Having a plan for your transition is paramount. Knowing where you want to go and how to get there is the best way to transition from military to civilian life.
However, these can be difficult questions to answer. In the military we chose, or in some cases were given, an MOS or rate and followed strict guidelines for advancement. Everything we needed to do – every task, specialized training mission and school that we needed to attend in order to advance – was laid out in front of us. Now, that is all gone. It is incredibly stressful to figure out a plan to advance in a certain career, especially when we do not even know that the tasks we are completing in order to advance will truly help us to do so. Luckily, we have a valuable tool to help us: career counselors.
What is a career counselor?
A career counselor may work at your college or university, your company, or even at the VA. As a former PO3 in the Coast Guard, I equate a career counselor to a combination of my E-6, my E-8, and my Command Master Chief (Command Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army). Career counselors replicate the duties of a CMC or CSM in that they are not part of your chain of command, but they are there to help you with career or advancement advice.
Why should I utilize a career counselor?
In this quickly changing society and career climate many people have the fear that the training you are now going through will be obsolete by the time you try to apply it to career advancement. Career counselors are trained to help you create a plan for job selection or advancement that will be relevant in the coming years. The worst thing any one of us can do is spend our time and money fulfilling prerequisites for a job that gets changed prior to our application. A career counselor will help you select prerequisites that will be timeless.
Counselors also have a broad understanding of what kind of work is involved with specific positions. This is important, because as you know a certain position may sound like it involves a specific kind of work when in reality it is something completely different. For example, for someone who has not done his or her research, Military Police (MP) may sound like a type of public law enforcement officer, when in fact it is a law enforcement officer over military personnel and military installations.
Discharge or retirement from the military is a big change, and no soldier is an expert in civilian work structure. Utilizing a career counselor will give you access to a person who knows the inner workings of your organization or field of work.
Finally, using a career counselor will give a plan for success. Working together with a trained individual who is not in your chain of command will give you access to an advocate whose only goal is to help you succeed. Unfortunately, seeking advice from your manager or supervisor may not be as helpful. If you are an excellent worker, a manager or supervisor may have a hidden agenda to keep you working for him or her. Since career counselors are not affected in the same way by your day-to-day activities, you can trust that their sole mission is to help you advance.
How do I access a career counselor?
There are many different ways to receive career counseling. If you are currently a student at a college or a university, then your school should have a career counselor that you can make an appointment with. If you are currently employed, your company or organization may have a counselor available. As a veteran, though, there are two distinct ways to receive career counseling geared specifically toward veterans.
The first way to do this is through vocational rehabilitation and employment (Chapter 31). Chapter 31 is a benefit for disabled veterans who have a service-connected disability that prevents the veteran from gaining employment. Chapter 31 offers much more than just career counseling, including funding for schooling or training.
The second way to receive career counseling specific to veterans is through Chapter 36: educational and vocational counseling. Individuals qualify for Chapter 36 if they meet one of four criteria: you will discharge from active duty within the next six months; you have been discharged from active duty within the last year; you currently receive any other education benefit from the VA; or you are eligible to receive any other education benefit from the VA. You must apply for Chapter 36.
Career counselors offer insights and recommendations to better improve yourself. Counselors help people to identify goals and chose paths that will ultimately lead to those goals. There are many different ways to utilize these services between your school, your workplace or at the VA. Using all the services available to you, including career counselors, in your endeavors will put you on a path to success.