Two years ago I decided to hang up my Air Force uniform in exchange for the civilian life. I remember well the transition assistance program (TAP), the mock interviews, and resume preparation that readied me for my leap into the civilian world. My confidence was brimming: friends who recently left the military were now making twice the salary. Charles Anderson, who was in the Air Force with me is a prime example of this success. Charles and I were military policeman: we used to make at least 40k a year. Now, Charles is a civilian cop in Texas making 53k a year.
Statistically speaking, I knew that finding a job wouldn’t be a problem. Nearly half of U.S. employers (47 percent) had hired a veteran in the last year, compared to 44 percent in 2014. 31 percent had also hired veterans who recently returned from duty. The odds seemed to be in my favor, though one key detail flew under my radar—underemployment. At least 14 percent of veterans report being underemployed.
“Ben Keen was honorably discharged from the military in 2008. During his transition, a staffing professional called Keen asking if he would be interested in a $12 an hour job as a call center representative”
One factor in veteran underemployment is the poor exit strategy used by the military transition program. With all the help the program gave me, it hurt me too. The reality of having a new career and a good salary can take at least one to two years of planning and preparation. The TAP classes are given at least 180 days out from separation from the military. Even when my date of separation was near, my leadership had me working until my last days.
I figured the transition program itself was just another unnecessary hurdle before I left the military. I believed the skills I acquired in management and leadership set me up well for a successful career. As a result of this mindset, folks who are two years away from taking off the uniform never see the need to dedicate themselves to transition planning.
Most veterans feel they weren’t prepared for transition and are underemployed as a result. Ben Keen was honorably discharged from the military in 2008. During his transition, a staffing professional called Keen asking if he would be interested in a $12 an hour job as a call center representative. Keen wrote back stating his qualifications weren’t compatible with the job offered him.
The issue can’t be fixed overnight, but the view on transition can change. Maybe the transition classes could be more realistic, and tell military members to expect a multi-year transition. One in which they first accept an entry level position that meets their appropriate skill set, then after that initial entrance into the job they can adapt to their new environment while mastering new skills. Then, over the course of a few years, they can eventually climb to a higher level on the new ladder. Changing the transition perspective would minimize the frustrations veterans feel when they aren’t able to find employment that meets their expectations.
Another hurdle for veterans facing underemployment is writing an effective resume. Regardless of rank, every military member has done their fair share of professional writing. From an Enlisted Performance Report(EPR) to a Letter of Reprimand(LOR), veterans know how to construct professional paperwork. However, writing a resume is a different beast to tame. Many military members, including myself, are proud of the awards we received during our career. Why not include them in the resume? Employers don’t care about what you got: they care about the why and how. It’s important to list the reasons why you received your award. Remember to review each bullet point to ensure it maintains three core points: it demonstrates a problem you solved, an action you took, and the results that were accomplished.
After an effective resume, a successful interview is the next step. The interview part of finding a job seemed like an easy task to me. I already had plenty of experience speaking with leadership on a day to day basis. Also, my charming personality was liked by the squadron commander. Additionally, I nailed the mock interviews during all those transition classes. I knew I was ready–WRONG! I went right up the creek without a paddle. The real life interviews I had were more like a one-way conversation. I managed to let the company lead the interview without adding any input.
An interview is the time to sell yourself and your accomplishments. The status of being a veteran speaks volumes on your behalf. First, you volunteered. You ran to answer the call when others chose not to. Then, because of your uniformed experiences, you became a better and more employable individual. Humility is a trait injected into the veins of every military member. Yet, in an interview, the time has come to highlight yourself and speak up about what you can bring to the table. My advice is practice conveying a conversational energy, and learn how to distinguish yourself from the regular job seeker. Make sure you have a set of questions to show your interest about the company, and even go as far as doing a background check of the company you’re applying to.
Underemployment is a roller coaster. Don’t compound the experience by listening to the voices in your ears. Whether one tells you it will be nothing but clear skies all the way to your dream job or the other speaks to you only of despair and gloom. They’re both wrong. It will be hard and arduous work, but if you know yourself, and what you plan to accomplish, you can achieve your career goals.
Tyrone Townsend is a freelance writer and occasional blogger. When he’s not typing away on his laptop, he’s out and about gathering insight for the next piece to set the internet a blaze…or at least he thinks so. For more work by Tyrone check out his articles on QuietMike and Superbious.