Veterans Day Advice for Transitioning to Civilian Careers

Nov 11th is Veterans Day and

I’d like to thank Veterans, First Responders, Police, Firefighters, and EMT ‘s who serve without regard to our race, religion, gender, or nationality.

Veterans and first-responders may face challenges transitioning to civilian jobs where their skills may not be fully utilized. To help, here’s my advice for succeeding in a civilian career:
You may not transition to the level you’d like. Be patient.Your boss may be an ineffective leader. Help them.You may not be given opportunities. Demonstrate skills by volunteering.You may need new skills. Learn through classes, online training, & mentors.You may feel discouraged. Seek balance through friends & community.Your coworkers may be toxic. Associate with people who don’t gossip or complain.You are in control of your future. Explore #Freelancing or #Entrepreneurship.
I was a Paratrooper, combat vet, & peacekeeper for seven years and worked as an EMT in college. Veterans Administration education and healthcare benefits allowed me to take risks, invent medical devices, start companies, and teach at universities and inner-city schools. Now I consult corporate teams and blog about Equitable Education & Healthcare.
This article shares resources that may help you.
 It’s a 7 minute read.
TRANSFER SKILLS Veterans often transition into first-responder or law enforcement careers; the skills are similar and easily understood by each group. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has information to explain military-to-CIA transitioning, and the US National Park System encourages veterans to apply for park law enforcement or park rangers .
For civilian careers, you may have to learn civilian perspectives and tell them how your skills transfer. For example, military small-teams use prioritized communication in a “five-paragraph operations order” format, designed so each team in a large organization would have enough information to work towards a common goal if communication were cut off. My summary of a five-paragraph operations order is:
Situation: The big-picture, or why are we talking about this?Mission: What’s our goal?Execution: How do we achieve our goal?Command & Signal: Who’s involved and how do we communicate?Service & Support: What are our resources?

A five-paragraph plan is useful to any organization but it’s not their job to learn our vocabulary, it’s your job to relate your skills to their needs in a language they understand. For example, civilian leadership coaches may phrase the concepts behind a five-paragraph operations order as “start with WHY,” then get to WHAT, then HOW.
Considering watching the video version of Start With Why by Simon Sinek, which has been viewed more than 5 million times and may be recognize by civilian managers.Use that example as a starting point then learn the vocabulary of potential employers and practice relating your skills to them.
Volunteering is a proactive way to demonstrate skills, and service to others can lead to gratitude and increased happiness. Nationally recognized volunteer programs include:
LEARN NEW SKILLS Use your college fun wisely; do the math on how long you can receive funding in school and focus on graduating in a timely manner. See if you’re eligible for a VA “kicker” that adds to your college fund.
Research the college that best benefits your goals and finances. University rankings can be misgiving; I recommend using the Economist’s ranking of colleges based on value and personalized benefit.
When you narrow down a few choices contact their veterans affairs office to discuss your needs and their support and community. Use Linkedin to contact other veterans either enrolled in those universities or that graduated from them and ask their advice.
Don’t treat college as the only way to learn. In today’s workforce opportunities are being given to people who demonstrate abilities rather than people who have a degree without real-world experience. For example, many companies no longer require college degrees, including Google, IBM, Apple, and Bank of America.
“In 2017, IBM’s vice president of talent Joanna Daley told CNBC Make It that about 15 percent of her company’s U.S. hires don’t have a four-year degree. She said that instead of looking exclusively at candidates who went to college, IBM now looks at candidates who have hands-on experience via a coding boot camp or an industry-related vocational class.” – CNBC news, “…companies that no longer require employees to have a college degree

