Making a Smooth Military-to-Civilian Career Change

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.

Tang_Smith_HeadshotRecently, UMUC Assistant Director of Veterans Initiatives Tang Smith provided insight into his military-to-civilian career transition. Smith is a retired Army veteran with more than 20 years of service, he completed various military education schools and courses as well as participated in multiple tours overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Smith served in several special duty assignments such as Recruiting Duty, Drill Sergeant, and ROTC Senior Military Science Instructor. He joined UMUC in May of this year. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management from Columbia Southern University.

Q. With the veterans’ unemployment rate over 13 percent just a few years ago and with you recently making the transition into the civilian sector, what is the current state of veterans’ unemployment today?

A. I feel that the right measures are currently in place to continue making positive strides in veteran unemployment statistics.

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. Making the decision to retire was one that I debated for some time, but once I made the decision, I formulated a plan early on. I connected with people of various ranks and asked about their lessons learned, both good and bad. Unfortunately, I was not living in the state that I was stationed at when I made the decision to retire so I knew that I would have to find another way to connect with possible employers.

I became proficient at finding hiring managers, especially ones not listed in the job post. I also became proficient at writing emails to those persons. I say I became proficient because each email that I sent received a reply. I also attached my resume and cover letter to those emails even though I applied online.

I did not have to obtain any additional education for the positions I was interested in. However, I did continue to reevaluate myself and identified educational opportunities that I wish that I had taken advantage of to make myself more marketable. Deciding on a job area was pretty difficult for me. The approach I took to this challenge was to eliminate the job fields I did not want to pursue. My decision to pursue a career in higher education came from realizing that I enjoyed myself most when I worked in higher education as an ROTC – Senior Military Science Instructor. Even though income was a driving factor in considering a job, job satisfaction was the most important thing to me.

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

A. By having learned the art of patience. So many times in the military, things were beyond my span of control, especially timelines. I also value the experience that I gained working in a diverse environment. Connecting and working with people with different personalities remains easier because of having to do it so often with the end result being mission success.

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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. Continue to revaluate yourself. Be your worse critic. After each task ask yourself, “how could I have done that better?” Also, seek out mentors. Take advantage of the opportunity to congratulate those that you see advance and then ask them for advice.

Many times in the military, I had to participate in meetings or projects where I felt that I was “just a fly on the wall.” What I did not realize at that time was that I was gaining connections by meeting people at those events who would become part of my professional networking circle. The same applies in the civilian sector. Attend workshops, and meetings that are offered. Continue to grow your professional networking circle. This will provide you with opportunities that you may not otherwise be familiar with.

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. Approach transitioning the same way you would approach any mission you had in the military. Make a plan with different courses of action. Also, build a support system. The stress cannot be avoided but your support system will be there to provide encouragement. If you are married, include your family in the decision making process.

You can maximize career opportunities by identify as many of the soft skills that you gained in the military and clearly articulating them in your cover letter and resume. You will remember the big projects that you worked in the military, but capture those skills and traits that enabled you to complete those projects as well.

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

A. There will be days that you may become discouraged. This is fine. Giving up is not an option. Never give up.

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.