Transitioning out of the military can be both exciting and scary. As I made my transition, I was filled with a wide range of emotions: Guilt for leaving my guys. Loneliness of moving into the unknown. Fear because I’d have to get a real job. But also total excitement to finally be done and move to the next chapter of my life.
I learned a lot in the process, and I’d like to share it with you. The hardest thing I struggled with was the age-old question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was 38 when I retired and the Army was all I knew. The first thing I did was make a list of things I wouldn’t do, such as sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week. I like being up, moving around and talking to people, coordinating, etc.
Expectation management was something I possibly learned the hard way. I thought because I was so successful in the Army that I “deserved” to make X dollars. The truth is that yes, you did some great things that transfer over to some tremendous high-paying jobs. But there are only so many jobs that pay, let’s say, six figures; and you’re not the only awesome person out there. Just be honest with yourself.
There’s some excellent news, though. The Army has come a long way over the years and has teams of people dedicated to helping you transition out smoothly. Here’s a short list of things that helped me out personally.
Seven Secrets for Successfully Transitioning out of the Military
1. Attend a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Workshop
TAP was created to give employment and training information to armed forces members within 180 days of separation or retirement. TAP offers different pipelines and mandatory classes, depending on what your plan is. If you plan to start up your own business, you are not alone, and people can help and point you in the right direction.
2. Think About Transferrable Skills
How can you describe your military experiences for a corporate role? When it was all said and done, I probably had 20 different resumes because no one resume can fit every job. Will you be sending it to someone in the defense industry? If the answer is yes, then you may not need to spend a great deal of time translating your job titles, descriptions, awards, and training into plain English. If you will be targeting employers outside of the defense industry, then you will want to use layman’s language.
3. Find Military-Friendly Employers
The right employers make transitioning out of the military easier. In fact, several employers appreciate the qualities ex-military personnel bring to a civilian job. Furthermore, you’re likely to find co-workers who formerly served in the military. They can mentor you as you ease into a new working environment. For example, P&G has a networking group called “Blue and Grey,” where ex-military employees help one another. Home Depot, General Electric, and Proctor and Gamble actively recruit former military officers.
4. Adjust from Military Jargon to Corporate Speak
A key to getting the job is fitting in — not only do you have to demonstrate the right skills, but you also need to adopt the right body language and speech. Hooah just isn’t going to work there, gunny. The military requires quick communication, and we have produced a wide range of slang terms and acronyms that only military members can understand — “I was on the FOB when the IDP hit, so I radioed the TOC” doesn’t mean much in the civilian world, after all.
5. Connect With Recruiters and Headhunters Who Focus on Military-to-Civilian Transitions
Two of the key leaders in the field include Lucas Group and Bradley Morris. Lucas Group has helped 25,000 officers and technicians transition from military service into civilian careers. They usually matching more junior personnel with technical and sales roles and senior personnel with director or business development roles. Bradley Morris is a headhunter that boasts a 96 percent customer satisfaction rate.
My advice is to get onto LinkedIn, Indeed, and other job search engines. Upload your resumes and make them searchable. If done correctly, the recruiters will find you.
6. Play Up Your Strengths as an Ex-Military Candidate
Military veterans are known for precise communication, individual accountability, impeccable execution, and natural leadership. Don’t forget to showcase this during the interview. All four skills are in high demand, regardless of position. Give yourself credit for strengths that many non-military job candidates lack.
7. Network, Network, Network, and Then Network Some More
Applying for jobs online may seem like an efficient way to land one, but the reality is that this method doesn’t work well. For any given job opening, recruiters are bombarded with hundreds, possibly thousands of resumes. To rise above the noise, you’ll have to network. You’ve been doing it your whole life and now is the time to tap into those circles you built. I used to think that my skills and resume would get me through the door. That might be the case, but wouldn’t it be great if you knew someone in there to have your resume pulled into the good pile?
Regardless of what you decide to do when you leave the service, you bring valuable skills to any employer. So, when transitioning out of the military don’t downplay your value.
But don’t sit idle. You have been go go go for so long that taking a break makes total sense, and you deserve one. But it’s just that: a break. Take it, then get back after it.
This article was originally published in November 2020. It has been edited for republication.