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Workshop Prepares Transitioning Troops for Civilian Careers

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md., July 7, 2008 – About 60 servicemembers gathered here today to begin five days of seminars and workshops to help them tap into experience and skills gained through the military as they transition to civilian careers.

The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, some wrapping up their initial tour of duty, others retiring with more than 20 years of service, gathered for the post’s monthly Transition Assistance Program workshop that some consider among the best in the military.

Operated as a partnership by the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Transportation and the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, the Transition Assistance Program brings job-search help and related services to separating servicemembers.

The TAPS workshop is the highlight of the program, taking servicemembers away from their work sites for an intensive, five-day focus on the transition they are about to make.

Pamela Schulman, transition manager for the post’s Navy Fleet and Family Support Center, brought together an array of speakers this week to share insights about how to look for and land for a job, launch a small business and tap into veterans’ benefits and services.

Schulman, a former sailor, understands firsthand the challenges of leaving the military culture to become a civilian. “It can be a difficult mindset to change, whether they’ve been in the military for three years or for 30,” she said. “When they leave the military, they’re becoming a whole new person.”

Schulman and the speakers she brings in to address the group teach servicemembers how to tap into the experience and other attributes they’ve gained through military service that make them particularly attractive job candidates.

“They have real-world experience, and they bring a level of maturity, along with good communications skills,” said Robert Henry, a retired Navy petty officer 1st class who spoke to the group about the Troops to Teachers Program.

“But beyond that, troops bring a sense of commitment to mission accomplishment,” Henry said. “For them, failure is not an option. There’s a kind of mentality they bring to the job that means they will do whatever they need to do to get something done and to do it right.”

Kathy Lane, a placement coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security, said servicemembers often underestimate the skills they’ve gained in the military that translate into sought-after civilian skills.

She gave the example of a foot soldier who knows how to analyze a situation, conduct a security analysis, come up with a solution to mitigate risks, then evaluate how that approach worked.

In addition, servicemembers often overlook the value of cultural backgrounds they’ve been exposed to and language skills they’ve picked up along the way as they present themselves to potential employers, Lane said. “You have to be sure your resume reflects all your skills,” she told the group. “It’s all about selling yourself, and this is the perfect opportunity.”

Schulman urged the workshop participants to take advantage of opportunities to promote themselves and their skills to potential employers. It’s something she conceded doesn’t always come naturally to servicemembers, so she encouraged each to come up with what she calls a “30-second commercial.”

“It’s basically an ‘elevator speech’ so you can talk to anybody and everybody about what you are doing, what skills you have and what you are interested in doing,” she said. “It’s what you say when you are looking for a job -- how you ‘sell’ yourself.”

Schulman said she is a huge advocate of networking, and encouraged the group to tap into their personal and professional contacts during their job search. “Networking is when you talk to somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody else,” she said. “It extends your reach through the people you know.”

June Napier, a recruiter for Emerging Technologies, emphasized the importance of a professionally written, well-organized resume that shows increasing levels of responsibility and continued educational growth. When she sorts through piles of resumes to determine who will get an interview, Napier said, she looks for one basic thing: “I want to know without talking to you what made you irreplaceable [in your job],” she said.

While getting an interview is critical, employers at the workshop emphasized that job candidates have to arrive at the interview well prepared, dressed professionally and ready to talk about what they have to offer. “The interview is an opportunity for you to shine,” Rich Goble, a retired Navy master chief petty officer who’s now a recruiter for L-3 Communications, told the group.

Later this week, participants in the TAP workshop will devote two and a half days to developing job-search techniques. An image consultant will teach them to “dress for success,” and they’ll also learn about other benefits provided for transitioning servicemembers.

Air Force Senior Airman John Kennedy said he’s impressed with the wealth of information the workshop provides and hopes it helps him when he goes on terminal leave in November. “There’s a lot here,” he said. “You learn to write resumes, dress for the job, and find out what kind of benefits you’re entitled to when you get out. It’s a lot of information.”

“This workshop is priceless,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rich Rice, who is preparing to leave the Navy in November after more than nine years of service. “It’s all the questions you’ve been thinking of, all bundled up in one week.”

“It’s absolutely valuable,” agreed Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Latosha Gibbs, a cryptologic technician at the National Security Agency here, who will leave the Navy in early October. “This tells you about all kinds of resources out there, and you get to hear it directly from the experts.”

Marine Sgt. Ian Johnson, an intelligence noncommissioned officer at the National Security Agency, called the workshop a unique opportunity for him to focus on what’s ahead for him after he leaves the military next month.

Johnson said he’s changed dramatically during five years in the Marine Corps, and knows he has attributes employers want.

“I’m steps and bounds ahead of where I’d have been if I’d just gone straight to college,” he said. “I feel like I’m well-rounded and I have skills that make me pretty marketable out there. Employers look at you and figure you have discipline, counseling skills and organizational skills. I love that.”

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