- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Gem Jobs: Unearthing the Career you Didn't Know Existed

by Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Colorado Springs Utilities

As a job counselor for veterans, Shari Ruehling helps people find hidden gems - the jobs they typically don't consider. Unfortunately though, unearthing these careers doesn't come easily.

Case in point: a woman MP at Fort Bragg, N.C., didn't want to go into law enforcement. But she wanted to segue her skill set into a civilian career. To get to that "gem job," she examined her interests: She knew she liked volunteering at a women's crisis center, and she also had a bachelor's degree in psychology.

"Based on that, she discovered a field where she was helping women. We developed a resume and instead of highlighting weapons handling and traffic stops-- things a typical MP does -- we looked at her experience in conflict management, administrative skills, etc., and targeted it. She was hired as a victim's advocate in the state of Washington," says Ruehling. Ruehling works for Serco of Reston, Va., which administers the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP). The program helps veterans transition into civilian jobs.
To locate hidden jobs, the process is both simple and complicated, says Ruehling and other job coaches and psychologists. It starts with an easy evaluation of your immediate goals. From there, you branch off into the hard work of deciding the type of job you'll seek and figuring out what's required of you to obtain it, they say.

The easy part
You will fall into one of two camps, says Pamela Garber, a New York City private psychotherapist who helps veterans transition into civilian life. Either you want a career with permanence and challenge, or you want a temporary "transitional job."

"These are for people just getting back from Iraq and readjusting to life. They need something where they're not focused on work - something that has just a temporary feel to them," Garber says.

If you don't know which camp suits you, look at impulse control, abuse, residual effects from combat, family needs and medical issues, which will also help you determine whether you're ready for a permanent career, she says.

Then the evaluation work begins. List all jobs you've had - even the high school jobs before you joined the military. To what job types did you gravitate? What are your personal interests, even hobbies? How would you describe your personality?

"I believe in getting a good feel for interests - even boxing, working out, motorcycles - things that may not seem relevant," Garber says. "If the goal is a career of permanence and you like working out, you might get involved with police athletically or working with a gym. You might be entrepreneurial with an interest in boxing, so you could look at an equipment supply business for boxing. I have a friend who was a medic in Vietnam and got into acting in the field. It was a complete 180 from what heÕd experienced."

Ruehling also points to an ACAP offering: the Transition Assistance Program. It's a 2-day employment workshop that helps veterans crystallize their career dreams. "We really recommend people go through the workshop. It's a thinking exercise: what's important in life, where I want to live, what are my skill sets, how do I leverage what I have, whether I want to do something different. You have to do the hard work to answer those questions. It also depends on what your spouse is doing, your kids' needs, any medical situations," Ruehling says.

Karen Ridley is Policy and Training Integrator at Serco and has worked 19 years with ACAP Program. She says the recommended evaluation time after completing TAP is 40 hours. Those hours are spread over a long period of time for evaluation and counseling, depending on the person. Senior officers may need as long as 24 months to nail down their dream career goal, for example.
"I had one senior officer who wanted to teach on a college level. He spent 14 months working to get the job he wanted in Amherst, Mass. He flew from Europe back to the states to attend higher education conferences. There were no limits to him achieving his goal," Ridley says.

If you're leaning towards a temporary gig, you can also apply the same evaluation principles to your search. Get a baseline of your current situation - your financial and lifestyle needs. Do you need to be home to take care of a baby? Are evening hours okay? Then combine those answers with your interests. Focus on low-stress jobs to readapt to civilian life or on those that will help you maintain a personal interest. But think this through carefully, Garber says.
"You may think bartending is superficial day-to-day stuff. But I had one client who got frustrated with people talking about the country while they were at the bar," she says.

The hard part
Now the difficult work of job hunting begins. How do you segue your interests into the perfect job with the perfect company?

  • Consider all industries, even if you think there's nothing for you in them, says Daniel Nichols, executive director of Military to Medicine, which bridges the military community to careers in health care. For example, many veterans don't consider health care, but it's more than about medicine. "A hospital is a brick and mortar structure with a campus. That means it needs food, electrical, financial services to make it run. Those jobs are everywhere! Even in security, that area is stronger in health care than other industries. Working in health care also carries with it a sense of service to the community. So answer not only where you want to work but what do you like to do, then you look at the jobs available, and the industry should be last part of that. When you look for work in that way, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity," Nichols says.
  • Look for military-friendly employers, says Chuck Smith of CDW, a technology solutions provider. Check out lists of recommended companies in newspapers like Civilian Job News. Smith was a retired Air Force intelligence Major who later joined the National Guard. He was activated after 9/11 and served in Oman after the WTC attack. Companies like CDW, he says, are "not only seeking vets, but a lot also want them to maintain Reserve status. We have several activated involuntarily, and we look at total compensation and what it will be in the military and make up the difference. We don't want anyone else to be financially burdened," Smith says.

"We have the Associate Engineer Program, which requires Cisco networking experiences. Our technical recruiters talk to vets who have been setting up Cisco networks, commonplace, in combat. They have the ability to get up and running in austere conditions. What better candidate would there be for us?"


Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.


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