Great information about military health care benefits at transition

This is a repost from Jim Carman’s great synopsis of military health care availability for those going through transition (originally posted on the MOAA Linkedin group page):

 Career and Talent Management Team Leader: 703-968-6383

This week’s LinkedIn career building essay comes from Katherine Tracy, MOAA’s Deputy Director for Healthcare Programs. You’ve made the decision to transition from the military and may be wondering how this impacts your healthcare benefits. Let’s take a quick look through two lenses: military retirement eligible or not.
If you’ve not fulfilled the 20 year requirement for a military retirement, your healthcare ends on your last day of regular active duty service or in the case of an activated National Guard or reserve member and serving a period of more than 30 consecutive days of active duty in support of a contingency operation, on the last day of your transition period known as Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP) which is 180-days following your separation date. The TAMP benefit also applies to active duty service members serving in support of a contingency operation separating due to:
• stop-loss,
• sole survivorship discharge, or
• agreement to become a member of the Selected Reserve of a Reserve Component the day immediately following release from regular active duty service.
Military retiree’s under age 65 can choose between a managed care option (HMO), known as Tricare Prime, or a fee for service option called Tricare Standard. The main difference between the two is cost verses choice. Tricare Prime is least costly; whereas, Tricare Standard offers the greatest choice in selecting providers. Furthermore, the Tricare Prime option is limited to those who reside within the catchment area of a Military Treatment Facility (MTF).
Tricare also comes with a pharmacy benefit delivered through three points of service listed below in the order of least to greatest out-of-pocket cost to you.
• Military Treatment Facility,
• Tricare Home Delivery Pharmacy, or
• Tricare Retail Pharmacy.
Next, the Tricare Retiree Dental Plan (TRDP) provides a dental option for retiree’s as well as gray-area National Guard or reserve members and their dependents. Timely enrollment, within 120-days of eligibility, ensures the full range of benefits is available immediately. Otherwise, there’s a 12-month wait-period for crowns, bridges, orthodontics and dentures.
Lastly, once retired, your Tricare catastrophic cap rises to $3,000.00/family per fiscal year. The catastrophic cap is your maximum out-of-pocket expense for Tricare covered benefits. Here, the key is Tricare covered benefits. If in doubt – ask!
This has been a whirl-wind through the healthcare benefit structure. If you need further guidance or would like to schedule a one-on-one consultation to discuss your particular situation in more detail, call a MOAA Benefits Counselor at 1.800.234.6622.
Finally, for those readers in career transition who have served as officers in any branch of the armed forces and are located in the greater Washington, D.C. area, The West Point Society of DC’s annual Military Officer Job Fair will be held on December 6 from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm at the Waterford Reception Center in Springfield, Virginia. For the second consecutive year, MOAA is assisting in the promotion of this job fair, which will be open to all military officers regardless of commissioning source or branch of service. There is no charge to attend and no pre-registration is required. For more details, please see http://www.wpsdc.org and follow the links to career networking night. Thanks for reading and happy holidays, Jim Carman, MOAA Transition Center Director.

It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits Amazon.com.  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!

Orders to Nowhere: The Book!

Coming soon!  The launch date is expected by be no later than November 10th, but hopefully sooner. I’ll post a note as soon as it goes live.

Written over the two years of navigating the often frustrating and always confusing waters of military transition, Orders to Nowhere is finally available in print!

Orders to Nowhere is the essential insider’s guide to military transition.  Demystifying the uncertainty and ambiguity that surrounds getting out of the military, Orders to Nowhere is the comprehensive After Action Report of a career Marine’s transition from the tightly knit military world back to civilianhood.

Tens of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen transition back into the civilian world each and every year. The change from life in uniform to life beyond the military is a significant emotional event for everyone who experiences it. Hanging up your uniform for the last time isn’t easy, and Orders to Nowhere was written to help explain the overwhelming process and make it easier for military members planning to get out, while they are in the midst of transition, or after they become veterans.

