It’s interesting how many of our fellow veterans don’t understand the enormity of leaving the military and fail to prepare themselves for the inevitable next phase in life. Leaving the military is as big of an event as entering the military, but with more at stake, in my opinion. When we enter the military, we have a lot of help along the way, from the eager recruiters to the campaign hat-cladded trainers who are there to greet us at the respective basic military training locations across the services. Sadly, we don’t have that level of assistance when we leave the military. This is why planning well ahead of time is critical to what life looks like after the military. Once I decided to leave the military, I made a plan because I didn’t want to fail myself or my family. The plan wasn’t perfect and changed a few times in the process.
My Advice: Start Early
I separated from active duty in November 2015, but I started planning out my life after the military in 2013. The first thing I did was decided where my family and I would live. There were some early discussions about moving to Dallas, but we ultimately decided to stay in the San Antonio area. The decision was partially based on the industry for which I was targeting jobs, as well as other quality-of-life opportunities for veterans. However, the main reasons were due to the fact that my wife had an established job and that the cost of living in the San Antonio area was lower than Dallas.
A key preparation step I took was attending the Soldier for Life-TAP briefings over a year before my ETS date. This allowed me to get that information and put it into practice very early, including résumé writing strategies. I started to apply for jobs about a year out, knowing that it was unlikely that I would get hired with that much time left in service. However, the early job search did give me chances to work on my interview skills with real employers (more on this below). Ultimately, I was able to start working less than a week after my transition leave began, which allowed me to get paid from the military and my new employer during that period of time.
My Advice: Practice Makes Prepared
Speaking of interviews, never underestimate the power of preparation. This could be done by doing mock interviews with family and friends, but the best preparation is interviewing with real employers. Interviews should also be looked at as a process instead of a single event. Before the interview, make sure your chosen outfit is presentable and professional. Additionally, if you know your interviewer by name, do a little recon on the person and try to find some commonality that you can bring up as an icebreaker. During the interview, be clear and confident in your answers, but don’t tell lies in an attempt to impress the interviewer. Just be yourself. After the interview, solicit feedback by asking if there are concerns about your ability to do the job and address those concerns on the spot. Lastly, be sure to send a “thank you” email to the interviewer either later that day or the next morning. It’s a small but mighty gesture.
My Advice: Expect to Help Others
It’s understandable that self-preservation becomes a factor when leaving the military. You deserve to be a little selfish during this process. However, as you settle into post-military life, don’t forget that thousands of people are leaving the military on any given day. If you think you can offer some advice or best practices to those who come after you, you should definitely consider putting yourself out there as a resource for those brothers and sisters in arms. Just because you’re no longer in the military doesn’t mean you can’t offer mentorship or a listening ear to that service member as they hang up the uniform, especially if someone helped you along the way. In other words, pay it forward.