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Boots to Business Suits: Debunking Myths for a Successful Military Transition

Posted by Ashley Jones
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Transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce is a significant life change that comes with a unique set of challenges. Stepping into the unknown is scary, but luckily there are veterans and recruiters happy to ease your burden and point you towards the right path.

At the last ISC2 Security Congress, experts Michael McCoy, Tiffany Robbins, and Kirsten Renner, shared tips for transitioning military personnel in a panel discussion moderated by ClearedJobs.Net’s Kathleen Smith.

McCoy is Senior Manager, Military Recruitment Programs, at Verizon and a Tennessee Army National Guard Armor Officer. Renner is VP, People Operations, at Cydecor (formerly Talent Engagement Lead at Accenture Federal Services at the time of the panel) and a proud Army mom. Tiffany Robbins is a Senior Aerospace Recruiter at Quest Defense and a Marine Corps veteran.

Read on to debunk some common misconceptions shared by the panel and learn how to avoid likely missteps that hinder a successful transition to the civilian world.

Myth 1: Instant Opportunities Await

“I’m a veteran, everybody’s going to want me,” reflects Robbins. “People are going to be knocking at my doorstep—that’s not necessarily the case.” Sound familiar?

Or perhaps you’ve thought something along the lines of…“They can’t wait to get me – they’re gonna be salivating over my resume,” acts out Renner. “Well, wait a second. Why is it taking so long?”

It may take longer than expected to find the right job because successful job search in the civilian sector requires proactive planning.

A leading misconception among transitioning military personnel is the belief that immediate employment opportunities await upon leaving the military. But frankly, it’s not going to happen if you haven’t put in the necessary steps.

A similar misconception is the idea that a security clearance gained in the military will automatically translate into a lucrative cleared career.

Your security clearance is undoubtedly an asset, but it doesn’t guarantee employment. Employers seek a combination of skills and experience, with the clearance being just one piece of the puzzle.

So while your military experience and clearance are valuable assets, they alone won’t land you a job instantaneously.

Myth 2: Cybersecurity is the Ultimate Career Choice

Right off the bat this myth may not sound like it applies to everyone, but stick with us.

Renner shared that many veterans seem to think cyber is the way to go, but not everyone has the needed transferable skills for what they think is a cool career that will pay a lot of money.

It’s crucial to assess your skills, passions, and goals realistically. Pursuing a role in cybersecurity may be a great choice for some, but not all.

However, cyber aside, it’s all about knowing what you want to do next and how your skills can translate to that job.

Furthermore, if you’re missing skills that you’ll likely need, start thinking now about how to gain them.

“Hopefully you’ve been working on some study programs,” adds Renner. “All of the branches are offering them. They have educational benefits, they have the GI Bill, and there are certification programs that will help you get a leg up.”

The DoD SkillBridge program can also help you bridge the gap and gain real-world training and experience from an employer in the civilian world in your last 180 days of service. While companies have sometimes offered employment opportunities to fellows after program completion, McCoy explained that outcomes that end in employment is where the program is actually headed.

So with that said, don’t wait till you’ve transitioned to start thinking about what comes next. You get a lot of people that say they want to go into cyber or become a program manager, but maybe there’s a better fit, or at least a better way to achieve that goal, if you start planning early.

Myth 3: I’m Going to Make Six Figures Right Away

Sorry to burst your bubble by calling this one a myth, but many people who transition won’t get a position in the civilian sector that pays a six-figure salary right away. And some career paths in certain locations may never pay that much.

Think about your expenses and what you or your family will need. “If you don’t know how much you need to live, you need to figure that out real fast,” urges McCoy. “When you start thinking about compensation, you need to look at the economic situation of the city you want to work in.”

McCoy shared an example that in Nashville, tugboat operators make good money, maybe $150,000 a year, so you’d be successful there. But if you moved to a location with a higher cost of living or no jobs in your specialty, you wouldn’t be set up for the same success.

“You have to know what your city can afford to pay you based on the economic situation and where you’re going,” says McCoy. “If it’s not there, you can’t get it—it doesn’t matter how good your skills are or how good your resume is.”

So as you think about transitioning, consider what job is going to be the right fit for you and where you can be successful doing it. McCoy also suggests researching the median salary of the city, the job, the employer, etc. to gather the intelligence you need to be successful after the military.

Hidden Challenges: Navigating Health Insurance Costs and 401Ks

As you start thinking about salary expectations, remember to factor in expenses that go towards health insurance premiums and financial planning like a 401K.

If you’re unsure what that entails, you’re not alone. Robbins admitted she once called her dad to ask whether or not she needed a 401K because that wasn’t something the Marine Corps taught her about. Given the unique structure of military retirement benefits, a lot of people aren’t thinking about 401Ks.

“Most people that enlist are 17 or 18,” adds Robbins. “You don’t come into the world knowing those (financial planning) things. And unfortunately, the military does so many things for you that it almost kind of disables you a little bit when you think about transitioning out.”

The same goes for insurance premiums. Healthcare coverage through the military is generally provided at no cost, so you’re not worried about how much your premium will be each month and how much that will eat into your paycheck.

You don’t need to determine exactly how much these expenses will cost you before you’ve transitioned, but it’s good to be aware that there will be additional expenses you may not have anticipated. That way, you’ll know to ask informed questions of your recruiter when it comes to salary and benefits discussions down the road.

Start Early: The Key to a Smooth Transition

Robbins transitioned out with a husband who was also transitioning – within six months of each other. “We unfortunately did not plan 8-12 months in advance,” shares Robbins. “We were kind of flying with the wind, just trying to figure it all out. I do not recommend it at all. Both of us finding our ways in the civilian world at the same time was pretty much horrific.”

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that you can just wing it,” says McCoy. Sure, you can wing it, but it’s going to be tough, as Robbins attested to.

If you look at the Department of Labor Statistics, most people who transition out of a government service or military service will change jobs within the first 10 months of separation. The reason is they didn’t like the job they got. So if you don’t do the footwork to land the right job the first time around, it’s likely you’ll be back to searching for a job again sooner than later.

So start planning early, even a couple years out. You never know, you could face a medical separation that forces you into an early transition.

“It’s never too early to start,” suggests Renner. “If you’re halfway through your four years, and you haven’t already started exploring what your plan is later, I don’t want to stress you out and tell you that you’re behind the curve, but there are people that I’ve been working with for years.”

Learn from Others: Ask Questions and Find Your Tribe

Transitioning out of the military is a unique situation, because you’ll learn a lot from the process, but you won’t ever go through it again. “So you don’t have the opportunity to learn those lessons yourself and then reapply those lessons learned,” explains McCoy.

Since you have a limited window to learn from your own mistakes, it makes relying on your community that much more important. Seek guidance from those that have transitioned before you and ask questions.

“You need to find somebody – an exit buddy,” urges McCoy. “And then you need to find your community, whether they’ve been out one day, or 100 days, or 10 years. Find your tribe.”

With the right mindset, strategic planning, and some help from your community, you’ll be able to navigate this next phase of life successfully and build a fulfilling civilian career.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 08, 2024 1:10 pm

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