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7 Ways To Get Transition Started

transitioning Soldier holds beret

You know the numbers: A million service members are transitioning out of active duty in the next five years.

If your service member is among them, you know first hand how stressful, hard and scary the process is.

But it doesn't have to be.  

We've talked to three military wives who have just made the big move to civilian life with their service member.

"One thing for sure is that for the wife, transition is a lot of work," Alicia said, a former sailor who is now an Air Force wife. "Leaving the military is hard," she adds. "But it's not as bad as it might be when you're there helping."

With these seven tips, military spouses can help their partners navigate this tricky transition.

1. Be prepared for a long haul.

Every military spouse knows that looking for work is more challenging than you think it will be.

"I looked for work daily for three years, so I know myself how hard it is to find a job," said Zeda, a 34-year-old Army wife who recently returned to the workforce as a part-time Realtor. "I told him how long it takes, and he didn't believe me."

Zeda's husband isn't the first to doubt how stressful the job market can be, but she persisted. She encouraged her husband, a transitioning infantryman, to start thinking about the job search as early as possible.

"Before it was even decided he was going to get out, I had him look at jobs online," she said. "So he could start to know what is out there."

Her husband didn't know where to begin, she said. "He never looked for a job before. This was his first time. He enlisted when we were in high school. So he didn't know what he was getting into."

Zeda, however, did. "I told him everything I could about it. About sending in your resume and following up by phone. That job searches take a while, that they take patience."

She said that listening to her first-hand experience was powerful for him. "We talked over what I learned from looking for work for myself. He really listened. For once, I was able to be the shoulder he could lean on."

2. It's never too early to start planning.

Zeda's gut instinct was right: The sooner you can start thinking about a job search, the better. Even the luckiest job seekers know that planning is the key to success.

And military spouses know this, too. From balancing PCS moves to getting kids into DEERS, we've all learned that a little organization early on goes a long way. That's never truer than with transition.

"My dad always said, ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,' " said Kristen, a 25-year-old Army wife who has been balancing a career in pharmacology and PCS moves with her husband and their toddler. 

"When you're looking for a job, I think that really means you have to think through what you want first. It's not just about the job you might have tomorrow, it's the job you want 10 years from now," Kristen said.

Kristen and her husband have balanced two simultaneous careers since Day One. She, first as a pharmacology student and now as a pharmacist, was adamant that her career was as important as her husband's. "He watched me start out at square one and get here," she said.

"My experience has been really helpful to him as he starts his own job search," she explained. "I have been able to help him not just plan for his next job, but to think about where he wants to be when he's 50. He always assumed he'd be in the leadership by then. Now, he needs a Plan B."

Kristen and her husband started talking about what Plan B could be the day that transition first came up in conversation.

If you're trying to help your service member think about the kind of job he or she will want down the road, try this quick exercise to zero in on the ideal job. "It's never too early to get started," she said.

3. Get it while the getting's good.

Getting started with a Plan B job search while your family is still active duty also means you have access to plenty of resources that can help you out along the way.

Military spouses know that their installations have plenty of ways to help job-hunting spouses, and the same is true for transitioning service members.

Click here to look for employment resources available by branch.

"Our post offers a lot of opportunities for career fairs and resume workshops," reported Zeda. "I went to one when I was looking for work and I recommended to Lewis that he do the same."

Her husband was at first hesitant. "He'd heard bad things," she admitted. "Like, guys who don't know what they're doing or who don't care. And other people were saying just deal with it in the transition program. I knew we needed an earlier start than that, though."

Zeda took her husband to the same employment office that had helped her months before. "They worked with me on my resume and my interviewing skills," she said. "They even connected me to the company I work with now."

Soon, her husband was making use of the same resources that had helped her.

4. BeKnown on social media.

In addition to the resources available at your installation, the Internet can be a great way to launch a transition job search.

"I'll be the first to tell you that I'm on the Internet way too much," Zeda said. "Facebook, Snapchat, all of that."

 While it might be partly entertainment, Zeda also knows the power of social media in today's professional environment.

"Everyone is on social media these days. If you want a job, you have to be too. Clean and professional looking," she said.

Zeda is right. A vast majority of hiring professionals report using Facebook, LinkedIn and other professional networking sites like Monster.com's BeKnown to recruit and scrutinize potential employees.

"You can get yourself a profile up in like 30 minutes at all of these places," she said. "I walked him through all of it and I basically set up his LinkedIn profile for him. But I'm not surprised, he's already connected up with a few other guys who have left and know their companies are hiring now."

With our guide to taking your professional search online, you can make the Internet work for you. "The best thing is always to lead by example," Kristen agrees. "And when it comes to being online, it's good for both of you to do it. You can even do it together."

