It’s challenging to leave your family and home to risk your life serving your country. You’re gone for months, living on a schedule predetermined by your chain of command. Soon you’ll be home, the master of your own time once again. But you’re scared you’ll find yourself asking, “Now what do I do?”
Don’t be caught after separation without a plan. These tips can help you get you started now, even if you’re still down range:
1. Read, read, read
Start simple by reading any and every topic that interests you. These subjects don’t have to match your military occupation. They can just be industries and markets you want to know more about.
Think outside the box. Many of the jobs we’ll have in the next 10 years don’t even exist yet. Pick a few subjects and become well-versed.
2. Build your network
Networking is essential, but how should you do this from abroad? Social media has changed the way we interact, making long-distance professional connections totally possible.
Find the “noisemakers” in your area of interest and chat them up on Twitter. Join relevant groups on LinkedIn. Don’t forget that military-centric sites like Military.com have message boards for life after deployment.
3. Find out what’s heating up—and what’s slowing down
You’re returning to a market flooded with qualified candidates across many industries. Be realistic about your chances to be noticed.
More specialized skills will help you stand above the rest. A budget analyst is a dime a dozen—but a budget analyst who speaks Pashto is a rare find!
4. Beware the G.I. Bill hustle
The G.I. Bill was intended to give back to returning troops who have already given so much of themselves to our nation. Unfortunately, veterans with G.I. Bill funds are the target of many scams meant to cheat them out of this great benefit.
As soon as you touch down, you’ll be presented with countless degree programs and job placement companies. Some employers will promise to train you for a non-existent position in exchange for part of your G.I. Bill. Don’t fall for this or other scams. Do research before you sign up for any program post-deployment.
5. Put together a portfolio
Just like you have a folder for all those awards, certificates and letters of recognition, you should have a place to put all of your work. If operational security is an issue, use samples or mock documents.
Don’t know what to put in your portfolio? Be creative. Ask for written recommendations from officers in your unit. Find service members in other units you have worked closely with, and ask them for testimonials about your work ethic and experience.
Don’t look at your time overseas as a shortcoming or something you have to explain away on your resume. With the right outlook and language, you can make your deployment work for the career you want after your commitment is done.
Karen Ross is the CEO of Sharp Decisions, an award-winning consulting firm recognized by Crain’s New York as one of the largest woman-owned companies in New York City. Sharp Decisions’ V.E.T.S. Program is a private initiative to place veterans in tech jobs across the country.