6 Inescapable Realities of the Veteran Job Hunt (and How to Escape Them)

man surrounded by darkness screaming

Veteran and spouse job programs are plentiful, free and constantly in the news, making you think the job hunt should be super easy for veterans, spouses and military in transition. Not so fast, people.

The reality is that the veteran job hunt is hard. Hard. Hard. Thus the presence of so many veteran job programs. On my darker days, I suspect the transition is constructed that way on purpose. Otherwise, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coasties and Guardians might just skip out on their military commitment and run away to the easier, funnier, more air-conditioned civilian world.

The message that the job hunt should be easy is so loud that when you run into difficulties, you think there is something wrong with you. You chalk it up to a lack of time, a weakness in your character or an insincerity in the market. None of those assessments is accurate.

Instead, there are many inescapable realities in the transition job hunt and in the spouse job hunt. Ignore them at your own peril. Face them, and you find that there are ways to escape and land the civilian job far faster than your peers.

1. Most of Your Job-Hunting Efforts Will Not Yield a Result.

You will work hard to submit a fantastic resume and never get a word in reply. You will reach out to people in your network who told you to contact them when you were getting out and get ghosted. You will do dozens of informational interviews that yield nothing but good wishes. The whole job-hunt process is discouraging and makes you think you will never get a job.

Escape this trap by thinking of the job hunt like going on a diet, giving up sugar or starting an exercise program. If you aren't losing weight and it feels like too much effort, you are going to quit trying. If you are doing all the job-hunt things and not getting a job, you are going to quit trying. That is human nature.

Instead, set more realistic expectations. Expect 10% of your efforts to yield a result. Ten percent of your applications. Ten percent of your networking emails. Ten percent of your interviews. If your efforts are not getting 10% results, that is the sign that you need to do something different.

2. You Must Make One Anxiety-Provoking Choice After Another.

My favorite creativity guru, Eric Maisel, points out that one reason it is so difficult to write is because the creative process forces you to make one choice after another. Making choices provokes huge anxiety in people. Ditto the job hunt.

As a veteran or spouse looking for work, you must make one choice after another, too.

  • Do you sign up with Hiring Our Heroes, or do you look for a different SkillBridge?
  • Do you reach out to your old CO, or do you pretend you never met her?
  • Do you get a job now or take your GI Bill and go back to school?
  • Should you major in business, computer science or musical theater?
  • Do you start your job hunt now or after the move?
  • Do you want to work remote, in person or hybrid?

"I don't want to choose anything, because I might get stuck doing that thing [for] the rest of my life," a recent client explained. Exactly. This is why the whole job-hunt process is so difficult.

Escape this trap by reducing the consequences. You are not going to get stuck doing something the rest of your life. You don't have to make a perfect choice right out of the box. Instead, set yourself the goal that you are going to start by trying three things. Trust your gut. If that program or career path doesn't seem to be working out for you, quit early and often and start again. During military transition, do-overs are unlimited.

3. You Won't Get the Answer You Think You Want.

I know we were all raised on "never give up" and "don't take no for an answer." Those are good things. Sometimes on the job hunt, persistence really is the answer. Sometimes, persistence is really not the answer. No matter how often you ask, people keep telling you something you do not want to hear.

Recently, I was coaching an E-6 leaving the Navy. With his work background, employers were interested in talking to him and asked for his resume. When he gave it to them, they voiced their disappointment that he did not have any certifications like CompTIA or C++ or AWS Solutions Architect.

"If they gave me the chance, I could do the job," he said. Which was probably true. Yet, he was ignoring the truth the recruiters were telling him: You need certifications to get hired at my company.

Escape this trap by believing the experts -- in this case, the recruiters. Sociologists know that if you get told the same answer over and over, you have probably found the answer. My rule is that if you get told the same answer three times, believe it and move on.

4. Crashing into Norms Is Extremely Painful.

I don't know about you, but I am a totally unique person. Actually, I do know about you. You are also a totally unique person, even though you are one of the 186,000 people who will leave the military this year alone.

The funny thing about unique people is that we crash into norms. We have an idea about how the civilian world should work, but then find out that the world does not agree with our assessment. You think you should be able to work that job remotely. Or you think a company would benefit from your consulting services. Or you are certain you could lead a group, conquer business development or take a position as a senior manager, director or vice president.

But if the company has never hired anyone like you with your background and network before, the likelihood is that they will not hire you. Norms are extremely difficult to break down.

Escape this trap by finding out what the norms are before you start crashing into them. You may decide that your desire is so great, and your uniqueness so ideally suited to the opportunity, that you will crash over that barrier. Good on you. Just resolve that you are going to persist to learn about the barrier and strategize the way around it.

5. The Most Popular Suggestions Will Never, Ever Work for You.

If you look at the resources for veterans and spouses, you might come to believe that all military people should get their certifications and miraculously become an information technology (IT) and cyber wunderkind. Which is kind of funny. Because not everyone is suited to that kind of work. I could probably graduate from a coding boot camp, but I would not last a day on the actual job.

Escape this trap by following the warmth. You know you are on the right track when you pay attention to a certain kind of opportunity, when your curiosity heats up, when your brain boils over with ideas. Your network will also warm up.

Your informational interviews will lead to the words, "I want to connect you with such and such a person ..." Or, "Have you talked to [mutual connection] yet? Let me send an email." One thing will lead to another. Follow up on all those warm leads until they cool or lead directly to a job.

6. You Must Ask Other People for Help.

I know you do not ask people for help as a rule. Other people ask you for help. In your military career -- or all your years as a military spouse -- you have been trained to be self-sufficient. You have been trained to figure it out on your own. I got that.

The thing is, the job hunt is different because it is social. Quitting one social group (the military) and joining a completely different social group full of strangers (a civilian company) is an enormous change. It requires winning the trust of the new group. If you don't know them -- and you really don't -- how will you figure out what they value without talking to them?

Escape this trap by accepting that it is absolutely necessary to get the deets from a real person. At this time of your life, you are not bothering anyone. Trust me. The friendly, generous, competent people who have publicly outed themselves as transition professionals are dying for you to call. Most of them have a military background of one kind or another. They have been where you are now and just want to save you from some of the pain and expense of transition.

Think of professionals in the transition world like the transition and employment counselors at your Fleet and Family Center or the Army Recovery Care Program. Or connect with military nonprofits focused on jobs for veterans like the Vets2Industry organization or VetsinTech.

Look at mentor programs like American Corporate Partners, Veterati or FourBlock. Join a mutually helpful group on LinkedIn like the Veteran Mentor Group guided so expertly by Joe Pascal. Come to a career coach like me. Join one of our FREE transition master classes on Military.com to get beyond the basics and learn some genius-level skills.

Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.

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Transitioning military, veterans and spouses may be qualified for the job, but they are missing the secrets of civilian hiring. Find out everything you need to know with our FREE master class series, including our next class. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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