(This is in response to an article entitled "How to Survive as an Unpaid Intern" posted on IvankaTrump.com. I'm not passing judgement on the article nor making a political statement, but I just thought it would be a good idea to share knowledge I've accrued over the last few years.)
Welcome to my advice column, led by me, a super-talented unemployed veteran! Here I’ll be addressing a topic that is top of mind for veterans trying to get in any industry.
It’s the conundrum every unemployed veteran knows well: You don’t have a paycheck, but you still have living expenses. It can be tough for already-stressed veterans who know non-military experience is incredibly valuable in building a foundation for a new career, but aren’t sure if they can afford to work for free or at an entry level position. What’s to be done? With this being my third year of unemployment, I’ve learned a few tricks.
Save up during deployments
If you know you’ll be unemployed for a while when you get back, you can anticipate your expenses by putting money made during deployments aside in a separate account. I did this after I returned from Bosnia in 1999, then left active duty three months later, and more recently after I returned from contract work in Afghanistan in 2013. Additionally, if you put your money a fund or two with decent returns, you might be able to pay some bills or afford college tuition on the interest.
Take on short contracts
What about when your savings aren’t enough and bills still need to be paid? If you can find a short-term contract that capitalizes on your military experience, do it. Even if you are trying to move into a different field. Even if you have college or other commitments. Short-term contracts typically pay very well. Before you have opened doors in a new field, tap the well in your previous field to see if there is any water left to be drawn.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
THIS IS HUGE. I can't emphasize this enough. There are so many groups and people out there willing to help veterans find work. If you are in college, as I am, college veterans groups are a great place to start. Most metropolitan areas have career assistance groups who can help re-write resumes and facilitate networking with folks in the civilian workforce. There are also veteran job fairs, where employers seek out people with military backgrounds.
Note: don't rely on corporate veteran recruiters. They are typically of little help. They work for their company. If your resume isn't exactly what they want, they won't guide you in the right direction. Most of the companies who advertise how many veterans they hire are only promoting it to pat themselves on the back. Avoid asking corporate veterans recruiters for help.
Rent on the cheap
If you have no idea how long your unemployment is going to last after you separate from the military/defense world, live cheap. Rent a small apartment and live well below your means. That might mean getting a roommate or two. Find a place that includes cable and utilities. I took a huge step backwards and put most of my belongings in storage while I went back to school. Getting my stuff out of storage is a huge motivator to getting my career on track.
Set a budget for yourself
It’s always important to allocate money wisely, but even more so when you aren’t bringing in an income to supplement your spending. Set aside maybe one night a week for a few drinks or socializing, but after that, keep it tight. Keep a spreadsheet of your receipts. After a while, you should be able to see trends in how much you spend where and when. Don't keep all of your money in one account. Tell yourself that one of your accounts is Red Zone money - not like the football red zone, but the "times are really tough" money. That money should be what you spend last.
It is tough being an unemployed veteran. It is very tough knowing you have marketable skills but not being able to fit them into a position in the corporate world. It's tough when people ask if you have edited your resume and you have created over 100 versions of your resume. It's tough when people tell you to apply for anything, even if it means taking parts of your military/defense experience off your resume.
Hopefully this guide can help veterans who are struggling to make ends meet during a job hunt. If my re-write of Ivanka Trump's unpaid intern survival tips can help one veteran survive unemployment, then my mission here is accomplished.