Whether you are finishing your first enlistment or approaching retirement, every service member will have to transition out of the military at some point and into civilian life. As unnerving as it may be to go from the structure of the military to a more fluid civilian life, there are a few ways to ease that transition.
Take Advantage of Resume Help
Taking advantage of all the resume help available may make the difference between landing your dream job versus having to accept something in a hurry. If you plan to work for a government agency, you will want to start taking advantage of resume writing classes about a year before you transition. In many cases, agencies have lengthy and arduous hiring processes that are dependent on funding and subject to the fiscal calendar. If you want to work for a civilian company, translating your military experience into civilian terms takes a little more time and a whole lot of help from those who specialize in veteran job placement. If you work in a top-secret environment or have a security clearance, your resume may also need to be submitted for pre-publication review by your classification authority before it can be submitted for jobs.
Once service members leave the military, documenting service-related illnesses and injuries becomes extremely difficult. If you have any lasting effects from deployment, any injuries incurred in the line of duty, or chronic illness from chemical exposure related to your service, the time to document these problems is before you leave the military. Once they have been linked to your service, your ability to access disability pay and health care coverage dramatically improves. If there is anything you even suspect is connected to your time in the military, document it before you transition.
Make Hard Copies
Nothing will ever replace a hard copy of your DD214. Digital records are great, but having paper copies of all your pertinent documents — including your awards, service records, medical records, clearances and certifications — means you will never be left without a record of something vital. Downloading a version of these digital files and storing them in the cloud is a good idea, but a paper backup will never hurt.
Take Certification Tests
Many of the skills you have acquired during your service translate directly to certifications in the civilian world. In many cases, all you need to do is take a test. Even if you are unsure what you want to do once you leave the military, take advantage of any and all certification tests for which you are eligible. They are often available to you at little or no cost while you are still in the service. They can only add to your resume and open doors that would otherwise remain closed. For more information on what certification tests are available in your area, contact your local education office.
Find Your People
Ask any former service member what he or she misses most about the military and it is likely the people with whom he or she served. The sense of camaraderie forged in the military cannot be duplicated in civilian life. That is why so many service members struggle with the transition to civilian careers, where interpersonal relationships only live within the four walls of an office. Seek other former service members in veteran organizations or find friends who have experienced or who are in a similar situation as you. Ask what they wish they would have known or what you can do to make the transition easier. Whoever they are, your support group will help you overcome the unexpected challenges that come with such a major life change.
Going from military life to civilian life may seem daunting. Fortunately, there are dozens of resources at your disposal to ease that transition. Take advantage of resume writing classes. Complete certification courses. Follow your out-processing procedures and talk to your friends who have already left the service to discover what they wish they would have known. You have been set up for success, all you have to do is grab it.
Jeremy Silverstein is Vice President of Operations and Vehicle Dispatching at Veteran Car Donations. During the five years he’s been with the organization, he has become quite an expert in the industry and has handled tens of thousands of donated vehicles.
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