Career Boot Camp for Transitioning Military Personnel

While the men and women of the American armed forces are driving tanks, fixing jet engines and steering battleships into tight turns, many of their competitors for civilian jobs are going through the rigors of interviewing for positions, honing their resumes and learning the nuances of networking and office politics.

Although manning missile defense and laser-guided rocket systems has prepared the nation's military personnel to command any theater of war, there's still one battle zone in which they have the potential to find themselves outgunned: The American job market.

Luckily, the American military is nothing if not thorough. Realizing most members of the armed forces will have been out of job-hunting practice for an extended period, the Department of Defense (DOD) has set up an extensive network of career services designed to make sure service members are up to date on modern job-hunting practices when they make the transition back to civilian life.

For instance, the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) offers a two to four-day program for soldiers prior to discharge that runs them through the gamut of career preparation options available.

"It's a very popular program," says Joan Shartzer, a regional ACAP coordinator based in Fort Knox, Kentucky. And for many transitioning service members, it's their first experience with looking for a traditional job. "A lot of the individuals we work with have never had a job outside the military," Shartzer says.

Built on money provided by the DOD, the Army has designed a suite of its very own career-enhancing tools, including resume and cover letter writing software made specifically for transitioning soldiers, software to help soldiers research career interests and tutorials about relating military skills to civilian jobs. ACAP also provides a library of model interviews on video that transitioning personnel can view to learn about interviews for jobs in specific industries.

In addition to this, ACAP sets up job fairs and career events, provides one-on-one career counseling and even has its own online job searching Web site catering to employers looking for workers with military skills. "The whole workshop, followed by these tools, is the most powerful part of ACAP," Shartzer says.

The transition service programs for all four branches of the military are somewhat similar, but each was individually developed specifically for its type personnel: soldiers, seamen, airmen and marines.

As deep as the resources for transitioning military may seem to be, some feel the program still has to evolve to include more civilian resources before it will be truly effective.

"There's no real public/private partnership between the military and the civilian (career services) world," says Todd Weiler, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. A decorated Cobra attack helicopter pilot in the first Gulf War, Weiler says the career services available to him when he returned in 1991 left something to be desired.

"When I transitioned out, there really wasn't any formal program to help you transition from the military," he says. Career assistance existed, but there was "not much there."

After transitioning, Weiler set to work improving those services from his former post as a defense department official. Now a senior associate with the consulting firm Arrowpoint Corporation, which does defense consulting for Monster, Weiler says the future of career services for transitioning personnel should include more interaction with experts in the civilian job searching realm and contact with industries looking to hire former service members. He is working to pilot new programs that will break the Army's mindset of relying completely on its own resources for career services.

According to Weiler, the ideal career service package for transitioning personnel would rely on three elements working together: academic education services on military bases, civilian career, resume and job searching specialists, and companies specifically looking to hire transitioning candidates.

"It's sort of a three-legged stool, if you will," Weiler says. Better career services, including improved help on creating a "civilianized" resume and localized job databases for transitioning armed service personnel, will also eventually help the military branches with future retention and recruiting efforts for the Reserves and National Guard. Helping personnel find jobs keeps the Army in good favor with former members and keeps them involved in the Guard and Reserve.

"You're investing in your marketing future," Weiler says.

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