Not enough veterans speak honestly about the challenges of having your military career disrupted by unexpected disabilities – how difficult it is to claim a new identity, adapt to a new way of life, and perhaps join the civilian workforce for the first time.
After retiring from the military in 2016 after a debilitating stroke, I struggled to find employment and purpose as a civilian in addition to a disability that I had to reckon with. What I thought was a seamless transition from soldier to contributing member of society turned out to be a fight I was not adequately prepared for.
To help you, I have compiled the four most important pieces of advice I would have liked to know before I began my transition into the civilian world. While it’s not an easy journey, building a new life after the military can be incredibly rewarding if you focus on your goals.
Job rejections are part of the process
We leave the military with a number of unique skills and experiences, and it can be easy to believe that employers will offer us jobs. But job search components – answering application questions, creating résumés and cover letters, and interviewing – can seem daunting at first. These are skills that you will improve over time. It takes practice to dial into your best professional self and really show what you bring to the table.
What I keep hearing from employees without a military background is the following: Service members consistently downplay their knowledge, skills and abilities in resumes and interviews. Professional help is often needed to show you (and potential employers) that what you have received from the military is not average. My breakthrough in job hunting came when I sought professional résumé help with a military-style organization that recruits veterans. The career counselor who helped me took my average resume and highlighted it by highlighting my years of leadership experience and operational experience.
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), an advocacy and research organization for disabled veterans, has a Veterans Career Program with a variety of resources to help you find a job and identify potential barriers to employment. PVA’s Veterans Career Program is made up of professional rehab counselors and employment analysts who can help you create a traditional or federal resume that reflects your skills, draws up meaningful cover letters, and conducts interviews. They also have PVA Veterans Career Live, virtual courses on a range of career topics that you can add to your toolkit. There are also courses on dealing with job rejection, how to tell your military history, and how to choose a major. I cannot express how helpful these services are, especially when you are feeling stuck and need help getting ahead.
You don’t have to accept your first job offer
This may look a number of different ways, but it comes down to knowing your worth. First of all, you don’t have to say yes to the first company you want to hire. When you are under financial pressure or feel discouraged by weeks or months of looking for a job, it can be very tempting to take the first job you can get. It’s okay to stand up for something better. You deserve to enjoy work that suits your interests and abilities and that pays you fairly. If you are concerned about taking a position, it is worth investigating why you are feeling this way. Are the working hours suitable for your lifestyle? Can I commute several times a week? What do the employees say about this company? Do you think the compensation is fair? Is this one step up the ladder where you want your career to go? What does the service package look like?
Another thing to remember is that even if you want to work for the organization that makes you an offer, you don’t have to take the first offer. This assumes that you understand what your time and talents are worth in terms of wages and benefits. Federal jobs don’t leave much wiggle room for salary negotiation due to the structure of the GS salary scale, but if you understand the pros and cons of level advancement within each class, you may have leverage to get a better job. Here’s a great article on how to fairly negotiate a federal job offer. Once you’ve received an offer in the private sector, you may have the flexibility to negotiate a better salary or benefit package. Here are some tips from Glassdoor. It takes some confidence and skill to negotiate a higher salary or wage, but knowing what you’re worth can pay off in the end.
Disability is not an unemployment penalty
For many of us, transitioning from military to civilian life is difficult and exponentially more difficult when faced with a new disability. There is a new pace of life to adjust to, and sometimes we need to find a different way of doing things, including relying on others for help. My greatest fear, before being calmed down otherwise, came from my belief that my disability made me a liability in the workplace. I was putting so much pressure on myself to hide and mitigate my condition because I thought no one would hire or keep me if I had limitations. Then someone told me about the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that prevents employers from discriminating current or future attitudes based on their disability. And they need to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, such as: For example, accessible parking spaces, adaptable materials or equipment (such as large format printed matter or a desk for wheelchair users), or more frequent breaks so that you can work comfortably and effectively. Other laws, such as the Rehabilitation Act, offer federal employees protection from discrimination based on a disability in employment and actively encourage federal entrepreneurs to hire and hire people with disabilities.
The inclusion of disabilities in the workplace also offers many benefits. People with disabilities often have unique problem-solving skills and bring different perspectives to the table than their capable colleagues. A 2018 study by Accenture found that workplaces that focused on inclusion and diversity of disabilities had 28% higher sales and 30% higher profit margins than other companies over a four-year period. The study also showed that the inclusion of disabilities resulted in lower turnover, fewer absenteeism and higher productivity.
The online job accommodation network is a great reference if you are wondering what types of accommodation are allowed under the ADA due to various medical conditions. PVA is also a great resource if you’re curious about what rights you have under the ADA. You can also provide legal assistance and stand up for your rights as a disabled person. A disability should never prevent you from doing a meaningful job.
There are tons of other resources available to help you overcome barriers to employment such as: B. VA services for medical care, special equipment or adapted apartments or vehicles. For more information on adaptive housing and automobile grants or other VA disability benefits, please visit their website.
Follow your own path
I am convinced that there is no such thing as a linear career path, especially after having been forced to make a major life detour through disability and lose a career in the military. It can feel deeply disoriented to create a new identity and reassess lifelong goals and dreams. But it’s also an opportunity to take stock of what is really important to you and create a new, albeit different, life for yourself. One important thing to remember is a lesson that took years to learn, but that changed my life when I finally accepted it – you won’t just get to your goal or fall into success. They find it or work for it or build it. And it takes time. Detours, setbacks, failures and those who haven’t seen moments ahead are your building blocks for a more meaningful future. Take the time to get there, see where the path is going, and enjoy the journey.
Visit the PVA Veterans Career Program website for career guidance assistance or to learn more about PVA’s Veterans Career Program.
This article was made possible by PVA Veterans Career Program.
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