How Veterans Can Find Work They Love as Much as Their Military Career

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(U.S. Navy/Aviation Machinists Mate 1st Class Michael Henderson)

Question: I'm leaving the Navy, a career I've loved. As I look for my next job, I'm worried that I won't be able to find something I'm as passionate about. How can I find another career I love as much?

Answer: It's not uncommon for veterans to describe their time in the military as something they loved doing. The honor, pageantry, camaraderie and sacrifice of the military require a commitment that, if you're not passionate about, is hard to sustain.

Figure Out Your Focus

Finding a next career that you also care about, where your passions, talents, skills and interests intersect, might require some work. Start by listing out answers to these questions:

1. What was it about your time in the Navy that you "loved"? In detail, describe the work, activities, processes and people you enjoyed the most.

2. Which of your skills do you enjoy deploying most? Are you a people person who's great at building strong teams? Or do you enjoy solving complex financial puzzles? Are you most happy when investigating a person or process for risk or threat?

3. What industries or sectors of the workforce do you find most appealing? Are you curious about AI technology? Could you imagine being happy as a high school football coach? Do you enjoy working in creative endeavors, leveraging your artistic talents and skills?

With those lists articulated, see where there's overlap and areas to avoid. For example, if you loved the formal structure of the military, you enjoy deploying your skills of process management and design and you're attracted to the technology sector, then you could assume a few things:

  • You would not likely be happy in a free-flowing, loose work environment where decisions are made haphazardly and people aren't held accountable. Some start-up technology environments might look like this, perhaps looking chaotic to you when they're simply growing and pivoting quickly.
  • You might not thrive in a job where you're asked to think and act quickly on your feet, perhaps even sharing that information with stakeholders. Working as a spokesperson for a company or nonprofit might not keep you happy.
  • You could love working in a governmental (federal or local) position where there's high accountability, your detail skills are valued and career progression feels clearer.
  • You might enjoy an industry, such as defense, where you'd leverage your precision skills and you'd have the chance to work alongside many other veterans who feel as you do.

Understanding what it was about your time in the military, combined with opportunities available in the civilian sector, will help you focus.

Narrow Your Search

With that in hand, the next step would be to narrow your search. Yes, eliminate jobs you see are available but aren't right for you. It's tempting to want to apply for a lot of positions in the hopes you'll get one, but that's not a smart strategy in this case. It would be exhausting to try to convince yourself a position could fit when you have criteria for what you're seeking.

When a job opening appeals to you, ask yourself:

  • Could I envision myself loving this work, in this company? Really imagine working there, in that role, and consider how that feels. As you talk to people who work there and do your research online, refer to your list above of what you loved about the Navy.
  • Would I enjoy leveraging my skills here? You have many talents, skills and experiences to offer. Would using those in this environment bring you satisfaction? Learning about the company culture can help you understand if you'd fit in.
  • Is this job in an industry or sector I find interesting, where like-minded individuals also contribute and lead? To be in an environment that is personally and professionally rewarding, where you work alongside people who share your passion and values, is often what is required to do a job you "love".

Consider, too, that volunteering in your community, continuing to serve others and constantly learning new skills can give you a well-rounded career that is meaningful and fulfilling.

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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