers right away) and make sure you take the best job available for you.
It’s tempting to treat your last year or months in the military as a sort of “senior spring,” where you can simply relax and enjoy the fact that you’re getting out soon. Rumors that civilians fall all over themselves to hire veterans certainly make that approach more attractive. It’s not that those rumors are false – many employers very much want veterans – but companies need employees with the right training and certifications, and the right attitude. So use your remaining time left in the military wisely. You’ll find that the work you put in will make a big difference when you get out.