Here’s how you get hands-on experience:
Computer Programming & Robotics
Practice creating things that are useful to others: web sites, data bases, phone apps, and robotics can be a greater demonstration of abilities than a college degree that lacks real-world evidence.
Learn to program using free courses online and at your local library. Try Udacity or M.I.T. open courseware or research hundreds of others on the internet.
Learn to design web pages using free online resources. I use to design my web page and blog. Wix has easy templates, tutorials, and a free version to practice. You could practice by designing your page, friends’ pages, and local business’s pages.
Learn to combine computers and physical products; Arduinos are a tiny computers that costs less than $20 and can control almost anything in the physical world, from robots to toys to home-products, putting the potential to change the world in anyone’s hands. Online product examples and courses are free.
Business & Marketing
Inc. Magazine published five free online resources for digital marketing. Or, create a web page and practice promoting yourself; create your own brand. If you were an employer you probably would wonder why you should hire someone for your business or marketing needs if they can’t demonstrate those skills for themselves.
Manage your personal finances. Consider starting a retirement account now and get into the habit of contributing the maximum amount possible each year, usually 14% of your salary or $5,500/year if you’re independent. Retirement accounts have tax advantages to encourage investing, and because of compounding interest a little money invested today can yield more for your future than a lot of money invested later.
I recommend the book The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them: Getting Investing Right. My summary of it is to start investing now, invest on your own by choosing index funds, and invest for the long-term without worrying about short-term market fluctuations.
Soft Skills
Today’s workforce requires soft skills, collaborating across diverse cultures and backgrounds in ways that unites people rather than isolates them. Don’t underestimate soft skills, especially for civilians who may have more formalities than we experienced in the military. This isn’t easy; I still find it challenging to not make a point using sarcasm or cursing around civilians who take things too fucking seriously.
That was both sarcasm and cursing. It’s effective for some but offensive to others. Know your audience and strive to be effective for the most people possible.
I found The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People useful, simple to understand, and straight-forward to practice. The book sold 25 million copies and may be recognized by hiring managers. My summary is:
Be proactiveBegin with an end in mindPrioritize your effortsThink win-win for yourself and othersSeek first to understand others, then to be understood by themCombine different peoples’ skills towards shared goalsSeek balance & continuously improve yourself
This video summarizes the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in 7 minutes but I recommend reading the book if you have any doubt in your soft skills.

Learn skills and learn to market your services using the resources I already provided. Technical skills are probably the easiest to freelance because many people and companies need occasional help designing web pages, creating computer programs, or using software to design marketing material for events.
Many websites connect freelancers to clients but I found that they are dominated by inexpensive freelancers who live overseas, therefore if you live in the United States you nay be more successful developing a portfolio of your work and marketing yourself.
Entrepreneurship is different than freelancing and difficult to describe. You’ll be trying to do more than sell your services, you’ll be trying to identify an unmet need and creating a business that can flourish without you. I heard that an entrepreneur is someone who works 90 hours a week for a few years so they don’t have to work at all after that, which is probably hyperbole but worth considering to understand the difference between freelancing and entrepreneurship. Or, consider that a freelancer can sell more of their time but and entrepreneur can sell their product or business.
If you think you have an invention that could springboard you into entrepreneurship consider filing a Provisional Patent through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for $100. You’ll have a year to continue the patent process. You’ll have to research patent laws and strategy, business plans, and financing options, which are all beyond the scope of this article but available through many online resources. I do not recommend studying entrepreneurship in school, and neither do most successful entrepreneurs. Learn by doing.
Most veterans and first-responders are ready to transition into the civilian workplace. Some are not as fortunate.

Veterans are more likely to be homeless or commit suicide than the general population. Each night 37,800 veterans are homeless and 20 veterans commit suicide every day. If you or someone you know is at risk please contact the

White House VA Hotline: 1-855-948-2311.

Calls are answered by a live agent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The hotline is staffed by more than 60 agents who have had extensive training on VA programs and services. Ninety-three percent of these agents are a Veteran, military family member, caregiver or a survivor.
These harsh situations of a small percentage of veterans creates another challenge to entering the civilian workplace: negative perceptions. You can help all veterans by choosing your words and actions wisely and following through with your commitments. Lead by example, an ideal that’s epitomized by the U.S. Army Infantry motto of Follow me! and inscribed on a famous statue outside of the infantry school.

I’m grateful for the opportunities my military service provided and I feel compassion for those not as fortunate, such as the families of lost soldiers, veterans who experienced losses, and people in countries who have not experienced peace in many generations. As President Woodrow Wilson said on the first Veterans Day in 1919:
“To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”
I wish you success in your career and happiness in life.