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Helpful Job-Search Advice For Transitioning Vets

With the return of military personnel from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially during these highly competitive economic times, I offer some thoughts on a subject near and dear to my heart.

I served in the Marine Corps from 1958-1988, retiring as a sergeant major. And, I have experienced everything that is written about in this piece. Until my retirement for health reasons in 2005, I served as the employment and restitution coordinator for Norfolk Juvenile Courts for six years. Prior to that, I was a youth and family advocate for various Norfolk agencies.

For the past 25 years, I have encountered countless military personnel and others who have no idea of what it takes to get the so-called “right job.” I have found this to be especially true for many enlisted personnel and younger military job seekers. These veterans deserve better. Over the years, I have tried to help them as much as possible with their job search efforts.

It has been my experience that most servicemen and women – particularly enlisted personnel – lack adequate civilian job-hunting skills, so they are ill-prepared for the current downsizing trend and rabid competition for decent jobs. Even successful companies and agencies at all government levels – local, state and federal – are “right-sizing” to remain profitable and competitive.

Meanwhile, many professionals and managers have had to lower their career expectations and accept lesser positions to remain employed. In some cases, positions normally considered “enlisted turf” are being accepted by retiring officers and highly qualified civilians.

The truth is that many former servicemen and women will be unemployed, partially unemployed and/or under-employed during their first years out of the military. This is particularly true for enlisted, junior and less well-educated men and women.

A disproportionate number will accept jobs that aren’t commensurate with their skills and abilities, since few employers understand or will compensate them adequately for their maturity, development and leadership qualities. Oftentimes, prospective employers offer lower wages to retirees knowing that they are receiving retired pay, and falsely believe that retirees do not need the same compensation as civilians applying for the same position.

Since the best positions go to those who are best equipped to find them, your search will require lots of homework and a determined, disciplined effort. If you have average skills and salary requirements, you should spend 30 to 40 hours a week on your search. Someone who wants to earn a high salary, is more than 40 years old, or has been unemployed for some time should spend 40 to 50 hours weekly. When you feel like your search has become a full-time job, you’re probably doing things right.

Your campaign likely will last between three and twelve months, or about a month for every $10,000 in salary you hope to earn, and longer if you are educationally challenged or an older candidate. Add on a few months if you lack recent training or experience.

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If you’re a year from leaving the service, start planning your transition now. Set aside enough money to tide you over during your transition and/or unemployment period. These funds should be sufficient to cover your mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, car loan, food, gas and any required debts. You’ll also have plenty of job-search expenses, such as new clothing and interview attire; career development and job search courses; and transportation (local and out-of-town). Keep receipts and records of your job-hunt outlays, since the Internal Revenue Service allows deductions for certain search expenses.

Additionally, let me disclose some vital information that everyone might not know. Veterans called to active duty from reserve and National Guard units are protected under federal law (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act – USERRA). This law guarantees that veterans will be able to reclaim their jobs under most circumstances. It covers such job-related components as pay, status, pensions, retraining, health benefits, and the like. For further information, veterans can contact their local employment and/or Veterans Affairs offices.

Most importantly, involve your family in your plans and search, something too many ex-military fail to do. You’ll need all the support and assistance family members can offer.

Keep in mind that it’s your attitude and not your aptitude that will determine your altitude in life. Maintain a positive and persistent outlook in your quest for a new career.

When I first retired at 48, I thought I would never land on my feet, but I secured two successive grant positions with the city of Norfolk. When funding for those jobs expired, I had to search for a job all over again. But I kept at it until I landed a full-time, permanent position as a probation officer with Norfolk Juvenile Courts. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you.

John L. Horton resides in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to this newspaper.

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