Mike Grice is an award winning writer, retired career Marine, and intrepid explorer of the military transition process.  Orders to Nowhere is the journal of his experiences , but it is also the story of every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman who takes off the cloth of the nation and goes back to civilian life.  Written during the author’s adventure through the trials and tribulations of transition, Orders to Nowhere eases the pain by giving an inside look at the widely varied aspects of military to civilian transformation.  Things like:

 -making the decision to hang up the uniform
– telling your boss that you are getting out
– the administration and logistics of moving on
– the emotional roller coaster of transition 
– effects on family
– transition decorum and ceremonies 
– the details of military retirement benefits
– transition assistance classes
– dealing with the Veterans Administration
– VA disability claims
– the Post 9/11 GI Bill
– finding a job
– how to dress like a professional
– writing a resume and cover letter
– networking
– interviewing for a job
– salary and benefits negotiation 
– adjusting to civilian life
– and much, much more

The book contains over 160 lessons learned and recommendations that can help anyone going through the military to civilian transition avoid making costly mistakes.  The path back to “normal” life is anything but normal, and Orders to Nowhere is the traveler’s guide that every member of the military and veteran needs to ease the pain of the journey.

A must for every man and woman in uniform to help make transition as smooth as possible!

Patience

I just had lunch with a friend and colleague who is currently on terminal leave.  He has climbed out of the cockpit for the last time and now he is knee deep in the job hunt.

We had a great conversation about the highs and lows of transition, and it brought out one aspect of the journey from being a uniformed killer to a suit-wearing civilian: it takes time.  Lots and lots of time.  And, to reach a happy destination at the end of that journey, it requires patience.

Lots and lots of patience.

Patience to work through the Veterans Administration’s bureaucracy for things like the GI Bill, medical examinations, and the excruciatingly long disability claims process.

Patience to find out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  Once you take your uniform cap off for the last time something happens to your brain, and suddenly the things that you thought would be easy (like getting a sweet job, going back to college, moving back home) are dauntingly hard.

So this is a quick post on the importance of patience.  Even though the trials and tribulations of your transition are unique to you, there are tens of thousands of people just like you going through the same thing.  Those who are the most successful are those who are patient.

A smart person once said that with patience comes wisdom, and that person was right.  A certain way to be unhappy is to jump on the first job that comes your way, because it most likely is not what you really want to do.  Following the quick and easy path to a college or school with a dubious reputation will result in your GI Bill benefits being flushed down the proverbial toilet because once they are gone you can never get them back and use them at a more reputable university that takes a little work to get into.

Patience is a virtue, even though it is very painful at times.  So stick it out, hold to your goals and dreams, and keep moving towards them.  Don’t give up and take the easier path — you’ll regret it later.

Trust me.

The things you don’t expect: life out of uniform is not as easy as you might think!

This morning I literally ran into a friend of mine as I was out pounding the pavement on my daily jog.  He was returning from his morning run and I was just heading out on mine, so we stopped for a few minutes and catch up on things.

We chatted about this and that, and before long we were comparing life in uniform to life after you hang your uniform up.  In addition to the obvious differences, like being able to sleep late, grow your hair, and go for a run without wearing an obnoxiously annoying reflective belt, there are some that become apparent only when you need to get something done.

One of the tremendous strengths of the military is that many of the mundane, yet annoying, aspects of life are taken care of for you.  Things like food (which sits waiting for you to start eating at chowhalls on every base) and clothes (with uniforms being issued and a clothing allowance to help defray the cost to replace them) and administration (with clerks waiting to solve any problems you may have with your pay and allowances).  These things are taken care of so that warfighters can devote their time and efforts on the mission of preparing for and fighting our nation’s battles and winning our country’s wars.

Not so much in the civilian world.  Those things get done by one person.

You.

