“My first job interview was scary,” admits Don Spears, a 30-year Navy veteran, who served as a master chief aviation storekeeper before retiring last year. “In the Navy, interviewing was just a formality. When you were granted a transfer or began a new tour, it was because you already had the job,” adds Spears, whose job-search strategy included giving himself 45 days to find a new position. He found one in two weeks. By following some tried-and-true methods and developing a plan, military personnel can make a smooth transition into the civilian world.
A 1996 Department of Defense report states that even after military downsizing (which has already reduced the forces by more than 600,000 since 1990), an average of 250,000 service members will separate from the military each year. Transition Assistance Programs have been established to better prepare service members and their families. In 1994, military personnel made over 700,000 visits to these transition offices for counseling and employment assistance services. These programs have also saved the Department of Defense as much as $150 million a year in unemployment insurance costs.
But how well equipped are the service members for civilian employment? According to the Department of Defense, military personnel face three distinct disadvantages: most have never competed for a civilian job; a large majority have led lives separate from civilians and therefore have not established networks; and many have been or are stationed great distances from job markets of interest.
Conversely, military personnel do have some advantages: they are, on average, better trained, educated and disciplined than their competitors. Many civilian employers agree that veterans make up a talented pool of potential employees and have valuable qualities to offer.
“Junior military officers have proven to be an excellent pool of leadership talent,” says Jonathan Brasfield, organization and staffing specialist for the Bloomington Plant Operations division of General Electric. “They bring strong project management skills, have a team orientation and manage conflict and change well.” Here’s the S.T.R.A.T.E.G.Y.
START EARLY, START NOW
One of the keys to getting and keeping a job is to get on the job-search bandwagon early. Charles Rivers, a former marine officer who for the past two years has headed Allstate Charles Rivers Agency in Jacksonville, North Carolina, wasted no time after his separation from the Marines. Rivers, who retired as a master sergeant in 1990, had started preparing for his military separation in 1988 by working toward his bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Maryland.
“I was a rifleman and I knew that no one was going to legally hire a hit man,” he says. By going to school full time at night, Rivers, now 40, earned his degree in 1992 and was recruited right out of college by the U.S. Navy Hospital as a contracting officer. “Don’t wait for the last minute before taking steps toward preparing for military separation,” he advises. “Even waiting six months to a year will put you at a disadvantage.” After 18 months with Jefferson Pilot Life Insurance Co., which he joined