By Ian Perkins
Think deeply about what you want to do before you separate, and have a well thought out plan on what you want to do. Do your research! Make a clear plan for what you want to do, and be clear about the steps you will need to complete it. This tip is number one for a reason, because it is truly the most important.
Plan as early as possible before your separation date on what you want to do once you make your transition back to civilian life. This may be attending a higher education institution, trade school or corporate education program. Planning as early as possible allows you to you meet application deadlines, financial aid/Post 9-11 G.I Bill submission due dates and any other necessary paperwork due dates. Also, planning early allows you the headspace to handle any unexpected hindrances that may arise.
Pay attention and take notes in your TAP (Transition Assistance Program).
Your TAP briefing has a wide range of information that is helpful in transitioning back to civilian life, so pay attention. It will cover veteran benefits, education assistance benefits, medical benefits, financial planning, health benefits, VA home loans and creating a transition plan. Knowing the ins and outs of these programs can aid you immensely once you’re out. Remember, you won’t be able to just pick up and drive back on base to get your questions answered. So, make sure you ask what you need and get answers before your date of separation.
Translate your skills into civilian rhetoric.
Many civilian hiring managers/HR departments do not understand the distinctive terminology used in the military. Help them out and take the time to update and revise your resume to make it easy for them to navigate. Identify and translate your valuable military skills to what employers are hungry to see in their potential employees. Don’t be afraid to consult online resources or hire a professional resume writer to update your resume. It’s a cheap and justifiable expense if it gets you in the door of the company you desire.
Save as much leave and money as possible before you separate.
Not a typical career tip, but quite an important one. Accumulating as much leave and money as possible helps you to ease the transition back into civilian life. Having some leave saved up before your separation date allows you to depart your home base early before your separation date. The same goes for your money situation. Having a nice cash cushion allows you to prepare for a number of months where you may not have any income coming in before you start a new job, begin university or training. In addition to paying for necessary expenses, it also protects you from any emergency situations that may arise during this possible financial lull. Doing this will also provide you with money for expenses associated with your new civilian career such as clothing (no more paid for uniforms for work), in addition to expenses accrued from moving to a new place.
Relax, decompress and mentally prepare for your transition from military to civilian life.
You have served your country valiantly, now it’s time to take a breather and prepare to return to civilian life. Military service requires a lot of you both mentally and physically. Civilian life is vastly different. Knowing in advance there may be some disorientation in the beginning can help you prepare for the transition. Entering your new job relaxed and decompressed allows you to integrate easier with your co-workers, managers and new team.
Always keep your resume up to date. Whenever you learn a new skill, software/app, procedure or win an award—update your resume. Doing this guarantees two things. First, that you can easily apply for any new jobs that may come up without having to fumble and recall all the projects and accomplishments you’ve had in your current position. Second, that you will always be aware of any short-comings or deficiencies that are relevant to your position that you may need to brush up on. Both of these updates and status checks will keep you aware of the latest skills and qualities needed to remain competitive in your career.
There will be times in your civilian career where you will be required to go above and beyond. Fortunately, you’re well adept to such working conditions. These situations may include, but are not limited to: working late consecutive nights, picking up extra duties, arriving early after working late and scrambling to get a project done because of an accelerated timeline. Because of the military, you’re uniquely adept to handling these tasks. Your ability to multitask and do so while not succumbing to the pressure makes you a tremendous asset to your team and company. While in your position, make it a point to always ask others if you can help and learn their jobs.
Keep your military hours.
Do you remember the saying? “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, you’re fired.” Keeping up your previous “military hours” will be helpful in staying efficient and successful in your civilian career. If you get to work early, you have the opportunity to sit down calmly and come up with an agenda to see you through your entire day. This is opposed to getting to work right at your start time and sifting through emails and tasks you need to complete as you see them, like a game of Whack-A-Mole.
Keep up with training and certifications just like you did in the military, even if it’s not required of you.
Staying up-to-date on certifications, new techniques, software and information pertinent to your job and responsibilities was a required cornerstone of your military responsibilities. You should continue that level of training frequency. Doing so will keep you sharp and knowledgeable while simultaneously keeping you ahead of your career peers.
Build out your network.
Your network can be comprised of job seeker groups, pro-military companies, job fair groups and even friends. Many companies have devoted applicant sections strictly for veterans. Once you’re added to these lists, you’ll receive emails about positions specially geared to veterans. You can also add yourself to veteran groups within LinkedIn and if you attended college, utilizing your alumni network is another great way to round up leads.
Depending on where you are (pre-separation or in career), these tips can help you carve out a good path to your new civilian career or help you get to that next level within the one you already have.
Ian Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago, Ill., and writes regularly on education, personal finance, lifestyle and a variety of other subjects. He is a United States Air Force veteran who graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in Journalism in 2013. In his free time, he enjoys nature, art and is a major film buff.