Although it may seem obvious that you will need to take care of all of these things (and more) yourself, it is not so simple.  What I was not really prepared for was the amount of time that I had to dedicate to taking care of all of those mundane little ankle biting tasks that civilians have been dealing with their whole lives.  Where before things like pay problems and meals seemed to take care of themselves I now found myself spending hours at the bank and the grocery store because otherwise my family and I would be broke and hungry.  Suddenly there was nobody around to deal with those things but me.

Civilians are used to it.  They cook their own meals because there are no chowhalls in suburbia.  They go shopping and buy their own clothes, which can be quite daunting when you consider that military folks have been wearing the same shoes and combat boots and dress uniforms for decades. When they have a problem with their paychecks or vacation days they get to go deal with it themselves because there is no First Sergeant or Sergeant Major or Chief Petty Officer hanging around the office to deal with such matters.

One of the things that comes with hanging up your uniform is freedom.  Freedom from people in different uniforms (or no uniforms at all) shooting at you as well as from people in your own uniform yelling at you and waking you up in the middle of the night.  With that freedom, however, comes responsibility for yourself in a way that has not been a critical part of your life since you first swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Now you have to do all of those little annoying ankle-biting things that everybody else in the civilian world does.  And let me tell you, it takes some getting used to because everything takes a lot longer than you think it should and there is nobody there to tell you the right or wrong way to do things.  Just like you once learned how to become a successful Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine you must now learn how to become a successful civilian.

This time, though, you don’ t have a Drill Instructor “mentoring” you along.  You also don’t have a platoon of bald and nervous friends learning the ropes with you.  This time you get to figure it all out on your own.  But, all things considered, it isn’t bad.  It’s just a little surprising.

And really annoying.

Good luck!

A continuing test of patience: Yet another update on my VA claim

Well, I woke up early again this morning.  To be honest, I wake up early every morning, but this morning was earlier than most.  I was up at about 0400 (4:00 am for you nonmilitary folks), and the purpose of my early rising was to make yet another call to the Veterans Administration in regards to settlement of my disability claim.  I have learned that the only way to get through to the VA is to call them early before all of the lines are busy and the VA representatives are swamped.

The quick back story for those of you who may not be familiar with the saga of my VA claim, it began in the autumn of 2011 when I was on terminal leave as I was retiring from the Marines.  As a part of my transition from steely eyed killer to middle age and longer grey hair it was necessary for the Veterans Administration to examine me and determine whether or not I had incurred any service related disabilities.

Being rated for disabilities is a big deal because if you have sustained an injury which is chronic or if you have a condition that is directly attributable to your military service, then you are covered medically for that issue by the VA for life.  That is a pretty great benefit these days when you consider skyrocketing medical costs.

So anyhow, I began almost two years ago and have ridden the VA claims rollercoaster ever since.  I was examined and evaluated, and then my paperwork went into the mysterious void that is the VA ratings process.  Some nine months later I received a partial settlement of the claim, with the notification that I needed further evaluations before all of my conditions could be adjudicated.

Six months after that I reported to the clinic for another round of examinations.  At the completion of those exams I was informed that it should take a few weeks to get them into the file and evaluated.

After over two months of fruitless waiting I decided to give them another call, hence my early assault on the coffee pot this morning.

The gentleman I spoke with was very helpful and presented me the facts of my case in a professional and straightforward manner.  It was a very refreshing conversation!

Here is what is up with my case:

My case had run through the initial stages of evidence gathering and evaluation, and had actually made it to the adjudication phase.  It was then that the raters found that they needed more information, so my case was kicked back to gather more evidence that would come from another medical examination of yours truly.

Here is where my stock in the VA representative soared to unprecedented levels because he actually took the time to explain why a second set of exams was needed.  It turns out that when you are treated for an injury or condition, the doctor records the extent of the injury and how it is treated.  That is very relevant information for a health care provider, but the VA disability raters have a different set of responsibilities in terms of medical conditions.  The raters need to compare the injury or condition to a set of standards in order to determine if they are indeed disabling, and if so, just how disabling they are.

