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Get Your Foot in the Door: 5 Ways for Vets to Find a New Work Path

Veterans are in demand and their drive means they can forge their own way

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From side hustles to internships, there are many ways for veterans to steer their career into a new path and try it on for size. Here’s what you need to look for in fresh opportunities, how to land them and how to make the most of them as potential full-time roles.

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Pursue a side hustle

By landing a gig and sticking with it for at least three months, you’ll be able to “recognize its potential for your future,” Tom Kastner, vice president of financial wellness at Wounded Warrior Project, told AARP Veteran Report.

After getting that side hustle, ask yourself if the role is meeting your expectations and if it’s a good fit. Focus on honing tactical skills and soft skills like communication and time management.

Request extra work and immerse yourself in the organization. “Network and treat the job with the mindset that you want to be part of the organization,” said Kastner. “Not only will you learn more about the company this way, but the right people will notice, and doors will begin to open for you.”

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Arrange informational interviews

Ask new contacts for “informational interviews” — conversations of up to an hour to learn more about their company, impress them and sound out openings. 

Brooks Scott, executive coach and CEO of Merging Path told AARP Veteran Report: “Avoid fact-finding like, ‘How many people are in the company?’ or boring questions like, ‘What is your favorite part of working for this company?’”

Instead, spark a real conversation that makes you memorable. “Questions like, ‘When interpersonal conflict arises, how would you rate your team in terms of the time it takes to identify a problem and address it with the person?” Scott suggested.

“And you can follow that question up with an explanation for why you asked it, which will also show your level of intellect.”

Shadow a networking contact

As a former corporate recruiter, I can attest that those candidates who shadowed professionals successfully turned this into gained experience — plus talking points on their résumés.

Veterans can try on a job for size by asking a networking contact if they can shadow them. By participating in meetings and observing day-to-day responsibilities, you’ll be hands-on in that workplace. 

Then, leverage this by networking with people you’re meeting and arrange more informational interviews.

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Land a paid internship or apprenticeship

When you pursue paid internships or apprenticeships in learning environments, you’ll gain important skills. Often, these opportunities can become full-time roles.

For instance, Apprenti, a tech apprenticeship program that places people into top tech roles on a national scale, partners with various organizations. More specifically, hiring partners of Apprenti Veteran Services include Microsoft, Wayfair and JP Morgan Chase.

Although internships and apprenticeships typically end after a few months, speak to your supervisor about working there full time. If it doesn’t happen immediately, ask for a reference.

Volunteer

Even though volunteering isn’t paid, valuable skills and experiences can steer you into a new career path, such as giving up time for a local nonprofit and then getting hired when a position is available.

Additionally, tapping a trusted professional in your inner circle can help you navigate this journey, coupled with teaching yourself on YouTube and digital platforms if the volunteer gig doesn’t offer formal training.

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and author of Kick Up Some Dust: Lessons on Thinking Big, Giving Back and Doing It Yourself, told AARP Veteran Report: “The best way to succeed in business is to surround yourself with people you trust, learn as much as you can from good mentors, seek out additional training and learning opportunities, and don’t be afraid to take a big risk and do it yourself. But do it yourself doesn’t mean do it alone, and veterans know that better than anyone else.”

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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