After years—or even decades—of serving their country, many military veterans eventually transition back into civilian life. A change in career is not only the most important aspect of this transition, but it is also the most difficult. In its Military Career Path Study, CompTIA found that retiring military personnel experience far more challenges in shifting to a civilian career than they anticipated. From translating military-based skills to a new profession to even finding the right career path, veterans struggle with all elements of this crucial transition.
Preparation is the best way to mitigate the challenges of a military-to-civilian career move. Here are a few tips on how to best prepare for your post-military career while you are still serving:
1. Start as early as possible
You shouldn’t start thinking about your civilian career just as you are about to retire from military life. In preparing for such a major life change, you should begin looking at your needs and goals for military retirement between one and two years before your last day in the service. This may seem excessive, but you will need time to get everything in order and ensure a seamless transition.
In the earliest stages of retirement planning, you must make several key considerations to get your mind thinking about post-military life. Is there a company you would like to work for? What city you would like to call home? How about your ideal salary? Identifying these goals will help you to establish a clearer road map toward your eventual transition—and your dream career.
If you need more encouragement to get started early with your transition, then you should follow the rule of thumb that other jobseekers stick to when looking for employment: expect one to two months of job searching for every $10,000 you’d like to see in your salary. For example, looking for a job that pays $50,000 per year will require up to 10 months of active searching.
2. Seek jobs that align with your skills
When preparing to transition to a civilian career, you must look at how your existing skills will benefit you in a new job. Look at the role(s) you’ve held in the military and see how they could translate to a similar civilian position. For example, serving as an infantryman gives you experience working in high-stress situations and collaborating with fellow team members. This could translate as a career as an EMT, another high-stress vocation that requires collaboration.
If you don’t know how to translate your skills, then you can turn to one of the many online resources that can help you. Both Military.com and the Occupational Information Network have tools that enable you to turn military responsibilities into terms that civilian employers will understand. You can even use the Military.com Skills Translator to find jobs that directly relate to your military role.
3. Network, network, network
Networking will play a key role in connecting you to opportunities for civilian employment. Part of your earliest planning should involve a review of your existing professional network. If it’s filled with other military personnel, then you’ll need to cast a wider net. You want your network to contain people who have experience searching for civilian jobs in the current market.
This isn’t to say that you can’t start by building a solid network within the military. You can reach out to many organizations that will help connect you to other veterans who could bring civilian job opportunities to your attention.
Then, you should branch out and start cultivating relationships with professionals in the line of work you would like to pursue. LinkedIn is one of the best tools that you can use to find like-minded professionals. Your transition class instructor will likely ask you to start a profile on this site, but you should leverage all of its features if you want to maximize growing your network. Not only should you join groups in your field of interest, but you should engage with professionals who already work in that career. Also, make sure to polish your LinkedIn profile, complete with resume, accomplishments, and relevant skills.
4. Revamp your image
You’ll need to make updates to your personal and digital images if you want to attract the attention of civilian employers. After spending years in the same uniform and with the same military-centric identity, you must make some changes to your persona before embarking on the civilian job hunt.
First, you should move your e-mail address from a .mil domain to one that civilian professionals tend to use, such as Gmail. This will be the address from which you will send out job applications. Second, you should tackle your social media accounts and make sure they portray you as a professional. Omit all potentially compromising photos and update your public information to reflect your new persona.
Lastly, you will need to revamp your wardrobe. Planning to transition out of a life where you exist primarily in uniform may make you realize how few business and business casual outfits you have in your wardrobe. It may be cliché, but you truly should dress for the job you want. Depending on the job and office setting, you should obtain pieces that convey both your professionalism and your seriousness as a candidate.