The example that the representative shared with me was what is needed for a joint injury (which, after nearly three decades of walking around with heavy things on my back in unseemly places, I had several of).  A doctor wants to cure the patient’s damaged cartilage and bone, and will prescribe medications, physical therapy, and perhaps surgery to alleviate the symptoms and heal the joint.  The VA raters need to know the extent of the damage that the injury or condition has incurred, which is different from trying to cure it.  For a joint injury, the raters need to have a documented range of motion test that the joint is capable of articulating that can be compared to the appropriate standards for a disability determination.  It turns out that very specific information about the condition or injury is necessary in order to rate the disability properly.

So that is why I found myself back in the VA clinic and wearing a modesty-shattering gown and sitting on a chilly paper-covered exam table.

Once the exam was completed, the information was supposed to be sent back to the rater and re-adjudicated in a timely fashion.  Certainly within a couple of months.

After assiduously checking the VA’s ebenefits website for weeks on end and seeing no progress, I decided it was time to pick up the phone and give them a call.

The VA rep was professional and told me the facts of my case as he found them.  He reiterated that my case was still in the gathering evidence phase, but that the results of my most recent examinations had been scanned into my file at the end of March.  The timeline for review of the case is supposed to be less than sixty days, and seeing as it is almost mid-June now that timeline has passed.

The representative offered to initiate an inquiry to the team who is reviewing my case to see what was up, and he said that they will contact me (via email this time) with their response.  Although I have heard that before (from the last inquiry on my case), I will be a glass half full optimist and see if my email inbox “bings” with the sound of an arriving email from the VA.

I won’t hold my breath, but I also won’t complain too much about the VA either.  They really are doing the best that they can in an overwhelming situation as they deal with me and literally millions of other veterans.  I’ll continue to be patient.

And wait.

 

Calling the VA. Again.

In theory, I have undergone all of the physical examinations, evaluations, pokings, and proddings that are part and parcel of transitioning from Active Duty to becoming a veteran.  After over a dozen trips to various clinics and hospitals at the end of my time in uniform and during my first year or so of post-military life I have been informed that all of my examinations are complete.  To make sure that they were all indeed finished, I logged into the VA website regularly to see if my status had changed.

To my utter lack of surprise, it didn’t.  Growing tired of logging in and viewing at an unchanging screen on the VA’s eBenefits webpage, I looked forlornly at the telephone on my desk and resigned myself to another early morning attempt to get through to the VA.

So, early the next morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and staggered into my office.  I punched in the VA’s telephone number, and much to my surprise (not really) found that even though it was a couple of hours before the rooster would crow (on the West coast, at least), all operators were busy.  I was, however, offered the option of having a VA representative call me back the following week at a time that would be convenient for me.

I figured that the following Monday at about 0900 was convenient enough, so I hung up and waited for the weekend to pass.

It did, and sure enough my phone rang at about 0905, with a live human being on the other end!  Very exciting indeed.  After providing my social security number and other identifying information, the nice lady on the other end asked how she could help me.  Although deep down I didn’t think that there was much help to be had, I asked anyway.

“Can you tell me the status of my case?”

After a few moments of furious typing on the other end of the line, my VA friend replied:

“It’s under review.”

Which is exactly where it has been for nearly nine months.

We talked for a few minutes, and then I hung up.  In order to spare you from the rather boring conversation, I’ll just cover what she had to say.

1.  All of my examinations are complete.  That said, if they find something that they need to look into I will again be headed off to the examination clinic.

2.  My results are somewhere between the clinic and my case file.  Even though it has been nearly two months since my last exams, the results have not made it to my case team.  Not surprising, but still disappointing.

3.  Once my team receives my results, they will merge them with my file and put it in the queue.  When my file comes to the top of the pile they will evaluate it and let me know the result.

How long will that take, I asked?

“Nine to twelve months.”

Sigh.  Good thing I’m not in a rush.

