Veterans leaving the military for civilian life are facing an entirely new enemy, one they’re not trained to face: the freedom of choice.
That’s what Greg Robinson, a human resources consultant, career coach and principal at Aim Associates Inc., has learned in 28 years of providing outplacement and career coaching support. He knows many veterans aren’t given more than token choice in their military occupations and at their duty assignments.
When they decide to leave the military and are faced with the number of choices they have to make on their own, the volume can be overwhelming, he said. This is especially true for young veterans, with one in six reporting to Pew Research that they struggled during their transition to civilian life.
“They dutifully performed to the best of their ability and demonstrated the kind of discipline the military is famous for,” says Robinson. “And therein lies the problem and challenge when they depart the services. They have never really had to face the principle of choice and ‘compatibility’ with any given career field or occupation.”
Separating veterans will try to find a job, sometimes any job, just to satisfy the anxiety of not having a job.
“They have never had to worry about making money without the entire military machine behind them,” says Robinson, who has coached thousands of job candidates during his career. “So they feel fortunate to find a ‘job’ with no idea if it will be a good fit.”
But their anxiety will only increase if their new career isn’t a good fit, he said. After leaving the military and settling into their new civilian career, they may make purchases to fit that new life and don’t want to risk their new house or car, even if they’re miserable in their work. When they do jump ship in that first job — which 65% of veterans do, often in the first year, according to Pew Research — it takes a toll on their credibility.
“This is the beginning of a career death spiral,” Robinson says. “After an exemplary military career, they are a two-time or more job jumper who doesn’t resemble a professional in a given career.”
For corporate headhunters, this kind of job jumping is not only unsustainable, it’s an immediate red flag. Robinson says he saw hundreds of military veterans who could not be presented as a candidate to a potential employer.
He wants separating military personnel to know that their first step in transitioning out of the military shouldn’t be writing a resume and finding a job. Instead, it should be a little honest soul-searching to decide what they want to do.
“[They should] perform the most comprehensive assessment of what type of occupation they would be most compatible with,” he says. “Somewhere north of 95-99% of the available career/work paths won’t be a good fit for any given person. They will benefit significantly by taking the time (which they have) to evaluate how the world of work is wired and where they would most likely fit.”
A little bit of career introspection before starting your job search will go a long way toward self-fulfillment and career success, he says.
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