This clip and article are excerpts from a video series created by KLRN, in collaboration with MilCityUSA and additional partners. Jacqueline Contreras, Transition and Employment Specialist
As a Career Coach, I work with a lot of transitioning service members who tell me that they will take any job and that they are not picky. To that, I say, “Great! McDonald's down the street is hiring.” Then, I usually receive a response that tells me they're not interested in food handling or customer service. I like this icebreaker because it creates a dialogue about what they will and will not do. Many service members leave the military knowing what they won’t do, but can’t narrow down what they want to do.
This is a struggle, because, during military service, they wear a lot of hats. They may be assigned a specific MOS (military occupational specialty) or career field, but they are also assigned a lot of collateral duties. Many of them have planned events, managed budgets, trained personnel, etc. and that makes it hard to determine what they are qualified for, because, like everyone else, they get attached to titles and ranks and think that is all that qualifies for experience. However, that is not always the case. They may be qualified for more than they think. Once they accept that employers are more interested in their skills and how well they've used them rather than their job titles, it opens up a whole world of possibilities. That, in itself, can create anxiety, because it provides all sorts of options they may have never considered.
If you are having a hard time narrowing down a career path, think of the last you came home from work and said, “Wow! That was a great day!” Once you remember that time, try to recognize what made that day so great. Was it that you had an opportunity to work alone, meet a bunch of people, learn something new, complete your to-do list, or was it that you were recognized for your work? All of these things say something about what motivates you to work.
The next thing to consider is your volunteer work. Not your volun-told work, but the stuff that you volunteered to do even when you didn’t have to. Those are indicators of the work you are passionate about. Look for positions that will allow you to use those skills because they are the ones that motivate you, and, with passion and motivation, success is almost inevitable.
That’s not to say that the rest of the way is smooth sailing. During transition, everyone will encounter feelings they didn’t expect.
No matter what rank you hold, when you leave the military, you will likely experience periods of loss, anger, and frustration.
When serving in the military, people see you at a restaurant and pay for your meal or come over to thank you for your service. When you take that uniform off, much of that goes away. Some people enjoy that sort of appreciation and miss it once they leave the service.
When you leave the military, you can lose a sense of belonging to something meaningful that’s bigger than yourself. I believe that’s why, when I ask my veteran clients what they want to do in their next career, they almost always say, “I just want to help people.” That’s when I ask, “who do you want to help, how do you want to help them, and what skills make you qualified to provide such assistance?” That helps narrow down their career choices a bit more.
Another thing to prepare for is the fact that life inside the gates goes on without you. You will suddenly have a lot of free time, but the rest of your old coworkers will not, so, it’s normal to feel hurt and think that you aren’t missed. It can make some people feel like they’ve been forgotten.
While you are in the military, you wear your resume. The rank and the ribbons on your uniform tell a story you don’t have to articulate to those around you. The respect is a given, but, when you take that uniform off and your accomplishments aren’t obvious, you encounter a bit of an identity crisis. With that comes a wide array of emotions you may not have encountered before. Anger and frustration surface from the lack of respect for what you’ve accomplished in your career.
The most important thing you can do at that point is find a mentor. Someone who has traveled this path before. They will educate you on the process and help you build a strong network of supporters. It’s important to remember that this is a process and not a mission. There is no task list to check-off or timeline attached. Everyone experiences transition differently and on a unique personal level. Do not hold yourself to anyone’s standards, but your own. You, and only you, understands the why and wherewithal of your goals and transition plan.
Reach out. There is an unlimited amount of free resources available in MilCityUSA.