How Can You Transition When You Don't Know What You Want?

man searching job listings

What kind of work are you looking for? As a service member approaching transition, you know you are supposed to be able to answer this question. You are supposed to deliver a confident statement of career intent. Maybe even an elevator pitch!!! 

But what if you don’t know what kind of work you want to do? What if you don’t know what your 20+ years in the military qualifies you to do in the civilian world? What if you don’t know what is out there?

Then you would be pretty normal. I see this all the time in my work with transitioning senior service members. You all think you should already know what you should do. You think you are supposed to be the military equivalent of Botticelli’s Venus on a scallop shell, rising from the sea in all your windblown glory, ready to take on the civilian world.

Which is not how it works. No one out here expects you to know what you want to do right away (or arrive on a scallop shell).

Instead, this part of transition is more like being a JO or an E-6 with a work problem. In the military, you were trained never to go talk to your boss with a problem. They called that ‘whining.’ You were trained to go in with the solution you were working on to solve a problem. It did not have to be a perfect solution, but you had to have something. You could not go in there armed with only a “Well….uh….”

Same thing here. You have to give the other person something to work with when they ask about your target employment. It is part of the social contract when you are in Job Hunt Land.

You will be amazed how rough that answer is allowed to be at the beginning of your job hunt. Your answer is allowed to be as basic as: “My family really wants to move to South Carolina or Florida, so I’m looking into defense contracting down there.” Or, “I’ve had a lot of good experience in the schoolhouse, so I’m thinking of higher education, maybe JROTC.” Or, “I’ve been taking a course with FourBlock and we heard a couple of really good speakers who work in management consulting.”

These are not great answers. They do not have to be. These answers serve one purpose: they make the other person automatically search their brain for someone they know who might already work in your target industry or target location. They will reply with something like, “My aunt works in Orlando with Hilton. They hire military people.” Or, “My buddy loves his JROTC unit. He didn’t think he would at first, but he does.” Or, “I know, like, nine people who work for KPMG.”

Those are magic words. They start a conversation about your job hunt—and that is the stuff jobs are made of.

Jacey Eckhart is a Certified Professional Career Coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Job Pool and on her website Reach her at

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