An opportunity for Combat Veterans

I have written about the opportunity that Veterans 360 presents for transitioning veterans.  For those who may not have read my prior posts on what they do, here is a refresher:

It is very challenging to make a quick and successful transition from military to civilian life.  There are many obstacles that you encounter along the way, many new things to learn, and a unique set of experiences that you never want to forget.  It can really be daunting and confusing at times for any veteran to make the change back to civvie street.

It is particularly daunting and confusing for those veterans who are struggling with the effects of Post Traumatic and Combat Operational Stress as they leave the military.  Combat veterans, in particular, have a more difficult time making the transition.  I have spoken with many who are making the shift, and one theme comes through in every conversation: “What am I gonna do now?”

Being a transitioning Marine intimately familiar with the realities of PTSD myself I can fully relate.  It is tough to make the change from one way of life to another, and it is much more difficult for those with stress injuries as they wrestle the demons within while trying to adapt to a new life without.

There is an organization that I am affiliated with that aims to help combat veterans successfully navigate the challenges transition.  Veterans 360, a nonprofit organization headquartered in San Diego, is kicking off what I believe is a great program to help combat vets make a successful transition.

Here is their mission:

Veterans 360 has a clearly defined mission: to provide recently separated combat veterans with a carefully developed and managed program of support that will help them develop the professional and interpersonal skills needed to succeed in civilian life. Our goal is that through engagement, education, employment and healing, our student-veterans will utilize what they have learned, manage the resources that are available to them and become equipped for an exceedingly successful transition into civilian life.

They help vets by bringing them into an cohesive and immersive environment for the crucial first two months after leaving the service.  Veterans 360 brings a dozen or so combat vets together, forming a “squad” that will go through an integrated and comprehensive transition program together.  They will work live together, work together, and heal together in an environment that centers around engagement with the local community, education focused on basic skills and vocational training, employment facilitation that will help them find meaningful work, and healing to help deal with PTS.

All of this is accomplished through individual and corporate donations, and not one thin dime of the veteran’s post-service VA or other benefits will be touched.  This is a critical point, as many unseemly organizations and “educational” facilities have sprung up with the cloaked goal to separate the veterans from their money.  Veterans 360 is proudly not one of them.

Veterans 360 is about to kick off their inaugural squad engagement on April 1st of this year.  They are looking for candidates to participate in the program.  The details of the initial effort are listed in their recruiting poster:

Veterans 360 Recruiting Poster

If you are a combat veteran in the San Diego area who is looking for something innovative to help with your transition, check it out!

The “traditional” job interview, Part 2: Into the Fire

Hello again!

I left you hanging on the edge of your seat in my last post, and today we are going to finish the traditional job interview story.  We left off with you at the coffee shop making your last minute preparations to cross the street and meet with the interviewer.  So go ahead and finish that donut, wash your hands, check yourself in the mirror to make sure that you don’t have crumbs on your shirt.  Let’s go meet the person who will decide your employment fate!

First off, you need to remember that you are most likely being evaluated the second your hand touches the company’s doorknob.  Maybe even before then, depending on the circumstances of your interview.  Here is a real example of how one company evaluates its candidates:

The firm pays to fly candidates out to their headquarters for personal interviews.  It is a thoughtful company that sends a van with a company driver to meet you at the airport and bring you right up to the company’s front door.  She shows you in, and you are directed over to a receptionist who points you to the floor and room where the interview will be conducted.  After a quick trip on the elevator, you meet another receptionist who confirms you are in the right place and notifies the hiring manager that you are there for the interview.  After a few minutes (and right on time) the hiring manger arrives and you head off to the office for the interview.

If you are not paying attention, you would offhandedly think that your interview started when the hiring manager shook your hand.  You would be wrong – dead wrong.  A part of the company’s hiring process is to see what kind of person you are; how you interact with people like van drivers and receptionists.  The hiring manager will certainly go through the interview process with you, but your performance across the desk from the interviewer is only part of the hiring procedure.

