Transitioning into the Civilian Workforce

 

July is “Military Appreciation” month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s staff and alumni veterans who have successfully transitioned from a career in the military into a career in the civilian workforce.

Keith Hauk head shotRecently, UMUC Associate Vice President, Veterans Initiatives and Military Operations Support, Keith Hauk provided insight into his military to civilian career transition. Hauk currently provides vision, leadership, strategic oversight and direction of University-wide student veteran services, and ensures all military-connected students (veterans, military and their family members) receive needed advocacy, resources and support to assist them in working toward their educational goals and successful transition in the civilian workplace.  Hauk is a 29-year Army veteran, who retired as a colonel in September 2015.  Over the course of his career he served in locations across the continental United States, Europe, Central America, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  He holds an undergraduate degree from the United States Military Academy, and advanced degrees from the Colorado School of Mines and the United States Naval War College.

Q. With the veterans’ unemployment rate over 13 percent just a few years ago, what is the current state of veterans’ unemployment today?

A. The state of veterans’ unemployment has improved, but there’s still much more to be done.  The VA’s 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report bears this out.  The current veterans’ unemployment rate hovers just above 8 percent, which remains higher than the adjusted, non-veteran rate (5.5 percent).  What we do see though, from the VA’s own statistics, is that once veterans do gain employment, their median income is $10,000 higher than their non-veteran peers.  Post-9/11 GI Bill utilization plays a large role in veterans securing the needed degree or credential to gain post-military employment as, on average, over 110,000 veterans are enrolled in either full-time or part-time programs, and, when looked at as a cohort, veterans’ degree-completion rates using the post-9/11 GI Bill (48 percent) compare favorably to the general population (49 percent).

Q. How did you make your transition from active-duty into the civilian workforce? How did you identify possible career paths to transition into?

A. I sort of made my transition out of the military by figuring out what I didn’t want to do. I had some opportunities to work in the defense contractor industry, and, while that’s important work, I just wanted to do something different. I was told by an old sergeant major that’s a mentor of mine, “it isn’t retirement, it’s just change-of-mission – so go find your next mission.” You can’t serve 20-plus years in the military, and not care deeply about service members and their families. It is the people in the military that make it such a great organization to be a part of.  That feeling, and the need to find that “next mission,” is what led me to start looking at opportunities in higher education focused on military and veterans and ultimately led me to UMUC.

Q. How have some of your military career experiences shaped you into the civilian professional you are today?

A. The real experiences, coming out of the military, that have shaped me are what I’d call the “soft skills”—the ability to work as a team and as a part of a small group; the ability to effectively multiple, sometimes competing demands; the ability to handle stress and be resilient when things don’t go as planned. I think those are the things that employers value the most from veterans.  The “hard skills” directly related to a civilian job are important, but most employers feel that they can teach whatever an applicant lacks in that regard, if the person has those other skills.

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Q. What advice would you give UMUC students and alumni who are veterans already working in the civilian sector? How can they maximize their career opportunities by leveraging their previous military experience?

A. If you’ve been in the civilian workforce for a while post-transition, don’t underestimate the importance of your network – both civilian and military. You’ll hear about opportunities through that network long before you see them through other means like job boards or advertisements.  The other piece of advice I’d give is to make sure that your resume appropriately—and strongly—recognizes what you did in the military, and conveys it in such a way that it is understandable to someone with no military experience.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help in making that resume “understandable” – I certainly needed help with mine!

Q. What advice would you give UMUC active-duty students and alumni looking to transition into the civilian workforce? How can they maximize their career opportunities by leveraging their current military experience?

A. Every military service-member will transition at some point in their life, whether it is after a 20-plus year career, or after serving one enlistment. You’re at a distinct advantage when you make that transition, because of your military experience. But to leverage that advantage, consider a school and degree field that will not only compliment your military career, but also prepare you for your next.  When evaluating schools, first look at the career you want to pursue when you transition, find out what degree best supports it, and then select a school that offers that program and gives you appropriate credit for what you did in the military as well as other prior learning.  Focus your search on schools that have a track record of support to military students—from the time you start taking classes all the way through career services and alumni support; those are the schools that have the knowledge and resources to support your transition.  UMUC has a fantastic Career & Alumni services group that can assist all UMUC students and alumni in making that step to their next job or career.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni about military transitioning?

A. It doesn’t matter if you serve three years or 30, the transition process is important – you are setting the conditions for the rest of your life! The vast majority of new veterans have limited exposure to private-sector employment or higher-education, and that lack of experience and exposure can create significant obstacles for service-members as they leave the military.  I counsel people all the time to take their transition out of the military very seriously.  Don’t treat the process like just another PCS move – it is much more important than that!  Plan ahead and start early—at a minimum, start a year or two prior to your scheduled ETS date.  Ask for help from peers, superiors and mentors and solicit feedback from people that you know who have made a successful transition.  Transitioning out of the military isn’t an event; it is a process involving much, much more than just attending a one-week TAP course.

To assist in your military-to-civilian career transition, join us on July 26 for the “Switching Careers After the Military” webinar and July 28 for the “When to Do What: Action Plan for Military Transitioning Success.” Click the hyperlinks included in the webinar titles to register.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.