In September 2008, two things happened: The world economy collapsed, and I was looking for a job.
Since I was leaving the Navy, I used a “military career transition service,” which helps you with interview preparation, resume writing and culminates in a one-day/10-interview extravaganza. From those 10 initial interviews, I received nine “call-backs,” or second interviews; I turned down seven of them.
This was not a smart decision.
In retrospect, my standards were too high, my self-regard a bit … overly optimistic. I also had no plan beyond this one day of interviews. I figured with 10 companies, I had to find something.
I was wrong.
By the time I went for the two second interviews I chose to pursue, companies were literally instituting hiring freezes as the fallout from the financial markets washed over all industries.
By late September, I was a messy combination of frantic and desperate. My paychecks would end in November, my wife was pregnant and just finishing up school, and we wanted to live on the opposite coast of where we were currently living (California).
I called in every favor, pulled every thread I could find, sent resumes to cousins of friends of college roommate’s in-laws. Eventually, a defense contractor found me on Monster.com and offering me a good job in D.C. Morals of the story are many, but here’s the advice I give to everyone I know transitioning out of the military:
1) Use every resource available; there are many. Do not let your pride or an incredibly specific desired career path stop you from exploring every avenue. While there may be a “perfect” job out there for you, there will still be time to find it after you make an initial transition, when you have a better idea of what life on the other side is truly like. Many transitioning vets suffer from a “grass is greener” perspective and focus on that one job they think they’d love. Get settled and take time to learn--you might love something you don’t even know about yet.
2) Don’t dismiss leveraging your basic skills into a contracting job. The company I work for now, Booz Allen Hamilton, has been named a “Top Employer for Veterans” by Forbes. There’s a reason defense companies are good places for vets; you’ll be in a community of like-minded people who understand the language. It’s a good place to learn corporate America, a kind of purgatory between DoD Actual and Full Civilian Life. Those skills you’re struggling to translate into civilian-speak? Defense contractors will snap them up immediately.
3) Don’t depend on a mystical “federal job.” Sure, apply on USAJobs. Here’s the truth, though: federal hiring is such a slow, broken process. The number of people I know who have successfully transitioned from the military straight to a government job is somewhere between nil and zero, unless you’re willing to deploy (again). Much of the difficulty comes from being a mid-career professional. Federal hiring seems to be easier for recent college grads or seniors; that mid-tier is brutal. You’re going to need a paycheck while your resume works its way through the world’s biggest pile of red tape, so be patient. And get another a job in the meantime.
4) Get involved with the veteran’s community. I focus on two organizations. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, I think, is the most effective advocacy organization for the current crop of vets. They excel at traditional forms of advocacy, engaging governments, corporations, and communities on issue-specific campaigns, from improving veterans' health care to spreading information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Team Red, White, & Blue focuses on helping wounded vets integrate back into civilian communities via one-on-one pairings, and seeks to raise awareness via participation in endurance and athletic events. There are plenty of other worthy organizations; the key is to find one that matches your interests. They’ll help feed that sense of belonging you’ll miss in the civilian world, allow you to give back, and give you a reason to get out of the house. Sign up. You won’t regret it, and their presence in your life might prevent the depression common in returning vets.
5) Investigate the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This is such a good resource it honestly boggles my mind. You are literally paid to go to school. Do it.
Finally, learn to be an educator and advocate for the military. There is no substitute for a one-on-one conversation between a vet and a hiring manager, even if the position doesn’t work out for you. There’s no need to brag or become overly technical. Simply say, honestly, what you’ve done. I was responsible for the well being, morale, and mission of 30 people in a war zone. That doesn’t need translating. Anyone can understand the scope of responsibility that it encompasses. Then live up to your promise, so those who follow have a clear and easy path.
TJ Mayotte served six and half years on active duty as a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy (from 2002 to 2008) and an additional two years in the reserves, leaving as a lieutenant. He deployed on four separate occasions in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. He was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and San Diego. He now works for Booz Allen Hamilton, the company named by Forbes as best for vets, and resides in Elkridge with his wife and son.
This is the third in a series of Patch articles examining the employment issues Maryland veterans face in a fragile economy. In the coming weeks, Patch will ask veterans to publish their profiles on our sites as part of an effort to promote the skills of those soldiers who hail from or have settled in the Free State.
Are you a veteran looking for a job and want to tell your story? Email email@example.com.
Next: We profile a veteran looking for full-time work amid mounting challenges.
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.