Watching the paint dry. That's very well what you might be doing for your first year out of uniform. The average out-of-work veteran drew 21 weeks of unemployment benefits last year, according to the Labor Department. That's a big block of nothing in the middle of a résumé, the kind of downtime that can make a future employer think twice.
Have you been home watching "Oprah" all that time? Employers would rather see a candidate who has continued to be productive in the long months between morning drill and the morning commute.
What can you do to keep busy and productive? Learn Education may prove the most impressive to future employers. Coursework, college credits and certifications show a willingness to push hard in service to one's career. Even more so, they represent actual achievement. An advanced degree or professional certification enhances one's skills. Learn something new and you're inherently of greater value in the workplace.
"If you are pursuing an advanced degree, if you are going forward with any sort of civilian certification, those will certainly be valuable," said Mike Arsenault, director of candidate services for military job placement firm Bradley-Morris.
Coursework doesn't even have to be directly related to your career. "Even something that is really personal enrichment — like taking some general business classes or learning a foreign language — employers like to see those things," Arsenault said.
Volunteer One way to bridge the résumé gap is with volunteer work. By lending a hand, a veteran shows an ongoing commitment to the notion of service, which also lies at the heart of military experience. Employers like to know that a potential hire is someone who will stay the course.
Don't just drop by the first soup kitchen you see. Make volunteer work relevant to your personal or professional interests. Many associations, for instance, offer members a chance to lead working groups or chair committees. That's a solid way to show interest in the profession — to demonstrate that this career is more than a 9-to-5 gig.
"Find some groups or causes that you are passionate about," said Mike Francomb, senior vice president at RecruitMilitary. "They often are in need of new leadership and good ideas, and that can be a great way not just to gain some experience but also to gain some networking contacts."
Work Another way to fill the gap between the military and a full-time job is to look for something temporary. You may even be able to draw partial unemployment.
"If people are staying near a base or a military installation, there might be some contracting opportunity for a month or a two at a time, or even up to a year," Arsenault said. "We're also seeing people hang their own shingle for the short term. If you were a mechanic in the military, you might do some work on cars on your own while you look for something else."
One of the best-paid gigs, in terms of satisfying future bosses, is in sales, Francomb said. There are always openings, and it looks good on virtually any résumé.
"A lot of folks coming out of the military never really consider sales as something to do. But you don't have to be a super-outgoing person to thrive in sales," Francomb said. "As a military person, you understand mission accomplishment, and that is the bottom line in sales. You've got a mission, and you need to go out and meet it."
Pull it off and future bosses are likely to be impressed, Francomb said. "The driver in every business in the private sector is the sales organization. Sales is where everything starts."