Serving in the Armed Forces is one of the most rewarding and honorable paths an American citizen can take. But eventually, a military member's tour of duty ends, and he or she must begin to make the transition back to civilian life.
Many studies have shown that veterans have a more difficult time than the average citizen in looking for and securing a civilian career. According to IT industry trade association CompTIA's recent Military Career Path Study, 60 percent of veterans have encountered difficulties in finding a job that matches their skill and experience levels, and less than half of employed veterans feel satisfied with their current career progress. Despite these statistics, active-duty personnel don't have realistic expectations for their post-military careers.
"Our study explored opinions among active-duty personnel, asking them to anticipate potential challenges [of] transitioning to a civilian role, as well as the opinions of military veterans already in the civilian workforce," said Todd Thibodaux, president and CEO of CompTIA. "In nearly every situation, the actual challenge as rated by veterans exceeded the anticipated challenge as rated by active-duty personnel."
For example, the CompTIA survey found that 27 percent of active-duty personnel anticipate a future challenge in translating military skills and experience to civilian occupations, while 47 percent of veterans reported experiencing some degree of difficulty in this area. There is also a gap in expectations when it comes to meeting salary requirements: 53 percent of veterans faced a challenge in getting the salary they needed, while just 39 percent of active-duty personnel foresaw an issue with receiving their required compensation in the private sector. [The 8 Best Jobs for Military Veterans]
"Given the significant gap in perceptions, it may signal a need to better inform active-duty personnel of the realities of transitioning to civilian occupations," Thibodaux said.
As an Army veteran, entrepreneur Jerry Flanagan knows from personal experience how hard it can be for former military members to find their footing after leaving the service.
"Active-duty personnel want to get a job in their Military Occupational Specialty or field, go school or simply try to open their own business," said Flanagan, whose franchise JDog Junk Removal is available only to active or former military members and their families. "The reality is, the job market is tough and very competitive. Going to school can be costly and does not provide an income to cover living expenses. Opening your own business can be riskyunless you buy into a franchise system."
For this reason, current service men and women need to start thinking about their civilian careers well before they become veterans. Lida Citroën, brand marketing consultant and author of "Your Next Mission: A Personal Branding Guide for the Military-To-Civilian Transition" (Palisades Publishing/LIDA360, 2014), believes that the best way to jump-start the eventual civilian job search is learning how to network and brand yourself in a civilian work environment.
"[Veterans] feel unprepared not only for the cultures they're going into, but how to show up and fit in," Citroën told Business News Daily. "The military supports a 'we' culture. It's not about the individual, but the unit and its mission. They don't know how to talk about themselves [to hiring managers]."
While networking and personal branding may feel unnatural to the military community, Citroën noted that these skills will ultimately help them get hired after they leave the service.
"Your résumé is an important tool, but it's not the only tool," Citroën said. "Prepare yourself as far in advance as you can for the transition [to civilian life]. Take inventory of your personal assets — what kinds of people are going to find [your skills] compelling? Personal branding isn't about bragging. It's about articulating your value to get the position you want."
The most critical part of developing a personal brand is translating your skill set from military jargon to the keywords that private-sector companies are accustomed to. Flanagan agreed that focusing on your marketable skills is a good idea, as is researching veteran-specific communities and opportunities while you're still in the service.
"There aremilitary-friendly websites that provide competitive advantages for returning veterans," Flanagan said. "Attend veteran job fairs, and pursue all veteran-friendly opportunities. For example, companies that cater to veterans, like JDog Junk Removal, provide extensive training and support so that each employee succeeds within their civilian community."
Thibodaux noted that less than 10 percent of active-duty personnel surveyed by CompTIA felt completely confident that their existing skill sets would sustain them throughout the rest of their careers. He advised current military members to set aside more time for training; participate in "refresher" training to reinforce past learning and stay current with skills; look for cross-training opportunities with other disciplines, units or branches of the military; and look for training opportunities that are aligned with future career goals.
Once you're out of the service, you should start your job search as soon as possible by making connections in your desired field.
"Getting out and meeting people is very important," Citroën said. "That's available to you the day after you leave the service. Go to networking and industry events in your community. Practice your personal elevator pitch, and get it down pat. Do the research, and have your LinkedIn profile and résumé ready."
Originally published on Business News Daily.