In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
Each year, an increasing number of men and women decide to leave the Armed Forces. But all too often, these brave men and women don't know what kinds are jobs they are qualified for in the civilian word, what transferable skills they have or how long it will take to find a new job. Leaving the Armed Forces requires the veteran to dedicate some time thinking about what is important and where his or her motivation lies. The challenges of re-entering the civilian work world are plentiful, but can be overcome with significant thought and diligence.
We have all read newspapers, watched the five o'clock news and surfed the Internet enough to understand that the jobs front is not as welcoming as it could be these days. Companies are struggling to survive, and employees are being laid off like never before. People are losing their jobs, their homes and the sense of security they were used to. Veterans should be fully aware of the current environment before letting go of their military paychecks. I don't say this to discourage anyone; these are just the facts. Being aware of the job market is an important part of planning and adjusting a job search strategy.
Many believe the biggest challenge is money; veterans fear missing mortgage payments and not being able to support their families. Some soldiers remain tied to the Armed Forces because they are so worried about money that this fear destroys their hopes of finding a career outside of the military. This can result in additional distress, and create a cycle of unhappiness and strife. Of course, it's difficult to see beyond financial pressures. For those leaving the Armed Forces, careful financial planning during the transition is extremely important, and should be discussed with family and loved ones.
Despite financial worries, veterans should find a profession where they can truly put their passion to work, and really go for it, regardless of what the nightly news reports; that is what will ultimately lead to success. I have a quote by Robert H. Schuller posted in my office: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" If veterans took Schuller's quote to heart and knew their new careers would be the right choice for them, would financial concerns still keep them from making the change?
The whole prospect of writing resumés, wearing business suits, going on interviews and negotiating salaries can be enough to paralyze a veteran with fear. And while it's natural to worry about not being able to find the right job, the most important thing to remember is not to slip into denial and put off doing important tasks that need to be done. After deciding to transition out of the military into the civilian workforce, veterans should expect to experience some stress — but they should also create a plan and follow it. Military benefits that can assist should be identified and utilized. Veterans also need to learn the business of finding a job, and make sure to connect with other veteran job seekers, as well as employers that may be seeking to hire veterans. The more time they spend learning everything they can, down to the nitty-gritty details of the new career they pursue, the better the chances for a successful transition.
Finding a new job is a big adventure, but veterans need to understand that they don't have to do it alone. Ask family and friends for their support. Leaving the military may mean yet another move for everyone: spouses may have to quit their jobs and find new ones again. Kids may have to leave schools and friends. As a military family, they may be quite adept at this, but it doesn't make it any more fun. All of this provides even more reason to communicate openly and honestly throughout the entire transition period, making the changes easier to handle for everyone.
Military life is relatively self-contained and predictable; it consists of uniform, rank, insignia, haircut and a physical fitness score. There's a certain comfort in knowing that trainings are scheduled, deadlines are set, and paychecks are deposited twice a month. Our buddies have our backs, and we have theirs. The civilian world is not quite the same — there is much more room for creating a new brand of you. Want to gain an extra 10 pounds without being assigned extra push-ups? Go ahead! Want to let your hair grow long and pierce your nose? No problem! Veterans should welcome these changes, but shouldn't be surprised when they find themselves missing the comfort of the military. Frustration is a natural part of the transition process. Just remember to confront your obstacles head-on and don't ignore potential problems that could become something devastating.
Veterans have a unique skill set and an array of talents. They are bold, courageous and venturesome, and have served times that will be etched into history books. When it is time to move on from the military, they need to write their own civilian success stories. With support and confidence, they will be able to use their skills and excel in the civilian workforce.
Veteran and Blogger, Boots to Suits. On veterans — in schools and on the job market.
No Longer Superman: Rebuilding a Life Where You're Not the "Hero" »
Branding a New Kind of Veteran in Tough Economic Times »
Improved Veteran Educational Benefits »
The Unseen Costs of War: Where the Mission Continues »
What Comes Next for Returning Veterans? »