Transitioning from military to civilian life, and finding the right fit in the civilian workforce, can be a frustrating and trying experience. As I’ve learned firsthand, leaving the military isn’t just about finding a new job. It’s leaving everything you’ve known for years and entering into new territory.
Annually, in the Army alone, more than 100,000 soldiers make this transition. Of those, upwards of 3,000 exit from Fort Knox. This past year, I was one of them.
For each of us, it’s critical to understand the culture of the civilian workforce and how our skill sets are of value to civilian employers.
Veteran job seekers must learn how to showcase their military skills so that it makes sense and has value to potential civilian employers. Being able to do that on your resume and during interviews is critical for employers who may or may not clearly see the connections. While online translators might make this seem like a simple task, they often only help you tell part of the story specific to your military occupational specialty.
While veterans have extensive training and experience in in-demand fields such as logistics, healthcare, personnel and maintenance, among others, we also possess the soft skills that employers value. Being adaptable, taking initiative, working with a diverse team, leadership, dedication – these are all attributes veterans should showcase to employers as well.
In addition to understanding how military skills help civilian businesses succeed, it is equally important that transitioning service members take initiative and tap into the variety of resources available to them.
All branches of service have well developed transition support programs. The Army’s Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program is what I and all soldiers use. Supplementing that support with local and national resources, including web-based tools, can help make your transition even smoother.
Transitioning service members should create a LinkedIn profile and familiarize themselves with what has become an essential professional networking tool. That, along with regularly searching public and private job posting sites, is critical and something that should be done well before service members hang up their uniform.
One great local resource is Where Opportunity Knox, an initiative that connects transitioning services members and military spouses to jobs and the Greater Louisville Region. Their Regional Veteran Connectors provide highly personalized customer assistance, which was instrumental in helping me find the right job. To learn more about Where Opportunity Knox, go to www.whereopportunityknox.com.
Additionally, the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail offers no-cost priority services to veteran job seekers, from developing a career search strategy to providing job leads and much more. For more information on the career center’s veteran services, go to www.ltcareercenter.org/veterans.
One of the best sources I found for information on transitioning to civilian life was my fellow soldier. Throughout my retirement process, I met twice a month for an informal lunch with soldiers in different stages of the transition process. We shared advice and ideas, gaining invaluable insights from soldiers who were further along in the process. Mentorship is an inherent part of the military culture. If you’re transitioning, seek it out. Just because we’ve taken the uniform off doesn’t mean our role as mentor is over. Reach out to those coming along behind you.
And while the military is a close-knit bunch, that sometimes can be to our detriment if we don’t step outside our comfort zone and develop a civilian professional network. I’m doing that now but wish I had done it before. Where Opportunity Knox was a catalyst for that. Tapping into their professional network is key, but don’t wait.
Talk to people from the community. Seek out their civilian mentorship. Whether it is folks at church, parents of kids on your child’s athletic team or attending local chamber of commerce events, find ways to develop that network now. Most jobs aren’t found online, most are found through personal contacts. The larger your network, the greater your opportunities will be.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Virgil McCloud has a 35-year military career and now works as an operations manager at Houston-Johnson.