When you join the Military, you know your service will eventually end. Whether it’s after completing your initial obligation or at retirement after 20 years, everyone will exit active duty and transition back to civilian life at some point. Even if that date is still years in the future, it’s never too early to start preparing. Follow the timeline below to find the professional development activities most important for a successful Transition (T).
T-minus 2+ Years: Consider an Advanced Degree and more Marketable Billets
If you have more than two years left in your service, consider obtaining an advanced degree that’s relevant to fields that interest you. With more than two years left to serve, you can also make career choices within the military that will positively impact your civilian job options.
For example, a Navy Nuclear officer who likes solving technical problems can benefit from finishing an advanced engineering degree. They’ll likely use what they learn in their current work, but that degree also improves their post-Navy prospects for engineering opportunities. I don’t recommend getting a Master’s degree simply for the sake of it. Use your GI Bill benefits wisely and go after a degree in a field that will enhance your resume for your next career if you’re seriously considering a transition.
Additionally, certain military assignments appeal to private sector employers more than others. Believe it or not, I’ve been asked dozens of times throughout my recruiting career to present Veterans who served as a General’s Aide. Why? Many leaders in business know the difficulty of the job and that the Aide role is a grooming position for strong performers who show early potential to become military generals. Yes, it’s an extremely challenging and taxing role, but you’re getting a 2-star, 3-star, or even 4-star level view of what’s happening in a large organization and receiving unique coaching along the way. Compared to similar company-grade officers in an interview, the general’s aide billet will stand out favorably.
Many degrees and roles take time to complete or fully experience, so get started on them as soon as possible. You have the time at this point, but you won’t as you come closer to your transition date.
T-minus 1-2 Years: Expand Your Network
Start building your business network. Establish a LinkedIn profile, keep it updated, and post regularly. Aim to connect with at least two people daily in fields and companies that interest you.
Understanding the business world is a critical component of professional development. Don’t rely solely on family and friends for advice. They can offer their input, but their view is often limited. Reach out to people in industries you’d like to explore more.
Connect with other veterans, too. You likely know someone who served and transitioned a year or two ahead of you. They can provide valuable insight into their professional transition. What are they doing? How do they like it? What do they wish they knew when they got started?
These conversations are a two-way street: look for opportunities to give back. If you offer help or counsel to someone, you’ll find that kindness returning to you in positive ways.
T-minus 6-12 Months: Prep Your Resume
You’ve earned a certification, obtained additional relevant military experience, and built a strong network. The next step is to prepare your resume and think through your job prospects. When you begin writing your resume, keep in mind to showcase the results of your work and your performance ‘stats’, not just your responsibilities.
Consider which part of the country you’d like to be based and focus on your desired industries if you have preferences. Who are the big players? What positions are open? Get a sense of what companies are looking for in new hires and their hiring patterns. Are job options more plentiful during certain times of the year or in specific regions of the country?
A recruiter is immensely helpful here. Beyond offering advice on business trends and opportunities, a recruiter offers insight into your marketability. They’ll highlight your strengths and identify areas to improve. This makes it easier to transition smoothly to a position you enjoy when your military service ends.
T-minus 3-6 Months: Practice for Interviews
As a junior officer, I learned that rehearsals are the keys to success. Whether you’re preparing for a patrol or briefing a Flag Officer, you don’t wing it.
The same mindset is true for interviewing. Rehearse both what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. The goal of an interview is to represent yourself, your accomplishments, and your skills as best as possible to demonstrate to the company why you’re the right fit. If you don’t rehearse, it’s easy to get off track. No matter how strong you may look ‘on paper,’ it’s a much harder transition if you don’t interview well.
Set up your phone and record yourself answering potential interview questions. Review how you look and sound. Go over talking points with a friend. Visualize yourself in interview settings in the morning or as you’re getting ready for bed. All that rehearsal will pay dividends.
T-minus < 3 months: Apply & Schedule Interviews
Now it’s go-time! This is when companies start to take applicants seriously and get excited about interviewing them. Schedule interviews—or work with a recruiter to set them up—and present your best self to potential companies.
Depending on the person’s search criteria, I typically see the process take approximately 4 weeks from 1st interview to accepting an offer. If you begin interviewing 3 months from your availability and the search takes a month, you’ll have 1-2 months to plan your move, both physically and by finishing up your current duties and signing off active duty.
That takes additional time and preparation, so don’t delay scheduling interviews when you hit the three-month window.
No matter what your active duty timeline looks like, it’s not too early (or late) to prepare for civilian life. Your transition will be here before you know it. Have questions? Ask them in the comments below.