The van driver and the receptionists are asked by the interviewer what kind of person you are.  Are you rude to people you consider beneath your level?  Were you polite?  Did you shake hands?  Were you talking on your mobile phone in the van, and if so, was anything you said indicative of a reason not to hire you?  Did you treat the receptionist professionally?  Nicely?  Would they want you to be somebody that they would work with?

This company is not alone in assessing employment candidates on more than their skills and experience.  Culture and manners matters.  Remember that.  This is particularly important to senior military officers and enlisted people who are transitioning.  When you are a Colonel or a Sergeant Major you are in a position of elevated prestige and responsibility that can make you forget that the people at the bottom of the ladder are people too.  This is not an indictment of senior military people (after all, I used to be one), but it is the way the martial game is played.  As a senior leader it is easy to focus on your peers and immediate seniors and juniors because that is how you do your job and accomplish your mission.  Senior leaders are often so focused on their level that they don’t really see the people many levels below them.

If you treat people at the company like junior subordinates on your way to the job interview it won’t go well.  That way of thinking is archaic in the corporate sector, and you had best be conscious of it or it will severely limit your ability to find a job.

Anyhow, back to the interviewing process.  You walk through the door and meet the receptionist.  Be professional, polite, and shake his or her hand. This is your chance to make a positive first impression.  You don’t need to be artificial or insincere, but just be polite.  A smile goes a long way, too.

From there you are off to meet the hiring manager.  This is where you get a chance to make a second first impression, but this time with the hiring manager instead of the receptionist.  Go in, take the seat that they offer, and get ready to prove why you are the right guy or gal for the job.

Here are a few pointers for those first critical moments of the job interview:

1.  Have a firm, but not crushing, handshake.

2.  Look the interviewer in the eye, and thank them immediately for the opportunity to meet with him or her.  Practice this!!  In your rehearsal make sure to go over what you are going to say when you meet the interviewer so that you don’t get tongue tied.  Something as simple as: “Hi.  I’m Mike, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today.”

3.  Don’t come in carrying a bunch of stuff, and turn your mobile phone completely off!  You should have your right hand free to shake the interviewer’s hand, and your left hand should be carrying either a briefcase (which is overkill unless you were asked to bring something along that requires a briefcase) or a nice looking notebook (not a high school spiral notebook or pad of sticky notes, but a folio or pad and paper set that is professional, conservative, and not tattered).  Make sure to have a nice pen – something that looks professional and does not have “SKILCRAFT US GOVERNMENT” stamped on the side.

4.  Focus your attention on the interviewer.  Don’t look around the office like a visitor at a museum.  You are there to get a job, not admire the books on the shelf.

5.  Sit down on the front half of the chair, fold your hands into your lap, and smile.  Don’t kick back, cross your legs, and drape your arms over the chair.  As the interview unfolds you can relax a bit, but if your mannerisms indicate you are a slacker then it does not matter how well you dress- you will be regarded as a well-dressed and unhired slacker.

So now the first few moments are over.  The interviewer is evaluation you on everything you do and say, so keep that in mind.  Don’t bite your fingernails, or pick your nose, or check your phone.  Sit upright, look at the interviewer, and answer his or her questions.

Think of the interview questions as opportunities for you to show why you are qualified and how well you can express yourself.  Don’t turn a question into a monologue by rambling on for five or ten minutes.  In your rehearsal you should focus on answering each question in a period of thirty seconds to two minutes.  Any longer than that and you will likely start to bore the interviewer.  Besides, you probably can’t say anything in ten minutes that you can’t articulate in two.

Don’t try to answer them exactly as you did in your rehearsal, but instead listen closely to the question, take a breath, and then answer it as straightforwardly and honestly as you can.  Leave your military jargon and barracks language at home – nobody, and I mean nobody, in the corporate sector is impressed by the liberal use of the “F”-bomb in an interview.

Also, it is not an interrogation, so it is ok for you to ask a few questions as well.  Just make sure that they aren’t stupid (like “how much will I make?” or “what is the vacation and sick day policy at the company?”).

