Austin Cox’s Point A to Point B: A Shortlist of Veteran Transition Resources During a Global Pandemic

Hi *insert name here*,

My name is Austin Cox. I’m a senior at Columbia University, a special operations veteran, a pizza-loving student athlete, and an adventure seeking sports fanatic. I’m emailing you today…

Wait, this isn’t a cold email.

This is a 2020 guide for transitioning military to help avoid the above wherever possible.

Throughout my transition process, I purposefully explored as many veteran transition options as possible. At first, I was frustrated. Outside of lifelong interests or military topics, my lack of professional knowledge became increasingly evident with every conversation. Conversely, I was still extremely lucky. I was single with no kids or dependents. I also knew that pursuing higher education was my next step. In other words, I had time; and time is not always on a servicemember’s side. 

Transitioning, in any career, is already a stressful endeavor. For these reasons and more, I created this military transition resources list from a much larger bucket of options. Coupling transition with the unprecedented 2020 events is a unique undertaking. Listed below are educational, mentorship and networking, and employment resources for transitioning military members (and in some cases spouses).

*insert salutations here*

On Education

Have you struggled with school in the past but unsure how to turn the page into a new chapter? What about attending a community college and transferring to a top ranked school? From these questions and more, exploring education is often top of mind for transitioning military members. Dynamic factors like deployment schedules, active duty timelines, family situation and location all come into play. However, there are multiple educational resources out there for active duty and veterans to lean on; here are a few vetted educational resources available despite the global pandemic circumstances.

Service to School (S2S) aims to help prospective active duty and veteran students gain access into academic settings. Service to School provides free access to application assistance and overall admissions consultation while leaning on a growing network of hundreds of ambassadors. Assistance is available at both the undergraduate or graduate level, making S2S an extremely useful and robust resource. I personally explored S2S options while leaving active duty and re-applied at the genesis of my graduate school application timeline.

Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) is a no cost resource aimed at enlisted veterans who are thinking about exploring higher education after military service. After applying and gaining admittance into a Warrior-Scholar Project, a servicemember can attend one or two week academic boot camps hosted by some of the most selective universities in America. The curriculum days are long but the results resonate far beyond each program’s workshops, assignments, and mentorship hours with fellows. I attended WSP at Columbia after gaining acceptance but before matriculating full time. Even after multiple semesters of classes while on active duty, WSP proved impactful in my studies and habits.

Next Step Inbound (NSI) is a newcomer to the student veteran resources list, yet still an impactful one. From connecting ambassadors at some of the nation’s top universities to providing a space for student veterans to tell their stories and help others, NSI aims its proverbial sights on organizing support systems and improving enlisted military transitions into higher education. The transition process is historically hard; NSI wants to help ease that struggle while championing each prospective student and their range of opportunity.

On Mentorship and Networking

So, you want to do something else, huh? What about if you have no idea what that something is? The military provides a multitude of professional opportunities; however, not all DoD jobs translate to other sectors. Regardless of if you “have it all figured out”’ or quite the opposite, a little help along the way can prove invaluable. Finding ways to navigate a professional transition can be extremely stressful; here’s the inquiring professional’s shortlist.

LinkedIn is the social network of corporate America. If you didn’t already know, active duty and veterans qualify for a “free 1-year Premium Career subscription, including one year of access to LinkedIn Learning” upon ID.me verification. LinkedIn is massively useful, especially when used well. Users can leverage LinkedIn in place of mentorship inquiry cold calls and cold emails. LinkedIn can also be used for professional questions and schedule informational interviews. In a professional environment that is far larger than military circles, LinkedIn provides an unparalleled combination of access and online inquiry for transitioning military members. Full disclosure, I worked for a LinkedIn-based startup before starting at Columbia; it’s a powerful platform.

