Why It Seems Like Every Separating Veteran Is Getting Hired Except You

(U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Pappaly)

Question: I’m getting ready to exit the military soon, and it seems everyone around me already has a job lined up. I don’t. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: It’s common to be confused by what you see happening around you during this transition. It might appear that everyone else has their future planned out and their career move determined. They appear to be “set.”

In reality, there are many reasons someone might have a job lined up before their military uniform comes off:

  • They might be less discerning about the work they’ll do next. If they didn’t have any clear goals or direction, it’s possible that your peers took a job, because on paper, it made sense, the compensation was workable and they really weren’t picky.
  • Their skills might be in high demand at the time. Someone with specialized skills in a growing area might find more employers pursuing them in that market.
  • The parameters around what they want to do might be more flexible than yours. Perhaps your need for less travel, better work/life balance and a certain compensation package means that the available job openings for you are more limited.
  • Their career path has a longer runway, so they took something more entry level, where perhaps competition is less steep, and where they can learn the skills and gain the experience needed to do what they want to do eventually.
  • They panicked. Yes, it’s possible that those around you saw their separation date looming and grabbed at the first job that was offered to them.

There’s always risk in comparing your situation to others, because you don’t know their situation, motivation or options. On the surface, it might appear they’re in a great place: They have a job.

But turnover statistics show that many veterans will leave their first post-military job quietly within the first couple of years, either because they didn’t choose correctly and were disappointed or their skills and values were not aligned.

As one report reflects, “Research shows that 43% of veterans leave their first civilian job within their first year, and 80% leave before the end of their second year, citing a lack of opportunity for career advancement and personal development.”

Instead of just taking the first offered job, consider these questions to ensure you find meaningful employment:

  • What is it I ultimately want to do? For example, do I see myself as an entrepreneur one day? If so, then choosing a job that will provide me the skills, network and experience to be a successful business owner makes sense.
  • Would additional education help my chances of entering the job market later in a better position? Perhaps taking advantage of the GI Bill resources, for instance, would ensure better and more relevant skills and knowledge so I can later pursue jobs that meet my specific financial and career goals more quickly.
  • What types of people would I enjoy working with? Do I like being around creative, free-thinking innovators? Or am I more stimulated working alongside analytical, structured professionals? Do I like working with a certain demographic of employees and leaders? These questions will help narrow down the industries and companies to pursue.
  • What do I value? What kind of work would feel meaningful and personally rewarding? This question is more “big picture” but very important. Where do I see myself long term? Who do I want to serve and be of service to?
  • What are my career non-negotiables? Will I be OK with as much travel as I did in the military? Do I want to set down roots in a community? What income do I need to provide for my family? Non-negotiables will come into play as I evaluate opportunities.

The goal is to find a first career job, post-military. If you find employment in a company you love and where you thrive, where you spend many years building your career -- fabulous.

At a minimum, you should look for a job that feels personally and professionally rewarding, where you’re valued and appreciated for the skills, talents, character traits and experience you bring, and where you’ll be proud to offer your best work.

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