Bridging the gap from service member to civilian

Bridging the gap from service member to civilian
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A career change can be one of the most daunting challenges in a person’s life. This is particularly true for the women and men who serve our country. Service members are accustomed to working in extraordinarily unique environments, but navigating the transition to civilian careers can seem like an insurmountable hurdle.

According to the Department of Defense, nearly 250,000 active duty service members leave military service for civilian life each year. When our nation’s men and women in uniform complete their active duty service, they go through a transition like civilians do when changing jobs, moving to a new town or retiring. This transition however, is far more challenging as transition support resources and networks aren't always easy to find or navigate.

For civilians, career progression is often seamless: Finish high school, go to college, earn a degree then begin a career. Through this process, civilians organically build their networks and meet mentors along the way. For service members leaving the military, the path is not as straightforward and can be challenging and isolating.

I served for 11 years in the Air Force and saw many of my colleagues experience this hardship firsthand. Several of them who navigated the transition to the civilian workforce effectively had one thing in common: a good mentor.

I am proud to work for a company that employs over 10,000 veterans and lead a business that helps deliver transition services to veterans. Dozens of Raytheon employees volunteer with the USO to provide virtual mock interviews to USO Pathfinder clients. They also will support four Raytheon hosted Employment Readiness Workshops before the end of the year.

Mentors for the Workshops reflect on their own journey as a veteran and draw from personal experiences to help veterans translate their military service into a resume, navigate social media, prepare for interviews and chart a path to success. We can all do our part to support transitioning service members in big ways and small.

One of our lead volunteers in the Northeast, not a veteran, recently worked with a man who was leaving the military and relocating his family to San Diego. He needed help creating a LinkedIn profile and learning how to network online. She worked with him and within three months he secured a mid-level management job with Amazon. Like her, everyone can do their part to support our nation’s men and women in transition.

Here are some of the pointers I give to transitioning service members that may help a friend, loved one or someone else you know transitioning from military to civilian life.

Nothing is off limits during an interview: Expect odd questions in the interview process. Hiring managers want to see how you react under stress. As a veteran, you’ve likely spent a lot of time training or living in high-stress environments, however in a corporate environment it’s easy to feel insecure. Remember the demanding mental and physical challenges you’ve undergone. Pause to collect your thoughts and trust your instincts; they will never fail you in the end. Take time to practice interviewing before the interview, and be courteous throughout the process. Follow-up each interview with a personalized thank you note or email.

Never stop learning: Do not discount the value of the GI Bill and returning to start or finish school. Education matters, and the experience you’ve received during your service is valuable to institutions of higher learning. There is a lot you have to offer in a classroom setting. A great place to start is by connecting with Student Veterans of America — an organization that aims to provide veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and beyond.

You don’t have to go it alone: Find a mentor and utilize him or her as a resource, particularly for processes that may seem foreign to you, such as engaging with connections on LinkedIn or tailoring a resume. Many veterans are unfamiliar with the fast-paced world of online interactions and don’t understand how to use career tools, such as LinkedIn, Indeed or Glassdoor.

This is one area where mentorship can be pivotal to a successful transition. Once you’re settled into the next stage of your career, don’t forget to return the favor. Consider sharing the knowledge and experience you’ve gained by becoming a mentor yourself.

While the transition may not be easy, new resources and programs are available to assist service members and veterans in their career change to civilian life. For instance, USO PathfinderSM provides a network of transition services and partners to help service members navigate, understand and engage with a growing network of resources and programs available to support them as they reintegrate into their communities. Whether it is creating online profiles, finding a new job due to relocation, mock interviewing or reviewing a resume, the USO’s virtual network of volunteers is able to match veterans and their spouses with mentors that best fit their needs.

Those who have served in the most dangerous conditions should have every opportunity to succeed in the next phase of life, and I am proud to be working with the USO in support of transitioning veterans.

Wes Kremer is the president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.