By Sarah Landrum
Making the transition from military to civilian life is far from easy, and it’s not something that most veterans are prepared for. After all the work and challenges they’ve faced, it may seem easy to assume that civilian life would be simpler, but that’s not always the case. When looking for work, it can come as a rude awakening how different the civilian world is to what they’re used to in the military.
As a mentor, it’s your job to help new veterans maneuver through the transition to the civilian workplace.
- Be Honest
Veterans come out of military service with all levels of experience and education. Some may have attained a Master’s degree, while others might not yet have a Bachelor’s. Those qualifications will affect the jobs they can apply for. If you feel that they need more education, or that their military background isn’t particularly helpful to the career they want to pursue, tell them.
It’s also helpful to give them pointers on anything they could improve upon: coach on interview style, check grammar and punctuation on their resumes, and even answer questions like how to dress and what aspects of military life are applicable to their job search.
For instance, firearms are an important part of military life, but experience and licenses with them aren’t always important for a civilian job. If your mentee is applying for work in the police force or as security personnel, then it’s certainly useful, but for most civilian jobs not so much. Don’t hold back constructive criticism when it could be useful — you’ll only undermine your mentoring relationship in the long run.
What people say is important, but so is what they don’t say. As a teacher once told me, “Never assume that communication has occurred. You have almost always heard it wrong.” This is why you should make an effort to really listen to the people you mentor. Moving from a military life to a civilian one is hard, especially since one is now expected to keep one’s life and work separate — a dramatic shift from when one’s life was one’s work.
When you’re speaking to your mentee, ask questions. Ask every question you can think of without getting too far off topic. Imagine what this transition feels like, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Try and find out about their family life, their friends, and what they want their lives to turn out like. All of that gives you information to help them on their job hunt. A position across the country is a poor choice for someone who doesn’t want to move their family again, but it might be perfect for a single person who’s looking to move somewhere with more opportunities. Improving your listening skills is vital to becoming the best mentor you can be.
- Narrow it Down
There are a lot of jobs in the military, but not as many as there are in the private sector. Only in the private sector can you be a dog walker, ketchup taste tester, bingo manager, or cat behavior consultant. The options can leave veterans confused. Actually, they can leave pretty much everyone confused! Helping someone to navigate this world and narrow down their feasible options is a great way to get started on the right path.
Keep in mind that getting it narrowed down might or might not include your mentee’s military experience. A healthcare specialist might want to continue work as a paramedic or doctor, but they may also want to branch out into other areas. Regardless of how related their field is, technology advances quickly, and recommending that your mentee investigate options for continuing their education is always a good way to expand their options.
- Open Up
Since you’re asking for so much information, both personal and professional, it’s only fair that you reciprocate somewhat. Making a genuine connection with someone is an important part of the mentoring relationship, and that can’t happen unless you’re able to share your experiences as well. Of course you want to make the most of your sessions, and get all the information you can to try and point your mentee in the right direction, but part of that needs to come from them.
By forgetting or refusing to share your experiences, you can come off as insincere and uninterested, which doesn’t help create a good relationship. If you’ve transitioned from the military, tell them what difficulties you had and what things took you by surprise. Talk about mistakes you made in your career (we’ve all made them!) and what you did to try and fix them. Talk about why you wanted to be a mentor. Opening up not only helps your relationship, it can also help your mentee to get a good feel for what they should expect from the civilian workforce. It’s a big change, and they’ll benefit from some forewarning.
Last, the most important aspect of any mentoring relationship is to invest yourself in it. This means that you put forth your time, effort and, occasionally, blood and sweat, so you had better see some kind of return on that! The best return, of course, is to see your mentee succeed, and you’ll give them the best shot of doing so by doing what you can to help. There are a few key aspects that define people who really invest in their relationships:
- They make time for the other person and they check in.
- They’re not afraid to give them a kick in the behind when it’s necessary.
- They have high expectations.
- They hold the other person accountable.
Understand that you might not be able to have a good relationship with every mentee. Sometimes it’s just not in the cards. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to back out. These people came to you because they respect your experience and reputation. It’s important to live up to that and try to help them as best you can.
About the Author
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and founder of Punched Clocks. Coming from a military family, Sarah is passionate about helping veterans find and succeed in a civilian career. Follow Sarah for more advice on career development @SarahLandrum