With High Unemployment, Vets Seek Federal Careers

With more than 300,000 service members expected to leave the military each year over the next five years, combat veterans who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are turning their career searches toward the federal government in the face of rising unemployment rates.

Even with joblessness among young veterans elevated, former servicemen and women are still aiming high, often targeting prestigious federal jobs. Unemployment among veterans in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars period rose to 11.7 percent in January 2013, sharply higher than the 9.1 percent rate a year earlier and the overall jobless rate of 7.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many recently separated veterans are now making choices about their education and careers that will help determine the course of their entire lives. Joeng Park, a Marine Rifleman decorated for his combat service in Iraq, is among this new post-war generation.

A career as a police officer could satisfy many vets, but Park knew he wanted more, even before he entered the military. "I could have gone for the Army, but I went for the Marines," where the opportunities for leadership and training would be greater, says Park. "I wanted to go for the best, and I've always wanted a federal government job." After separating from the Marines in 2008, Park went to college to major in criminal justice, with the ambition of becoming an agent with a federal law-enforcement agency.

Coming out of the command-and-control culture of the armed forces, not all of his peers demonstrate such focus. "In the Marines, people tell you what to do, and you follow orders," says Park. "Now no one is telling us what to do, and many of us are stuck." Military transition assistance, while helpful and well-intentioned, is often not enough for veterans in their first encounters with the complex civilian job market of the 21st century.

The unemployment woes faced by many veterans will continue to exist for some time. With the curtailment of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S Department of Labor predicts that 300,000 service members will leave the military each of the next five years. Many of these veterans will face the daunting prospect of finding work in the civilian word, and some will turn their eye toward the federal government, much like Joeng Park. Typically, veterans can use help with presenting their military experience in ways that maximize its value to civilian employers, including the federal government. Veterans are often unaware of common resume pitfalls that may keep them from landing their federal dream job.

"War heroes like Joeng can often benefit from help with writing their federal resumes and preparing for interviews," says Kathryn Troutman, president of The Resume Place and author of Ten Steps to a Federal Job. "The federal application process, via USAJOBS, is very detailed and technical, and quite different from applying for employment in the private sector."

According to Troutman, combat veterans like Park possess strong foundations and marketable skills for federal employment such as communication skills, planning, problem solving, decision making and leadership. But many veterans simply don't know how to navigate the federal job application process or how to market themselves in a competitive federal job market.

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