Season 2 Episode #32: Blazing a Non-traditional Transition Trail with Amber Kulesza
Amber Kulesza served 12 years in the US Air Force and Air Force Reserves. Her transition was unexpected, and she wasn’t given much time to plan. Despite these challenges, she has navigated through the transition process with the help of a robust network and leveraging certifications to upskill. After working in human resources for the State of Florida, she took a year to travel, decompress, explore career possibilities and position herself for her next chapter. The transition process is just that, a process. It doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t complete once you land your first role. Most veterans will tell you they are still transitioning in some way or another.
When Amber made the decision to continue her service in the reserves, she was given the opportunity to attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Like so many service members, she created her LinkedIn profile and let it sit, untouched. Six years later, Amber began the process of separating from the reserves and was not able to attend TAP again. She took it upon herself to begin aggressively connecting with people on LinkedIn and having intentional conversations. Her transition occurred pre-COVID and certain technology, like zoom, was not commonplace. Living in California with a goal of relocating to Florida, it became apparent Amber needed to move to Florida to continue the job search process in person.
Amber earned her B.S. in Social and Criminal Justice with the intent of pursuing law enforcement. Injuries prevented her from continuing that path, so she made the decision to learn about human resources in the civilian sector. Having worked in HR for the Air Force, Amber thought it would be a smooth transition. After conducing informational interviews, she realized HR in the military versus HR in the civilian world were very different. Amber connected with Onward to Opportunity to learn more about the industry and earned her PHR certification.
After 16 months in an HR position and realizing the industry wasn’t fulfilling her, Amber made the decision to take one year and travel across the country with the intent to decompress and plan her next chapter. She engaged her network once again and met many connections in person during her travels. Although she didn’t necessarily know the job title she wanted, she identified the skill sets she wanted to use and relied on her network to help her plan next steps.
Amber reflects on the mental shift of leaving the military. She felt the loss of her military family and their support. After Amber was separated and building her network through LinkedIn, she found a new support system in programs like Veterati and American Corporate Partners. These groups offered her a safe environment to ask questions, learn about careers and focus on her unique value. She checked her ego and opened herself up to listening and learning. Amber discusses the importance of learning how to ask for assistance during the transition process.
Many people are afraid to take big risks and make big changes. Amber acknowledges that she was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a year to travel and explore. Having a space of time between your next career and the military is important – even if it’s just 2 weeks. Give yourself time to decompress and recalibrate. Amber stresses the importance of having a solid network to lean into and reminds people that your job, whether in the military or after, does not define you. You did not do the military alone, neither should you do your transition alone.
Head over to the Lessons Learned for Vets YouTube channel at https://tinyurl.com/llforvets22 to hear a bonus clip on mistakes made and lessons learned from Amber’s transition.
You can connect with Amber at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amber-kulesza/
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