3 Important Steps for Separating Veterans Making a Complete Career Pivot

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Capt. Patrick Keplinger, a computer network service division officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and a Ukiah, Calif., native, shows off a plant in a hydroponic greenhouse at Archi's Acres in Escondido, California. Keplinger recently completed a six-week Veterans Sustainable Agricultural Training program, which teaches veterans and active-duty service members irrigation and hydroponic farming. (U.S. Marine Corps/ Pfc. Kevin Crist)

Question: As I get ready to leave the military, I'm looking to work in a field that's completely different from what I've done for the past 10 years. How do I export my skills when my new career path is so unrelated?

Answer: Whenever you significantly shift your career focus from one area to another, we call that a "career pivot." Even exiting the military and working in the civilian (or private) sector is a pivot in and of itself, but if your work focus will be different, then there are some important steps to consider:

1. Closely examine your existing skills.

While you might not believe they are relatable to your new career focus, some likely are. For example, if you were a helicopter pilot in the military and you're pursuing a career in finance, look at the training and skills you achieved previously. You learned to navigate complex technology systems, work under high-stress situations, make quick decisions and more. These skills could be very useful to your next career, even though the nature of the work and people involved will be different. Another example could be if you worked in recruiting in the military, but now want to work as a leadership coach. As a recruiter, you likely became good at reading and understanding people and their goals, learned to identify opportunities based on what recruits told you they wanted in life and promoted a vision such that new recruits signed on. A leadership coach also needs to be good at working with people, able to convey a complex and inspiring message and must encourage others to follow them.

2. Consider what you'll need to succeed in your new field.

What do most people who are in the field you're moving toward bring in terms of skills, experiences and credentials? To make a career pivot unaware of what it will take to succeed is a vulnerable spot to be in. As much as you can, talk to people who work in your new field to learn what it takes to grow a career. Is there special training required, certain certifications or experiences that would give you an advantage, and do you know the people who can advocate for you in this new career field? Using the helo pilot-turned-finance-professional example, if you were going to work as an investment adviser, you might need a solid understanding of economics, economic theory, currencies, investment strategies and sales. It would also help to have a network of contacts to learn from and promote your services within. Knowing this before you jump in will allow you to compete better for opportunities.

3. Work your network.

Leaving the military after 10 years, it's possible that most of your contacts are also military-related. Will this be helpful to your next career, or do you need to increase your circles of influence to include others? Look at others who are doing the work you want to do: What does their network look like? Are they highly visible online or more discrete? Do they know influencers and decision makers in sectors or areas that serve them opportunities? Do you know the same people?

Your network is a valuable part of your civilian career path. While you may not have as many contacts as you wish, begin now to curate the connections you need. Build and then maintain relationships with people who can help advance, endorse, promote and refer you to opportunities in your new career.

It's common to exit the military and work in a completely unrelated industry or field. For many veterans, this breathes enthusiasm into their post-military career.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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