Veterati is the mentorship Robin to LinkedIn’s networking Batman. Veterati is an online mentorship platform that connects military affiliated mentees to thousands of professional mentors who have already uploaded their availability. The process begins by signing up, as a mentee seeking guidance or a mentor offering advice, and then searching, selecting and conducting mentorship phone calls. Veterati is extremely user friendly and cuts the often long “scheduling process” down to simple search and click. Personally, I found Veterati extremely useful during my last few months in active duty and prior to seeking in-person mentorships. Connecting with Veterati mentors on LinkedIn also opened up new potential networking and mentorship opportunities.

American Corporate Partners (ACP) is a one-on-one mentorship program that connects veterans with professional career coaches in the industry of applicant choice. The mentors often hail from some of the top Fortune 500 companies and reflect the specific career interests that veterans describe in their application process. Sometimes applicants can even select two mentors. When I applied to ACP, I wanted to learn about finance and consulting roles. For semester one, I was paired with an investment banking Managing Director. For semester two, I was paired with a top tier consulting firm Partner. The overall process, experience and insights gained  were exactly as desired and nearly every ACP review I hear is as equally positive.

FourBlock is a veteran career readiness and transition assistance program aimed at equipping the next wave of veterans for successful civilian careers. Offered in major American cities, and now with virtual cohorts based on timezone, FourBlock is a structured and immersive professional mentorship program for veterans seeking personal brand development and new career opportunities. I did not personally enroll in FourBlock. However, I know from peers of its impactful professional development and impact on personal networks.

On Jobs

Oh, you’re leaving the military and still want to work? What about veterans who are leaving the military for tech but didn’t have technical training prior? Well, if your boss’ “just work at McDonalds” jokes are getting old, then instead kickstart your military transition job search with these options. Keep in mind, this is not an all-encompassing list. Rather, the options below reflect continued contributions to veteran job opportunities despite the many challenges of 2020.

DoD Skillbridge provides the unique opportunity to train and develop skills outside of military service while still on active duty. Offering a gamut of internships and apprenticeships, Skillbridge allows military members nearing their end of obligated service time to further explore professional opportunities. It should be noted that the application process requires military chain of command approval. However, approvals can be for “up to 180 days of permissive duty.” If interested, here is a virtual map of available Skillbridge locations.

Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) hosts hiring events for transitioning military members and veterans, as well as provides comprehensive programming for participants to make a career switch. HOH programs include: career summits, resume help, hiring fairs, a structured transition roadmap, and corporate fellowship opportunities. In a sense, HOH is a potential one-stop-shop for transitioning veterans seeking employment. Also, HOH has options devoted to military spouses. 

Shift is a military talent development company that offers professional tech fellowships, direct hire opportunities in tech, and is soon offering 4 week career accelerators in tech. Shift aims to prepare military innovators for the current and future economic landscapes. Signing up for a Shift mailing list allows applicants to learn about upcoming cohorts and opportunities in venture capital, tech and startups. In response to 2020 circumstances, Shift also incorporated its first six week long AFVentures cyber cohort, read about it here.

BreakLine is another tech-focused transition resource for veterans who are interested in pivoting into tech (noteworthy: BreakLine is also aimed at women and people of color regardless of veteran status). Applicants to BreakLine must provide background information, a video introduction, and multiple essay responses. However, if admitted, BreakLine provides a more direct route for transitioning military into mid-level technical and management roles in tech hubs. According to this more specific outline, BreakLine costs $75 to program participants and in return rapidly accelerates professional opportunities for applicants interested in tech companies.

Onwards

Well, you’ve made it to the end. But it is only the beginning, I hope. I also hope that my jokes improve some day. Regardless, the above resources should help you or someone you know in their transition from the military. For me and many people I know, these have proven worthwhile time and time again. A lot of the issue is exposure to such opportunities. Reactions, comments below, and sharing are all welcomed and encouraged. In fact, you could be the reason someone finds post-military success—during the current pandemic or in the uncertainties moving forward. Thank you, that’s all I have for now.

Best,
Austin

Written By: Austin Cox, Columbia University ’21

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