Transitioning is a much bigger undertaking than I gave it credit for as I was preparing to leave the military. If there was a publicized process for how to leave the military for a civilian job when I had to do it, my path would have been much easier.
When I first got started on my job search, it was overwhelming on its good days. I didn’t know how to write a resume, I had no idea what good interviewing skills looked like, and I was made painfully aware of just how little I knew about the private sector on the whole.
You are immediately inundated with countless “Help the Veteran” programs that are more smoke than substance, and you get no real job hunting help from the service you are leaving. Now couple that with having to provide for a family and pay a mortgage. It’s enough to induce a little panic.
I sat down and started to think about how to attack the problem. What follows are my lessons from a six month effort that eventually landed me an opportunity to be successful in the private sector. It’s not all-encompassing, but it focuses on lessons I found to be the most important upon reflection.
How To Leave The Military For A Civilian Job
Here are the lessons I learned when I tried to leave the military for a civilian job:
1. Realize You Have More Marketable Skills Than You Think
We are actually pretty employable as veterans – we’re just poor at marketing ourselves. This took me a lot of time, effort, and research to figure out what my skills after 9 years of active service really translated into. A lot of what I found didn’t surprise me. Some of it was obvious and I was just not thinking about it. Some of it was surprising. Some that are common are…
Leadership – Not common, very marketable, and every E4 and above has had experience in it that puts them ahead of their peers.
Composite Risk Management/Mitigation – We do this every day, and most of us despise it to some degree. It is not a particularly common qualification in the civilian sector, and is valued by employers.
Program/Project Management – Everything you do in the military as a leader is some form of Program or Project Management. From executing a rifle range to managing a long-range training plan with innumerable parts and pieces, we are experts in getting things done. Emphasize this as you move out into the civilian world, because it is a valuable skill.
There are a lot more. If you take the time to really think about it and do some homework, you will find the military has given you a lot of the tools to be successful without you even realizing it.
2. Figure Out What Field You Want To Work In
Human resources, marketing, logistics, operations, public relations, going back to school etc. There are enough choices to get your head spinning from day one.
So, I sat down and asked myself what I really wanted in a job outside of the military, and after a lot of discussion, I came to the following conclusion: I want a job that is going to allow me to be of service to people, that is ever evolving and challenging, and allows me to learn a skill set that will be in demand no matter where I go from my first post-military employer.
That was a bit broad, but it was a place to start. From there, I did some research on different industries and narrowed it down to a manageable few, from which I chose Human Resources/Talent Acquisition. I chose the HR/TA field for the following reasons:
It is an in demand skill. It has been for a long time, and will continue to be for years to come.
It is evolving constantly, keeping up with federal law/regulation, the ever evolving face of the company/organization it represents, and requires constant innovation to be effective.
It helps people, both internal to the organization it belongs to and outside of it.
This particular industry met the more critical tenets in my above conclusion, and I decided to pursue it. I am omitting a lot of the more tedious work that I did to come to that conclusion, but the message I am trying to get across is this: Figure out what you want to do before you are signing off of active duty – not from the perspective of a specific job necessarily, but a field of work.
This takes time and effort, but it will pay off in focusing your efforts. If you fail to take this step, your job search will be broad and unproductive.
3. Research The Companies You Want To Work For – In Depth
I initially did not, and it was a long-time mentor that pointed the importance of this out to me. Knowing what the culture, values, and goals of an organization are should be imperative in your search for employment.
4. Don’t Let Location Limit You In Your Search To Be Successful
Don’t pigeonhole yourself. That’s really all I can say about it. Opportunity isn’t always in our hometown, and sometimes the opportunity to grow professionally is more important than where we live for short periods of time.
5. Know You Are Your Own Best Career Manager
You heard it in the service, and it’s even more important on the outside. Decide what you want to do, find the organization that fits and then hone your professional products to fit, so that when you get your chance, you can make the recruiter see why veterans are one of the best hires out there.
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