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5 Questions Every Servicemember Has About The Civilian Job Market

By Will Leineweber

I’ve been through the transition twice, once off of active duty (it was hard) and once after a deployment for the reserve component (easier after learning these lessons). I’ve also been a headhunter, corporate recruiter and hiring manager. These are the questions I wish I had asked that first time around and continue to encounter frequently all over the country.

1. I want to get a contracting job paying a six-figures salary plus overseas. How do I do that?

If you belong to a tight-knit, highly specialized community, your reputation is all you need. If you don’t, then you need to look at your background and compare that to what the contractors are hiring right now. Contracting can pay very well, but the downside is that you frequently have to compete for a new role when your contract is up or your employer loses it. Contracting has always been volatile and overall hiring is in decline with our reduced footprint overseas in recent years. Most large contractors you are familiar with from past deployments conduct their own hiring. Check out their career sites and look for the military outreach team as your starting point.

2. I got a bachelor’s degree then a master’s, and I want to get a doctorate. That will get me paid more, right?

Oftentimes, no. Many service members fall into the trap of thinking that additional degrees serve as some sort of “rank-up” absent experience. You absolutely should pursue at least a four-year degree if you want to make yourself more competitive, but the returns diminish beyond that if you aren’t careful in selecting a competitive degree program or field of study. There are always exceptions to this and any other rule, but a fistful of degrees will not automatically translate into more money or more opportunities, especially if you don’t do the research on what is competitive first.

3. What certifications should I get?

This depends on your background and what you want to do. Again, your first stop should be people you trust and respect from the military who have left service and found successful careers. If you have a background in IT and that’s what you want to continue doing, look at the companies and jobs that interest you and pay extra attention to the basic requirements on the job description. This is a list of experiences and certifications that you must have to make it through the first step in the hiring process.

For those looking into the manufacturing world where generations of vets have found success, take a look at LEAN/Six Sigma certification programs. Often the military will pay for this while you are in service.  If you want to go into project management, now is the time to get familiar with PMP certification and get it done before you hit the job market.

There are many places to go in order to get the skills and training to be more competitive in your chosen field, and there are also a lot of organizations that prey on unsuspecting vets. Take your time, don’t rush into anything and do your homework. At a minimum, before you sign or commit to anything, do a basic internet search to see what others have experienced.

4. I’m combat arms/admin/transportation and I don’t want to be a cop/prison guard/truck driver, what can I do?

Anything if you do your homework. If you know you want to get a degree, now is the time to think about going to school. Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits are something you’ve earned. As with everything else, if you get smart on how to use them, you will have a better experience. If you don’t want to go to school right now, look at management training programs. Many companies in different industries use rotational programs like this to expose you to different areas of a business over a period of time and combine that with training. At the end of the training period, you will have moved from entry level into a more experienced role; this is one of the smartest ways to climb the ladder and get your career foundation set post-military.

If those options don’t make sense to you, look into vocational training in a field that predicts high future demand. America has a chronic shortage of workers in skilled trades — plumbing, carpentry, electrical, the list goes on. There are a number of reputable programs geared toward vets that can get you started with training and career placement, just do your homework first.

5. I’m a senior noncommissioned officer/field grade officer and I was told I should only accept a role as a COO/CEO/CFO, is that true?

No. Think about this: Bob got a job at a beverage distributor driving forklifts in the summer while he worked his way through school. After school, he got a job at that distributor driving delivery trucks; later he moved into managing small teams, then he moved onto general manager, then regional manager, then corporate. After 20 years he has risen to the top echelon of that company, responsible for millions of dollars in inventory and hundreds if not thousands of employees who report to people under him. Bob is ready for a change and wants a new challenge. Can Bob join the military as an E-9/O-6 and take over a logistics support area overseas? He could probably hack away at the technical aspects of the job, but he would have no clue how to operate in the military culture or interact with the various members of the overall team because he did not grow up in that world. He would need to start over at a more junior level and learn the military way of doing things, but he would likely find success and rise in stature quicker than someone without all of that valuable experience. The same is true when you transition.

Will Leineweber is the Director of Recruiting Operations for Hirepurpose, a site that helps transitioning service members and veterans find great civilian careers.

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