If you’re one of many Veteran students who recently graduated from college, by now, you’ve made your way to the commencement podium, received your diploma, and might be wondering what life has in store for you next.
Do you start applying for jobs in the civilian workforce, or is it time to reenlist and put your new knowledge to use? Veteran status or not, every student’s college career path looks different, and now is the time to plan ahead and figure out your next move.
Data on Veteran Students and Higher Education
Civilian college students typically range from 18 to 21 years of age, but this demographic looks a bit different for Veteran students. According to Student Veterans of America, 80% of student Veterans are between the ages of 24 and 35 because many serve before pursuing a college degree.
Many are more likely to have children or other financial obligations, like a mortgage, by the time they enroll – factors that average 18-21-year-old students don’t have to consider. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, Veteran students had a 54% completion rate for higher education, which was similar to the overall national average of 53% and higher than the 39% completion rate of other adult learners.
More Veterans are taking advantage of higher education opportunities offered to them through the government and individual universities, meaning more Veterans are entering the civilian workforce each year. Even with a degree in hand, this can be a daunting process, particularly for Veterans whose past work experience looks different than that of their peers. Below are a couple of tips to be mindful of as you build the foundation for your professional career.
As a military Veteran, there are many resources available at your fingertips to help you grow and succeed, no matter where you might be in your professional journey. Each of these organizations offers unique, military-focused services to help foster your growth and success. For example, American Corporate Partners, Vets2Industry, and Veterati provide free mentorship programs and professional development opportunities. HireMilitary and Hire Heroes USA help diverse military talent (like yourself) find new employment opportunities. For those seeking to further their knowledge, PM ProLearn offers learning courses for project managers, and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families program offers excellent continuing education and certification courses exclusively for Veterans.
Beyond Veteran-focused resources, LinkedIn is an excellent tool to connect with a community of professionals in your current or adjacent industries. This platform also allows you to expand your professional network or learn more about a desired career path.
Take the time to explore the website, add your existing experience to your profile, join different groups you’re interested in, and keep an eye out for networking events, both in-person and virtual. MeetUp is another free app you can download on your mobile device or visit online to find more networking events in your community.
Job fairs can also be effective, but it’s best to walk into them with a plan in mind. Take the time to research companies you want to speak with beforehand. What do they do, and why do you think you would be a valuable addition to the team? Make sure to be prepared and have extra copies of your resume on hand. It’s always wise to have a few questions in your pocket for each company you want to talk to in case they decide to conduct an interview with you on the spot.
Walk Into Interviews Prepared
When it comes to interviews, it’s best to leverage your military experience to your advantage. After all, successful interviews are really about how you frame your existing experience. The military taught us many skills, including working in high-stress environments, leadership opportunities, and problem-solving. These practical skills translate well to the civilian workforce. During your interview, look for opportunities to highlight key accomplishments or recognitions you received while serving or during college.
Express interest and desire for continued learning or professional development opportunities during an interview. Employers may already provide in-house professional development courses or be willing to help fund external seminars, credits, and programs. By clearly communicating your long-term and short-term career goals, you are proving to the potential employer that you are a highly motivated individual who is willing to learn more.
Overcoming anxiety about conversations with potential employers can be intimidating, but it’s worth it when self-advocating. When asking about professional development programs, if possible, communicate exact expenses and how your learned skills will add value to the organization as a whole. This will prove you’ve done your homework and are planning ahead as if you were already a member of the team.
Recommendations for the Future
Sometimes, job opportunities will require you to move to a new location. Before accepting an offer, be mindful of your lifestyle habits. Are you someone who loves going on outdoor adventures? Will this job location satisfy your social and emotional needs? Keeping these factors in mind will help you make the right decision and lay the foundation for a positive work/life balance.
If you’re looking for activities to participate in outside of the office and feel the itch to reenlist, one alternative is to join the National Guard or Reserve Forces, which offer decent part-time income and let you maintain your affiliation with the service.
Get involved with Veteran organizations that support your interests. Team Red, White, and Blue (RWB) is one organization that enriches Veterans’ lives through physical and community activities. You can also volunteer with local organizations in your community. I’ve found these experiences rewarding since the military taught me the value of giving back to the community, doing things for others, and supporting causes greater than myself.
I volunteered with the Red Cross for more than 20 years and still volunteer with many organizations today. Volunteering at local organizations will help you stay connected to your military community or find new communities to connect with.
Network beyond just a community of Veterans. It’s natural to flock to people you’re familiar with. Veterans often feel isolated and don’t always find their new purpose after service or college without actively seeking it. Instead, push yourself out of your comfort zone and be willing to try new things that will continue to train your mind, body, and spirit. Using the skills that the military taught you and all that you learned as one of many Veteran students in higher education can be a game-changer for your career.
From contributor Col. Jerry Quinn — COO of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA)