When you leave the military, the biggest question is "what's next?" It's a scary job market right now, but the skills you've received in the military make you highly marketable. The Legion sponsors dozens of veterans hiring fairs each year, and our employment experts also provide tips to writing resumes, networking and making a strong impression in the interview process.
Amanda Leigh, assistant director of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, participated in an Oct. 19 discussion on veterans unemployment with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Three other local veterans were involved in the meeting that took place at a restaurant near Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va.
The president and first lady wanted to speak with veterans who have recently transitioned out of the military or are currently seeking employment. Leigh, who had served in an Army Reserve civil affairs unit and deployed to Iraq twice, left the military in July 2010.
Leigh, who sat next to the president, said Obama "wanted to hear about how we transitioned out of the service, what it was like for us, and how we found employment. He wanted to know what was working in the process and what wasn't."
Leigh told the president that she and her husband (who served in the Marine Corps and with an Army civil affairs unit) left the military and used their GI Bill education benefits to earn college degrees. When they began applying for jobs and going to career fairs, both of them noticed that many positions being offered, such as truck driving, private security and construction, did not require academic degrees.
"So we had a difficult time finding employment that matched not only our military skills, but our education, which we really wanted to utilize," Leigh told the president. "We looked at the job market and what our skills were, and we realized that the D.C. area might be a good place for us to find employment." Leigh and her husband moved to Washington and, within a couple of months, both had found jobs.
The group also discussed the need for the private sector to hire more veterans and reduce the transitional stress on military families by providing spouses with jobs at their new duty stations whenever feasible - points made earlier by Mrs. Obama in remarks she made to an audience at Andrews Air Force Base.
"We talked about the need for more coordination of private sector efforts to provide veterans and military spouses with jobs," Leigh said. "And the need to educate the private sector about military skills and training that veterans bring with them to the job market. The private sector doesn't realize everything that veterans can bring as an employee."
Leigh said the commander-in-chief and first lady are "considering a new effort that would educate the private sector, so it has a better understanding of veterans' work experiences when they apply for a job."
The Transition Assistance Program was also discussed and how it could be extended and improved. The group also discussed the difficulty of writing resumes without using military jargon and acronyms that are familiar to veterans but foreign to many civilian human resource staffers. "We talked about how we coordinated with other servicemembers who had found jobs and tried to make our resumes similar to theirs - because theirs apparently worked," Leigh said.
Peter Gaytan, executive director of The American Legion in Washington, said that Leigh's informal lunchtime meeting with the Obamas was "another important opportunity for us to communicate directly with the president and first lady, to share with them our firsthand experiences with the difficulties of veterans in the job market, and to let them know we want the private sector to put more effort into hiring our nation's veterans."
Gaytan said The American Legion works every day, somewhere in America, to get jobs for veterans. "We have been involved in this issue for a long time with Congress, federal agencies and the private sector. We certainly appreciated the change to voice our concerns directly to the president and first lady."
Leigh said it was important for a Legionnaire "to be able to sit down and actually converse with the president in person. It was impressive to see the concern that he has, and the concern Mrs. Obama has, for veterans. You could tell they were very dedicated about addressing this issue, and that they want to find solutions to finding employment for veterans."