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14 Tips to Help You Transition to Civilian Workforce

Exiting the service and transitioning into civilian life can be daunting. A lot of service members can be left feeling bewildered and a little uneasy about their future career options. Here are some important tips to remember that will lead to job-hunting success.

1) Prepare: You should be thinking about transitioning out well before you actually do. Think in terms of months or years, not weeks. Job searching is hard and often takes a long time, and it's even harder if your chosen career requires post-secondary education that you don't yet possess. The key is to form at least a basic plan while understanding that it's okay to re-strategize at any point.

2) Arm Yourself: Every branch of the military provides programs and workshops to help service members transition into the civilian workforce. It's tempting to kick up your boots, but the final few months of your service are some of the most critical to post-military success. The programs you'll be exposed to are valuable opportunities to kick your plans into gear and ensure that you face the civilian job market with a good cache of search tools.

3) Understand: One of the biggest problems veterans face is translating military jargon to corporate-speak. While the content of what you're saying is important, you need to be able to use terminology and phrases that civilian employers will understand.

4) Free Money: Aside from workshops and expert advice, there are many financial benefits that the military offers. A recent analysis by Omaha.com showed that “only 36% of American Veterans use the GI Bill's educational benefits.” College degrees aren't a guarantee that you'll land a career right out the door, but they do help a lot in your search and usually lead to higher paychecks.

5) Networking: Many service members experience camaraderie in the military to a degree not often seen in the civilian world. Your transition is the perfect time to reach into the military network and start making connections with others. There are numerous groups and organizations that bring veterans together to help each other find jobs and stabilize life as a civilian. Get involved and build a new civilian network.

6) Maximize: It's important to spread your options wide when it comes to searching for jobs. Contacting staffing agencies and other veteran-specific job search programs will give you a leg up. Look for military friendly employers to work for. They are out there.

7) Get on Social Media: In the world of social media, an unprofessional online presence can seriously curtail your job options. Whether it's maintaining a modest profile and lowering public access or simply scrubbing your accounts of compromising behavior, make sure that when employers search for you on the internet, they'll find a potential new worker, not a loose cannon. Use social media to showcase your knowledge, not the other way around.

8) Relocate: The military provides another huge advantage for veteran job seekers: help with relocation. Often, employers will disfavor candidates because they live too far away – it might not be worth assisting with your relocation fees if you're coming in from halfway across the country. If you haven't moved yet, keep this information in mind when being interviewed, it may be a useful bargaining chip.

9) Strategize: The entire process of searching for a civilian job can be overwhelming, but if you treat it like another mission, you'll be fine. Determine your objective, break down the process into multiple steps, and execute the plan. If you're still drawing blanks and are absolutely confounded, consult job-hunting experts for assistance.

10) Emphasize character Your skills and certifications are important, but civilian employers also want to know about your broader experience and understand how you applied your skills. Use your cover letter, résumé, and networking conversations to emphasize situations in which you took initiative, demonstrated flexibility, exhibited leadership abilities, and performed for the good of the team.

11) Translate.  Most of your military training can be applied to your post-military career. However, most states and the federal government require their own licenses and certifications for jobs including flying planes, treating patients, and operating certain machinery. Find out whether you need to take an exam or a recertification course to make use of your military credentials. Military occupational specialty translators are available on VetSuccess.gov to help you find civilian credentials and certificates directly related to your MOS

12) Preferred Vets.  The federal government gives preference to job-seeking Veterans over many other applicants. Not all military service qualifies someone to receive Veterans’ preference, and so it is important to understand the specific requirements. For more information about Veterans’ preference visit the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s VetGuide (www.opm.gov/staffingportal/vetguide.asp).

13)  Paperwork. Every Veteran knows the value of his or her DD214 (Report of Separation) or DD2586 (Verification of Military Experience and Training) for VA-related purposes, but these documents are also important as you prepare to enter the civilian workforce or go back to school. Make sure you have copies of your DD214 and DD2586 to show your employer or school so that it can verify your military service, training, and experience. It may also be helpful to provide transcripts of any military training and coursework you completed.

14) Culture ready. The cultures of the civilian workforce and the military are different. Know in advance that you may feel disoriented for the first few weeks in the civilian workforce, and take your time in getting used to the new work culture.