For the last half of 2014, veteran unemployment was at or lower than civilian unemployment. In fact, many would argue there is no veteran unemployment crisis in this country, and while I agree, this is only half the story. For the most part, veterans who want jobs have jobs. Hence the key word jobs, not careers. The bigger issue is veteran underemployment.
Today’s Armed Forces are the most educated, well-trained, and dedicated military our country has ever seen. There are countless reasons why organizations benefit from hiring veterans, ranging from tax breaks to the knowledge that they are hiring the cream of the crop in the job market. Companies realize this and, without a doubt, are hiring veterans. Although veterans are working, in most cases, they are not working in jobs and positions that reflect their true potential and we as veterans are partially to blame.
I recently had a lengthy discussion with a military veteran who just weeks ago retired after over 20 years of service. This senior NCO had done some amazing things over the course of his career, but the one thing he did not do is prepare himself for life after the service. Because he was part of the drawdown, his retirement basically snuck up on him. He is not alone. Despite the military’s best efforts to prepare transitioners, so many veterans leave the service without a solid exit plan.
Here are some key strategic errors many transitioners make that leaves them underemployed:
Timing. Whether you are entering government service or corporate America, you must understand that the hiring process is lengthy. The time from initial application, interview, and hire can take three to six months or longer. So what does this mean? It means you have to apply backwards planning to your transition plan.
For example, let’s say your discharge or retirement date is 1 August, with terminal leave starting 31 June. Let’s say you want to take a couple of weeks to rest and relax after transition, and you want to start work on or about 15 July. This should tell you to start applying for jobs as early as January. Waiting until June is way too late.
So how does poor timing lead to underemployment? First, as your transition date gets closer, you might be pressured to take the first thing that comes along regardless of pay and benefits. After all, it’s a job. You might also be willing to accept a job well below your pay grade until something better comes along. Not much of a plan, is it?
Education. It’s no surprise, more education is directly related to a larger annual income. Furthermore, a person with a high school diploma is far more likely to be laid off than a person with a bachelors degree, and far more likely to have longer gaps of unemployment.
Whether you stayed in the military for four years or 20 years, there is no excuse for not completing a degree. With the GI Bill, tuition assistance, and loan repayment, the military is basically giving away a free education. If you choose not to take advantage of those programs, you will be facing underemployment. It’s great that you were a Platoon Sergeant who led men into combat, but if the job you want requires a degree and you don’t have one, then what?
Some companies will take military service over a degree, but don’t count on it. Don’t give a company a reason not to hire you. Make an educational plan early in your military career and execute.
Resume. Veterans accomplish a great number of things while in uniform, but many do a poor job of capturing it on a resume. A civilian recruiter or hiring manager may not know what a squad leader is, so why would you list it on a resume? “Squadron Commander” may be a key phrase for you, but the person, or computer, screening your resume has no clue what that is.
Resumes must be tailored for the job you are applying to and free of military jargon. It needs to be free from spelling and grammatical errors. It needs to be “civilianized” for corporate America and in a completely different format when applying for federal government jobs.
Professional On-line Profile. Most people have social media pages. No matter how private you “think” your social media page is remember this… it’s not! Potential employers regularly review social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and others. This is common practice and NOT a practice just reserved for potential employees who will need background checks.
It’s great that your LinkedIn profile picture is of you in your dress uniform, but could that cause a barrier between the hiring manager that knows nothing about military service, or a corporate recruiter intimidated by all the medals and badges? I like the Facebook profile picture of you having a hefeweizen in Heidelberg, but what would a potential employer think? The picture of you and your team in full body armor with your M4 slung across your chest in front of a LAV-25 is sweet, but could it scare a hiring manager?
As you prepare to transition and start the job application process, think about your online profile. Think about it through the eyes of a recruiter. Think about it through the eyes of a hiring manager. If you need to clean it up, clean it up!
Mind Set. It’s outstanding that you’re a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant. I am proud of you for retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel or Navy Commander. Thank you for your service. I hate to break it to you though, your rank does not matter to anyone outside the military.
Just because you were a Brigade Command Sergeant Major does not entitle you automatically to a six figure corporate salary. If you are lucky enough to land that job, congratulations. For everyone else, you are starting over and need to understand that.
I am not saying you should apply for entry level positions and be underemployed, I am merely stating you must have realistic expectations of the job market and realistic expectations of the level of jobs you should be applying to. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for frustration and might find yourself in a position where you have to take the first thing that comes along.
Lets imagine for a moment that you are one of those who did not serve in the military. After 10 or 20 years of doing one kind of job you decide to change to a new career field. Virtually the same thing would apply to that civilian, they would have to have realistic expectations. If you were a senior software developer and then decided to get into automotive design you are not likely to head an automotive design team right off the bat.
The key take away here is whether you spent four years or twenty four years in the service, you must have a plan to “rebrand” yourself. Although you are a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine for life, one day you will be a civilian. It’s never too late to plan for life after the military.
~ Article written by Jason Caswell, Forward March Inc – Director of Training and Talent Pipeline Services