If you have two or more years until you transition from the military, here are the steps you should take now to ensure a successful transition. Even if you have less than two years, these steps are important and can be done on a compressed schedule.
The first decision you have to make as you prepare for leaving the military is to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. For some, such as military lawyers, doctors, medics, mechanics, IT personnel, etc. this may be an easy decision. You may decide to apply your military skills and experience in the same field in a civilian role. If this is you, don’t stop reading yet. You may still want to consider whether any training or professional certifications are needed to help you transition. We’ll discuss that later in the article.
For those who worked in a military-only field such as infantryman, armor crewman, field artillery, or the like, you will find very few jobs where the skills directly translate. You’ll have to decide what career field will you pursue. Will you leverage your leadership and organizational skills to follow a leadership and management or sales track? Or will you switch to a technical field that requires specific skills and training such as computer programming, medical technician, heavy lift crane operator, or over the road truck driver?
As you consider this decision, there are several things you should keep in mind. First and most important is what are you suited for? What will you enjoy? If you choose a career field for other reasons such as status or pay, but you do not enjoy the work, you will not likely last long in that field. So how do you determine what field you would enjoy? One way is the Meyers Briggs or other similar personality assessment tests. You may find your local transition office can help you arrange to take such a test.
You could also start reading up on various career fields. Each field has books, magazines, websites, etc. full of information on what is hot in that field. If you find it mind numbing to read about current trends in a field, are you really going to enjoy doing the work all day long?
Once you have selected a field you want to pursue, the next step is to determine what you need to do to gain the necessary skills, training, and certifications to work in that field as a civilian. This can apply even if you are working in a similar field to the work you did in the military. This training and certification can be helpful in communicating your readiness to move to a new field (such as IT) or your seriousness of applying your leadership skills to a corporate environment (for example with a Project Management Professional certification).
Once you have a field chosen and have identified the training and certifications you need, you have your work cut out for you. So go to it!
Note: for those on a compressed schedule, you still need to decide what career you want to pursue and figure out how to get there from here. You may not have the luxury of taking as much time to get training and certification as someone with a two year timeline has. If you can squeeze in some training, this will still help. You can communicate to a future employer you are pursuing a certification in your field. You might also investigate entering the field at an lower level position and seeking on the job training.
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