From The Service to nonprofit service: Career resources for vets

By Amy Potthast.

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U.S. Army 1st Lt. Anthony Buchanan gets a hug after reading to children on "Read with a Hero Day." (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Kilka, Creative Commons)

In 2010, Daniel Finan separated from the Navy. He told us recently, “I was sure I was going to get stuck doing some kind of intelligence work or defense contracting because of my military background. Not what I wanted to do, at all.”

For veterans, the task of searching for a rewarding job—something in the civilian world that is as satisfying and selfless as service-to-country—has its complications.

  • Military service is more than a job — it’s a mission, it’s a challenge, it’s an identity, and it involves caring for the people you serve with. You can’t leave that kind of high-stakes job and be satisfied with just anything that pays the bills.
  • Over a million vets are unemployed, and their spouses (who move around frequently) are facing unemployment rates of 25 percent.
  • As sector switchers, vets entering the nonprofit sector must learn to translate their experiences and skills so that civilian employers get it.

After four months of searching and applying for positions he found on Idealist, Daniel landed a job at the Institute of International Education, as program manager of the International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Division.

If you are like Daniel, hoping to transition from military missions to nonprofit missions, you may benefit from these insights:

1) Network. Your path to a satisfying public service career at home is paved with relationships. Relationships will help you figure out your new career niche, learn where to look for jobs, and familiarize yourself with the lingo and philosophies of the sector.

Resources to check out:

2) Volunteer. A great way to build relationships in the nonprofit sector is to volunteer with organizations that mean something to you. You should list your volunteer position and job duties on your resume — in line with paid positions. Search volunteer listings here on Idealist or refer to these other resources.

Resources to check out:

  • Mission Serve, a program of ServiceNation, connects vets and civilians through volunteering — often an entry point to careers in the nonprofit sector. Its blog is filled with stories of vets who have found meaning in service here at home.
  • AmeriCorps isn’t technically volunteering, but it is full-time, stipended service here at home. Opportunities exist throughout the States and Territories and service comes with an education award of about $5,000 to put towards school.

3) Lead with issue. Many sector switchers wonder, “what employer needs my skill set?” Coming from military training and service, it’s clear you have a strong set of unique skills that a nonprofit will put to good use.

But in the nonprofit sector, more important questions to ask are, what am I passionate about? What change do I want to see in the world? Consider the social or environmental issues that you are most concerned with, and find ways to work on them professionally.

Resources to check out:

Your turn to weigh in! Are you transitioning out of the Service? What secrets or success stories can you share?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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From Serving Your Country to Serving Your Community

Announcing our latest resource for career transitions: From Serving Your Country to Serving Your Community. This booklet is free for download, and is an introductory companion to The Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers.

One of our Career Corner columnists, Steven Joiner, created this resource for soldiers on active duty as well as veterans who are interested in transferring their talents from service in the armed forces into a social impact career in the nonprofit sector. Topics include setting yourself up for success during your service; making the switch from service to social impact work; and adjusting to your new work after your transition.

Also of note: today Service Nation launched Mission Serve, “a network of 36 initiatives partnering civilian and military service organizations to meet the critical needs of our nation, troops, military families, and veterans.” To learn how you can support military families, help veterans find meaningful employment, and otherwise get involved, visit the Mission Serve website.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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