(This article was sponsored by General Motors.)
Douglas E. Waite (MCCS (EXW/AW/NAC), USNR) is President of the GM Veterans Affinity Group. Below he discusses his military transition and his tips for veterans entering the civilian job market.
When I left active duty in 1984 the emphasis was on retention and not transition. Although some assistance was available there was nothing like what is available today. When I entered the civilian work force I paid to have a civilian resume written for me and to have a federal resume prepared. Thanks to the networking I had done while on active duty I learned of a civil service position at the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, CA that I was uniquely qualified for. I landed that position and eventually I went to work for the Air Force at Vandenberg AFB. Eventually I was able to use my federal experience to get a job at General Motors.
I have been fortunate to have such great jobs since I left the military, but I got them through networking, education, and perseverance. It is much easier to market yourself today and to keep track of what is available. If you want to work for GM all you have to do is go to GM.com/careers and you will see every salaried position that is currently available. There are a number of career fairs specifically for veterans and companies like GM are increasingly using virtual career fairs. Employers today get tax breaks for hiring veterans -- that didn't happen in 1984.
I can't emphasize education enough. I took advantage of the educational opportunities that were available to me. I wasn't able to rush right out and get a degree when I was discharged, but by the time I hired into GM I had a two year degree. I wouldn't have been considered for a permanent position without it. After I was hired I took advantage of GM's tuition assistance plan and got that Bachelor's Degree; if you want a good job and if you want to advance yourself you need a good education.
One thing that everybody has when they leave active duty is outstanding training and job experience. This combination instantly places you above your civilian counterparts who have not had your training or had the opportunity work the various jobs that you have. Employers already know that many of their best people are veterans so all you have to do is sell yourself.
Many companies like GM are using the targeted interviewing process. A targeted interview is designed to gauge your future performance based on your past behavior. You may be interviewed by teams of interviewers or a series of people. Not to worry, they will be asking open ended questions designed to get you to talk so they can see how you react and they can get a deeper understanding of what you know. Think of it as a Sailor of the Year of an NCO of the Year board. Use examples from your military background and treat the questions with a Problem, Solution, and Impact formula. Define the problem, then explain your solution and the resulting impact. This is a standard military approach and it will wow them in your interview.
Above all be patient and stay positive. You will eventually land a good job but be prepared to work your way up back up. Just like making rank in the military, you don't start at the top. I wish everybody luck and on behalf of the GM Veterans Affinity Group I thank you for your service.
MCCS(EXW/AW/NAC) Douglas E. Waite, USNR