By Paula Rucci Voigt, NLU Career Services Advisor
Transitioning to a new career is exciting but can also be intimidating, and can be especially so for veterans. With nine years of U.S. Air Force experience, Natalyia Manning, a National Louis University student who has just recently graduated with her Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management, knows first-hand about the additional challenges veterans face when moving from a military career to a civilian one.
During the three years immediately after graduating high school, Natalyia worked as an office manager in California. In 2006, she and her husband both enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. She completed boot camp and her training program in Texas, and then was stationed in Louisiana. She served four years in active duty, deploying once to Southeast Asia.
In 2010, Natalyia came off of active duty and was offered TAPS, a week-long Transition Assistance Program designed for military personnel. Each military branch offers this, although the programs differ from one another. Nataliya knew that reintegrating into civilian life can sometimes be tough, so she jumped at the chance to go through her program. The Air Force TAPS program was very thorough. They walked her through all of the benefits and entitlements available, provided resume workshops and also had local companies visit the training to offer tips on what to expect in the non-military work environment (click here to learn more about TAPS.) She also made use of a program called Dress For Success to obtain a complete interview-appropriate ensemble, including a suit, jewelry, hosiery and shoes.
With the help of a local Veteran Recruiter, whom she had learned of through TAPS, Natalyia landed a position with NASA in Texas, working in Logistics. At this job, she encountered some difficulty with her transition. She had attended leadership training in the Air Force, but realized that leading people in the civilian workforce is a vastly different experience, and found the process difficult to navigate.
Natalyia noted key differences in the work culture. In the military, there is a strong sense of camaraderie, the management is directive and geared toward behavior change, power is based on rank and your co-workers are always on time. In the civilian environment, there are no clear delineations based on rank, workplace politics are more complicated and there are few or no reprimands for being late or slacking off. Natalyia opted to remedy the situation by attending counseling, which helped her in learning how best to adjust her methods of communication to better match those of her co-workers.
Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, NASA did not offer much job security. Natalyia decided to re-join the Air Force as a Reservist, in order to have a back-up plan. After two years, she was laid off from her position at NASA, and she and her husband relocated to Illinois, where she obtained an office position at Grainger.
It wasn’t long before she realized that in order to advance within the company, she would need to obtain her bachelor’s degree. She decided to leave her job to become a full-time student. Her back-up plan of joining the Reserves proved very helpful, as she was able to utilize her military benefits to actually get paid to return to school. Her tuition is fully paid and she also receives a housing allowance.
Natalyia is a member of the NLU Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter. She has attended several meetings with the organization, and has enjoyed the newly renovated, beautifully appointed Veterans Resource Center (located at the Chicago campus) as well. She has taken the initiative to get to know several key contacts at NLU, both in the SVA and the Finance Department, who have helped her along the way, making sure she has everything she needs. She also knows that as an alum, she can utilize NLU’s career development services at any point throughout her lifetime.
Natalyia’s military contract expires this summer, and she has not decided yet if she will renew it. She is considering applying her leftover veteran education benefits to a certificate program in culinary arts, a personal passion and interest of hers.
Now that she has graduated with her BSM (Bachelor of Science in Management) degree, Natalyia will also soon begin a new job search. Despite expressing her anxiety about entering the job market once again, she has developed a proactive plan to ensure a smooth transition and maximize her resources to land a position. Based on her experiences, she has decided that she will approach this job search by thoroughly researching companies and seeking organizations that are military–friendly, where she feels she will encounter less bias and an open environment which is welcoming to veterans. Natalyia follows an SVA Facebook group and also pays close attention to her email inbox, where she often finds invitations for local “Roll-Calls” and other networking events and job fairs designed for veterans, which she attends whenever her schedule allows it. She recently attended a Walgreens event specifically for veterans, which provided practice interviewing and a resume workshop.
Natalyia’s go-getter attitude, willingness to seek out new opportunities and receive assistance has helped her successfully navigate post-military life. She says that once veterans leave the service they often feel as though they are out there completely on their own, but she knows this is not true. Her best advice for veterans who are transitioning into a civilian career is to know that they are not alone and that there is so much help out there. Virtually every city has many programs and resources for veterans, but she says no one is going to knock on your door; the trick is that you have to be willing to reach out and find what is out there, do the research and get involved.
We thank you for your service, Natalyia!