Make sure to answer the questions that the interviewer asks.  Don’t try to steer the conversation in a different direction, but instead provide the answers that interviewer is looking for.  No BS, either!  If you don’t know an answer or are unsure of what the question is actually asking, be honest and say you don’t know or need the question to be rephrased.  The hiring manager has interviewed countless people before you, and your probability of fooling them with a BS response is about zero.  Plus it will show that you are not the type of person that they want to hire.

During the interview you may be asked if you would like something to drink.  Always ask for water.  That way you won’t have any hot coffee to spill on yourself or carbonation from a soda making you want to burp at exactly the wrong moment.

Be prepared for signals that the interview is wrapping up.  The interviewer may be up front and say that your time is up, or may begin saying things like “Do you have any last questions?”.  When the interview is over, it is over.  Don’t try to push the issue with stupid questions like “what are my chances to be hired?” or “how soon will you let me know your decision?” as they put the interviewer on the spot.  He or she will let you know how you will be contacted – let them lead with the information.  Don’t be needy and try to wheedle it out of them ahead of time.

When it is time to go, stand up, pick up your notebook, and shake the interviewer’s hand.  Thank them again for the opportunity to meet with them, and follow their lead from there.  They may escort you to the receptionist or all the way to the exit.  Feel free to make some small talk on the way out, but do not forget that the interview is not over until you are sitting in your car!  Many jobs have been lost because the interviewee blows it on the way out of the building by doing something stupid (like being rude to a receptionist, throwing the “F”-bomb around, or picking their nose in the hallway).

The last step in the interview is to write and send a thank you note to the interviewer.  No kidding.  A thank you note.  This will show your sincerity as well as cement your desire to work at the company.  Many hiring managers will not hire a person who neglects to send a thank you note.  It is an expectation and an essential element of business correspondence.  If you don’t have any thank you notes at home, stop by a stationery store and pick some up, or even better, have personalized notecards made.  It is a nice touch.

__________

Lessons learned:

1.  The interview is your opportunity to present yourself in the best light possible – dress well, be well groomed, be polite, and use professional language.  Not doing any one of the above will likely result in you not getting a job.

2.  Be respectful and polite to every person you meet.  You should assume that they are part of the hiring team at the company, and if you are rude to the receptionist the word will get out.

3.  The first moments of an interview are critical- don’t blow a shot at a great first impression.  Be on time, well dressed, polite, and turn off your phone!

4.  Answer the questions you are asked- don’t try to BS the interviewer.  Also, answer in a period of thirty seconds to two minutes.  No monologues.

5.  If a drink is offered, make it water.  Coffee, tea, or soda may be more tasty, but you are not there to get  refreshments.  You are there to get a job, and the possibility of disaster through spilled coffee or an errant soda-caused burp are not worth it.

Writing your resume, part 2: The Functional Format

As promised, here is the long awaited and thrilling post about resumes!  Today we’re looking at the Functional Format style, which is the best one to use for people who are changing careers (like transitioning military folks), those with gaps in their employment history, or people who want to emphasize their skills for a particular job or specialized company.

For men and women who are hanging up their uniforms the functional format is a very useful way of showing the talents and skills that they have developed and used during their time in the military.  Even though many of the functions that servicemen and women perform during their careers are not directly transferable to the corporate sector (think rifleman, tank gunner, weapons repair specialist – you get the idea), the underlying skills and capabilities are relevant and desirable to employers.  Things like leadership (that rifleman was probably a small unit leader too), teamwork (that tank gunner worked closely as a member of the team that formed the tank crew), and detail oriented task management (the weapons repair specialist worked on intricate equipment, ordered parts, and managed supplies on a daily basis).

The functional format is best to show those skills and to articulate how they can be useful for a corporate employer.  Remember, when you write it you need to direct it towards the Human Resources person at the company.  As with all resumes you really need to work hard to “de-militarize” it as much as possible; they don’t know what a rifleman or squad leader is and certainly have no clue about the operations of the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank’s gun system.  Don’t make it easy for the hiring manager to throw your resume in the shredder by making it too difficult to read with military jargon and whatnot.  That said, more jargon is acceptable in the functional format because the target company is probably more familiar with the skill set you are presenting and will likely know some mil-speak.  Just don’t over do it.

