Transitioning from the Military Work Box

From Following Orders to Creating Them

Going from a military career to a civilian one is a unique case of switching career boxes. It can be especially daunting because the military helps manage many parts of your life and has very clear expectations of you. In the civilian world there are endless possibilities and the responsibility of managing it is up to you.

The military career is very clear cut. The promotion pipeline is transparent. The pay scale is public. Life logistics like health insurance, moving expenses, and even housing are usually sorted out for you. Big life decisions like where to live and where to work are decided for you. Even your work clothes are decided for you.

In contrast the civilian world is a Pandora's box of endless possibilities. Should you work for a big company, a non-profit, start your own business, or go back to school? Should you consider moving to Indiana, South Dakota, NYC, or Dubai? When you get a job how do you get to the next level, how long should you stay, what skills should you be developing?

The Military to the Rescue

The services know that this transition is hard and they try to help. They've developed a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to try to fill the gap. Service people learn how to write a resume, how to search for jobs, and how to interview. I went through it when I left the Navy. It was helpful but there's still a feeling of entering the abyss when you finally leave the military career box and start hunting for a new career.

It's a challenge and thousands of people do it every year. It's actually turned into a big industry with headhunters and job placement agencies who specialize in military to civilian transitions.

If you're making the transition to civilian life, here's some unsolicited advice.

Start Networking Yesterday

Seriously. The job market isn't always easy. The best way to find work is to tap your network of professional contacts. You might be thinking, "I have no professional contacts, I've been in the military for 10 years." Through your service you've met 100s, probably 1000s of people and some of them have already made the transition. You should connect with them.

The first step is to jump on LinkedIn. Let it search your contacts and "connect" with as many people as you can. Second, start searching for people you know in the military. Even if they're still serving look for them as they may already have a LinkedIn profile, just like you. Next search for anyone you worked for or had an adult relationship with. Old friends and lovers included. Connect with them all. The bigger your professional network the better.

Start Career Research Now

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you know the answer to this then skip along you know-it-all. If not, here are a few questions you can ask yourself.

Which type of non-fiction book interests you the most? This might help you narrow down the field you should pursue.

Have you ever known or seen someone doing a job and thought, I'd love to do that? Do that then, easy.

Imagine you were rich, what would you do with your time? I explored this one a bit further in this post but the gist is obvious, do something that gives you personal satisfaction.

Don't stress about this decision too much. The world's a big place and if you try to consider ALL the options you'll fall into analysis paralysis. Chances are good that whatever you choose will not be THE THING you'll be doing for 40 years anyhow. So have a look around, find something that interests you, and shoot for that.

Start "Job-Hunting" 2 Months Out

"Job-Hunting" is in quotes because I wouldn't recommend jumping on Craigslist and start blindly replying to job ads. Instead let's break your job-hunting into 3 steps.

  1. Let your professional network know you'll be entering the civilian world soon and you're interested in finding a job in such a such industry. Announce it on all your social networks and also reach out to specific individuals you respect and ask them to keep you in mind for potential positions.

  2. Contact recruiters in your industry. It's a recruiter's job to find people for jobs that companies need filled. You don't pay them, they get paid by the company. So there's no harm in getting them looking for you.

  3. Contact a handful of companies or organizations you'd like to work for and show them you're interested. Telling them you're interested won't usually cut the mustard. Instead, envision what you'd like to do for them and reach out to the person who is most responsible for managing that area of the business. Introduce yourself and let them know you'd be excited to work with them.

Expect Rejection

Rejection is something job-seekers receive on the regular, unless you're Elon Musk applying for any job on the planet. Go into it with an open mind and take nothing personally. If a company you're excited to work for rejects your application then find another company or another role within that company you can apply for.

The rejections you'll receive aren't a reflection of your worth, they're a sign that job hunting is hard. It can be a grind but those who keep going are those that persevere.

It's All Good

If your cousin Bobby can make the civilian life work you can too. You're well trained, with experiences that few in your age group can compete with. The military trains you with lot of transferable skills. Leadership, accountability, dependability, and a strong work ethic just to name a few. You're service sets you apart and many companies will be receptive to that.

Be Ready for an Emotional Roller Coaster

No matter how prepared you are it's going to be a big transition. Expect uncertainty, anxiety, and a different type of stress than you're used to. Keep working at it and you'll make it through. Coming out the other side confident and on a path of your choosing.

Best of luck, and let me know if I can help in any way.

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