The time has come to leave the military. Some are retiring, some are choosing not to re-enlist, some are medically separating, and some are leaving due to troop cutbacks. Whatever the reason, it’s time to start planning. And, if you are reading this and thinking “We have years left before retirement,” trust me, some of these things can be started now. You will thank me later.
10. Start Networking
Hopefully you’ve already been cultivating a network while in uniform. Yesterday was the time to solidify this, so if you haven’t start NOW! Write down some names and phone numbers. Reconnect with friends from years ago. It’s great to do this now, while you have easy access to DOD Networks. Also, start thinking about your social networking. My favorite social networking site is LinkedIn. It’s excellent and a great way to cultivate contacts with contractors and other businesses. It’s also good for allowing your resume to be searched by recruiters, but we’ll get to that. Here is an important thing to remember about social networking: No matter your security settings, people will find you on Facebook, so make sure what they are finding is professional. Clean up your online presence! Look at what groups you are a part of and what pages you are following. 83% of companies are hiring based on social networks and referrals. So, get that network up and ready.
Yes, you may be planning on living on the retirement check, or VA Benefits, or your (spouse’s) income, but you still need to be prepared. As part of the 5-Day VOW Program (Veterans Opportunity to Work), your service member will be required to attend a Financial Planning Class. This helps you figure out your budget for at least the year immediately following your separation from the military. A lot of retirees find this part to be silly, as they’re already prepared for this stage in their life. However, you can utilize this time as a refresher and consider using the time to mentor a younger service member who may not be prepared. Either way, finances need to be in order; lots of things need to be considered. Check out the GI Jobs Calculator to see what you need to make as a civilian to equal your military pay and benefits.
8. Location, Location, Location
For the first time, perhaps in over 20 years, you get to choose where you live! What an overwhelming decision! (Mostly I think it’s hard because if you don’t like it you can’t blame the military again.) Some key things to keep in mind are cost-of-living, traffic, schools, and property taxes. The choice may be easy if you have family you’d like to live near, or if you already own a house. If you’re like me, I’ve lived quite a few places and while I haven’t decided where I’d like to put down roots, I’ve certainly ruled out places. Take the time to start researching and visiting. Make a list of what you want in an area and then find places that fit. Consider jobs in that area, industry trends, housing markets, and of course, weather. You don’t have to settle in one place for the rest of your life, but it would certainly be easier if you liked the place you picked first.
7. VA Benefits
One of the things that may help you determine where you live and what career path you take is the VA Benefits you expect to receive. You can start filing for benefits and talking to a VA representative 180 days before you leave the military. If you don’t have that much time before you separate you can also file under the Quick Start Program, which begins at 60 days out. One of the misconceptions of the VA is that the system is extremely backlogged. The backlog is only for those veterans who are already out of the military and are re-filing or appealing their results. The program that current service members file under is right on track. Attend the VA Benefits Briefing that comes as part of the 5-Day VOW Program so that you can start filing at your 6 month mark. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid of what rating the VA gives you, as you can always appeal.
6. Buy a Suit
I fully believe everyone should have a good suit ready to go in the closet at all times. And no, your dress uniform doesn’t count. In fact, just so we’re clear, you cannot wear any part of your dress uniform to an interview. Ever. No exceptions. Now that we have that cleared up… start preparing. Suits can be expensive, so start saving. Visit a department store: Burlington Coat Factory, Marshalls, etc. and start trying things on. Don’t forget to check out second hand and thrift stores. You may be surprised to find some really good selections at a fraction of the cost. If you have a suit collecting dust in the back of your closet, try it on BEFORE scheduling any interviews. Sometimes our clothes shrink over the years, sometimes styles drastically change, and sometimes we think something is in the closet, but our spouse ditched it three moves ago. It’s worth the money; buy a suit, and buy it before you go on terminal leave. GI Jobs has an excellent section on their website that can help in choosing a suit or other professional attire.
5. Actively participate in your ACAP/TAP Workshop
ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program) is the Army program. TAP (Transition Assistance Program) is the program that the rest of the branches use. The middle three days of the 5-day VOW Program is a Department of Labor Employment Search Workshop. These three days cover topics from managing change, transferring your skills to the civilian world, learning common businesses terms, writing a resume, and interview skills. Take advantage of this free workshop and participate! (A workshop like this would cost you at least $500 in the civilian world). You will learn lots of new things; where to look for jobs, how to determine what job announcements are actually saying, and how to write an effective resume.
4. Write an Effective Resume
Hopefully you leave your ACAP/TAP Workshop with a decent draft resume. Resumes are the hardest part of searching for a job. Service members have the difficult task of 1) talking about themselves and 2) talking about themselves in a way that civilians will understand. There are several websites that specialize in helping military members get started on resumes. For a variety of articles and resources on writing a resume, visit GI Jobs. You can also visit ResumeEngine.org and I also love H2H.jobs for helping translate terms into civilian. If you haven’t started writing a resume, start now! Gather your performance evaluations and award write-ups and start translating those bullets into civilian.
3. Decipher Veteran’s Preference
If you are considering a federal job, start now! Hiring at the federal level takes 6 months, in a good year. And this is not a good year. The benefits to federal jobs for those separating (not retiring) include being able to buy back your military service. Take a federal resume class, start talking to people who have a federal job and learn the process. Your veteran’s preference can help you greatly in your search, but it is quite complicated. Get all your paperwork in order and start applying. Helpful hint: Instead of uploading a copy of your DD214, which you don’t have yet, upload a copy of your retirement orders or a memo from your commander stating you are still on active duty. Leaving this blank will work against you.
2. Start Your Job Search
Once you’ve figured out where you’d like to live, start your job search by reaching out to your local Career One-Stop. You can find it by visiting www.servicelocator.org. Once you make contact, ask them about local jobs or companies that like to hire veterans. When you move, use your DOL Gold Card and get some one-on-one career counseling. This is a great service that is available to military service members who are transitioning. Utilize it! Also be sure to check out the Top 100 Military Friendly Employers and Hot Jobs for Veterans.
1. Decide Where to Work
One of the most important things in job hunting is finding a job you like. Yes, you have to meet the qualifications, and yes it’s important that the money is sufficient. But it’s equally important that the job fits your wants and needs. Think about work that challenges you. Consider security over money. Think about advancement opportunities. All those things you disliked about the military? Find a job that doesn’t have those aspects. And remember, the first job you pick doesn’t have to be the last job you ever have. The average college graduate has 5 jobs in the first 2 years. Now, you aren’t average nor are you a recent college graduate (well, maybe you are the latter) but you may have a few more jobs in your life before you find the one that makes you happy.
At this point, I am sure you are thinking “We have a lot of work to do!” Yes, but hopefully you have enough time to do this without adding tons of stress. It’s recommended for those retiring to start 18-24 months out. You can attend the ACAP/TAP Workshop more than once, and often those who attend the second time get more out of it. You can start applying for jobs 3-6 months out, depending on the industry. Good luck with your transition!