There are some great advantages to the functional format, and to take advantage of them it is best to target the resume on the job or company you are interested in.  That takes a little research on your part (hello, internet!) and the patience to make adjustments to tailor your resume for each company as you go.  Focusing on the target in job hunting is just as important as focusing on the target on the rifle range- if you don’t have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish you won’t hit the target or find a job.

If you do your homework you will find the functional format easier to write because you can direct the reader (in this case, the hiring manager) to what you want them to notice about your abilities.  By researching the requirements for a particular job or needs of the company, you can show how you fit the bill with the exact skills that the employer is looking for.  You can also highlight all of those intangible things that you have been doing while in uniform, such as helping the community, training others, and developing leadership in those junior to you.  It also allows you to cut out anything that you don’t want in your resume, such as gaps in your job history or a lousy grade point average from high school or college.

Another advantage is that you can be much more succinct and direct with the functional format.  In resume writing less is more.  The HR person who receives your resume has a stack of them to go through, and generally speaking you have only a few seconds to grab their attention before they move on to the next one.  If they have no second page to turn to then you have a bit of an advantage because they all look at the first page, and if you can get yours down to one then they will see the whole thing an not have to decide whether to go flip to the next page.

The elements that I used in my functional resume (click here to take a look: Functional Resume)  are pretty standard.  After the standard header information (name, email address, phone number) there are four sections: A summary statement, Functional Experience, Professional Experience, and a bit about Honors, Education, and Publications.

It is the resume that I used when I was leaving active duty and had an opportunity to pursue a job with an organization that was doing fire support and aviation integration operations.  After researching the opportunity and talking to people who were familiar with the company and what they were looking for I highlighted those things that I had done in the past that were relevant and left out those things that weren’t.

Based on my research, I wrote the summary statement to show how my experience was exactly in line with what the company was looking for.  The intent is to keep the hiring manager’s eyes on the page, and by grabbing his or her attention by showing that I had the skills that they were looking for up front it piques their interest.

The functional experience section is the meat of this format.  I chose the six areas that I felt best met the needs of the company and showed my expertise and experience in each.  Notice that there is no timeline associated with the areas,  but instead a series of concrete examples of relevant and specific experience in each.

The next section covers professional experience.  Again, there is no strict timeline associated with the bullets but I did include the years that I was deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan.  I chose to include those dates specifically because it showed that I had recent combat experience in fire support (remember, this resume went out in 2011).  Only the jobs and deployments that are directly associated with fire support are included, though.  My tours and assignments in other areas are irrelevant for this format and would have just resulted in a lot of wasted space and an unneeded second page.

Lastly comes the Education, Honors, and Publications section.  This bit is where you can cherry-pick those things that you have done to highlight your skills and achievements during your career.  In my case I was fortunate to receive some awards that are unusual and have been published quite a bit.  You should look through your awards, professional military education graduation certificates, and other certifications or qualifications and include those that will help break you out of the pack and highlight why you are the best candidate for the job.

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Lessons Learned:

1)  The functional resume format is best for people changing careers, with gaps in their employment history, or want to emphasize specific skill sets for a particular job or specialized company.

2)  Less is more- shoot for one page.  This format is the easiest of the three to get down to one page.

3)  Look hard at your career and pick out those things that are directly related to the job you are seeking or the company where you want to work.  Ruthlessly cut out things that are not relevant!

4)  Be selective in the military jargon that you include.  For companies that you know will understand it – for example, if you are applying for a job at Bell Helicopter it is OK to talk about your zillions of hours flying the AH-1W/AH-1Z attack helicopter – but don’t go overboard.  For those less familiar you would want to describe your extensive experience as a pilot who flew attack helicopters in the Marines.