5. Networking is not begging.

Once you are up and running online, it is important to start reaching out to people who can help connect you with future employers, mentors or advisers.

"When you don't think of it as networking, it's easy," advises Alicia. "Networking sounds like something Michael would do on The Office, not something real."

Yet networking is a very real thing -- and something your service member will have to do a lot of to navigate transition successfully.

There is no reason to feel like you are channeling Michael Scott while doing it -- you just have tot think of it in the right way. "I could tell he was nervous at the idea," Alicia said. "So I devised ways for us to do it together."

They first explored the concept of networking at a get-together for transitioning service members off base.

"The Chamber of Commerce or something put it on. It was like a meet and greet. Some small businesses were there too."

Because she was there too, it felt more like a social event to her husband, Alicia explained. "That made it easier, and so he was more relaxed and himself. It was second nature by the time he was doing it at job fairs."

Leading the way with networking can be a great way to relieve the pressure your service member feels as he launches his own civilian job search. "Networking is something we do all the time as military spouses," Alicia notes. "We meet people at new bases. We meet new FRG leaders and new volunteers. We keep track of these people and categorize them in our brains: I call her for this, him for that, etc. Teaching your husband how to network is basically the same thing. You call this guy for jobs about that, that woman for advice about this, and so on."

If you are having trouble wrapping your mind around networking, we have a guide on how to get started that can help both of you through transition.

"Remember that he should see you doing it," Alicia said. "It seems all fancy-job to say you're going to network. But really, getting any job requires it."

6. Move where the jobs are.

An important part of networking successfully is making sure you are appealing to people who can actually help you, especially people who can help you wherever you plan to move next.

"Everyone always said just move home or stay here," Alicia said. Abetted by the common misconception that the military will pay only to move you home, many families end up returning to places that were low on employment opportunities in the first place.

"We think we're going to try someplace new," Alicia said. "Someplace where there are lots of jobs. At home, there's nothing."

"I had to think about that when we moved to our last post," Kristen said. "On one side, I could work in an actual town. On the other side, I would have to be a farmer. I'm not a farmer," she laughed.

The same kind of planning helped her family think through where they would begin the next chapter of their lives after the military. "We knew what kind of job my husband wanted, and that really shaped our choices," she said.

"He wasn't going to get his dream job right away, but we took the risk and moved to where those jobs are."

Kristen's husband had been dreaming of a Plan B career in aeronautics, and while her husband's applications thus far had yielded no jobs, they still had hope.

"We knew we weren't going to get perfect jobs right away. What we needed were bill-paying jobs. Not that I'm going to say that you have to settle," she warns. "But at times like this, it's important to be realistic."

Now based out of Charleston, S.C., she and her husband are making ends meet with jobs at a local big box store and a cell phone company.

"It's not perfect by any means," she said. "But it's the place we wanted to be. This is the place where he has a future, even if it means just starting out here with a job we don't want."

Kristen and her husband are on to something. While they knew the application process for the jobs he wanted was a long one, they also knew the best thing they could offer the companies where he wanted to work was for them to be local. "This way he can get to interviews, training classes and job fairs."

Their gamble seems to have paid off. Her husband is now in the final three for a job hiring next month. "If we weren't here, his resume would still be sitting in a pile someplace."

7. Family Readiness never stops being important.

No matter what kind of job situation your family has, the process of transition can be a trying one. "I know for us, learning to keep faith was a big part of the transition," Zeda said. "My husband had been in so long that being unemployed was a huge culture shock."

It was also an ego blow for her husband, who had felt his job in the military was a vital service and wanted to find new career that was equally rewarding. "We hoped to have a job for him before that last [pay] check, but there just weren't any real jobs," she said.

Zeda knew how hard that job search could be -- she had spent years trying to cobble together part-time work while the kids were in school as they moved from installation to installation. "You find it's really hard on your spirit," she explains. "Like it hurts your soul that you aren't the person they want."

Zeda told her husband to stay positive, but he needed tangible goals to get through.  "He needed an outlet to boost his confidence," she said. "I got him signed up in this cross fit thing and he was suddenly so much more focused. Having that outlet to feel good about himself is what he needed."

Making sure everyone's spirits are ready for the transition is a fundamental part of making the move successful, Kristen agrees. Alice adds: "It's family readiness for the next phase of your lives."

To make sure your family is at its top game for the transition and the job search, make sure you read our tips for keeping your spirits up during a job hunt. They are tried-and-true tips from military spouses just like you.

"Spouses can be really good role models during transition," Alice explains. "It's important to show them how to do what you've been doing all along."

Do you have any other tips to help transitioning service members? What has worked for your family? 

Related Topics

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