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NEWS | Oct. 1, 2012

Transitioning to the civilian workforce is a full-time job

By Toni Carter U.S. Air Force Retired

Wow! I can't believe it. Retirement is here. We all know this day will come. Kenny Chesney says in his song "Don't Blink," "100 years goes faster than you think."

For active-duty military, 20 years goes faster than you think.

The question then becomes, "how prepared are you to transition from military life and head into the civilian workforce?"

The idea of retiring can bring about many emotions, thoughts and concerns you may have never considered as you moved from one assignment to the next. At the same time, there is the joy of honorably completing 20-or-more years of active-duty military service to your country. Transitioning is not without some doubts, but it should not be debilitating.

I know all of this because I retired on Sept. 1, 2011, after almost 24 years of service, and transitioned to the civilian workforce shortly after. I did not lose any sleep; I was prepared to transition. Once I made the decision to retire, I went into preparation mode.

I made a list of everything I needed to do, and spoke with retirees about what I should do before and after retiring. I also took a few days, and listed all the skills I accumulated throughout my many assignments and military training, and decided on three career opportunities. The big challenge was translating my military skills into a language that civilian employers understood.

This was a long and tedious process, but necessary for me to be able to compete in the civilian job market. I developed three target resumes for the careers I wanted to seek employment, and adjusted each to the jobs I applied for.

At the same time, I learned the skills of interviewing and the questions a hiring manager could ask. By the time I went on my first interview, I was more than prepared. I was able to speak in an educated and confident manner, and could state what I could bring to the organization. I did great in my interviews and had a senior-management job not even two months after retiring.

In all fairness, I have to reveal that I have a graduate degree in Human Resources Management, thus I understand the recruitment and selection process. Currently, I am the Administrator of Fiscal Services for the City of Newport News Department of Libraries and Information Services, and I also oversee the hiring process for the department.

I tell this story because, to me, seeking a job is a job in itself. You have to be prepared and 100 percent committed to finding a job that fits your skills and personality. To do this, you must first have a self-awareness of who you are - strengths, weaknesses and limitations - in order to market yourself to potential employers.

How can you honestly promote yourself if you are unsure of who you are and what you can do? I believe the key to success is having a portfolio that captures your professional and educational information with the ability to be transcribed to a resume or on-line application. Completing this major project will decrease your anxiety.

Secondly, take some time to develop a target resume for general areas of interest, and adapt it to specific jobs when needed. This will keep you from having to start from scratch each time you apply for a job. If you have a resume-writing vendor create your resume, make sure it is a true representation of who you are.

My personal opinion is that you can create a resume that is personal and meaningful to you. This is also true for creating the cover letter that introduces you to the hiring manager.

Finally, research the interview process, and find a style that works for you. Your resume sells who you are and the interview seals the deal, so it is an important step you should not overlook.

I constantly hear feedback from human resources professionals about military applicants is that we have a problem talking about our individual achievements, and we use jargon that civilian employers do not understand. This is why it is very important for you to practice interviewing.

Focus on cadence when speaking, be confident without coming across as arrogant, and relate your skills to the organization needs. Accomplishing these three steps will put you on equal footing to compete for a job in today's job market.

Preparation is a key component that will give you a sense of peace and confidence as you search for employment outside of the military. You will encounter frustration when you don't immediately hear from a company. It normally takes up to 30 days to hear from a hiring manager after a job posting closes. Be patient and contact the human resources department for updates.

You have everything employers are looking for in an employee; now prove it to them.