5 Tips for Veterans Pivoting to a New Career Field When Leaving the Military

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veterans career fair at Moody Air Force Base
Sabrina Smith, sergeant detective for the Valdosta Police Department shakes hands with Bart Larson, maintenance specialist for Hunt family housing, during the veterans career fair Oct. 20, 2017 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Eugene Oliver)

Question: I’m exiting the Army as a heavy equipment mechanic next year. In my civilian career, I want to work in project management, but am not sure how to make that shift. Other than pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, what can I do?

Answer: Congratulations on having a focus for your next career. Can you make the shift and pivot to a new job focus? Yes! Here are some suggestions:

1. Informational Interviews

To learn about roles and jobs in the project management field, talk to people. Look through your network of contacts -- online and in person -- and see who you know who currently works in project management, did work there or who could be helpful. Also consider friends of friends and leverage those connections.

Contact them and ask for an informational interview, where you’ll explore the nature of the work and career options within project management, discuss how someone succeeds as a project management professional and more. Remember, an informational interview is not a job interview, so resist asking for help finding a job.

2. Research

Do your homework and research what areas of your focus are growing. Which companies are hiring project managers and for what type of work? As you have a focus (project management), even if you don’t know where your career is headed, look at careers that are trending, growing in popularity and where hiring activity is most vibrant.

For example, AI (artificial intelligence) is a hot topic today, and companies are seeking professionals at all levels of the company who have knowledge and experience in this area.

3. LinkedIn Learning

Did you know that as an active-duty service member, veteran or military spouse, you have access to one year of complimentary LinkedIn Learning (LIL)? LIL is a treasure trove of robust content and courses in all areas of business, communications, technical training and soft skills. While you pursue opportunities in project management, take project management courses on LIL, where many come with certificates of completion at the end.

A recruiter or hiring manager who views your LinkedIn profile may see a background in mechanics and maintenance, but will learn of your focus toward project management, with all the certificates and courses you’ve completed in pursuit of your next career.

4. Check Your Skills

Are your competencies, skills and experience aligned with this new career focus of yours? Do you need to upskill before you enter the civilian sector? If you simply want a career in project management because you see others pursuing it, that won’t be enough to be successful. Show commitment to this new focus by highlighting your skills and competencies on your resume and online profiles.

For example, as a mechanic, you likely managed timelines and deadlines, supervised a team of mechanics, solved critical issues as they arose, performed tasks on schedule and were responsible for the procurement of parts and systems to do your work. Those would be important to call out!

5. Clarify Your Motives

Why are you passionate about a career in project management? Is it because your skills align with the type of work you’d do or because you see it as a path to a different career? Be clear with yourself about your intentions so you can help others see your value. Then align your network, knowledge and passion in this new direction. Talk about project management online, in networking conversations and at job fairs to help others see you as that person who’s focused on this new career when they exit the military.

Whenever we pivot from one career focus to another, advance planning and preparation is vital. In your civilian career, you may still shift from a project management focus in one industry to another, and use the same system laid out here!

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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