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Every service member leaves the military eventually. But if you've been in for more than one tour, your life is about to change substantially, and there are decisions that deserve research and thought before you transition back to civilian life.
A great place to start is the Military.com Transition App, which provides custom checklists for the tasks you need to complete as you leave the military. After that, the first step for a successful military transition is to look at your options.
OPTION 1: Get a Job
If you plan to move from the military right into a civilian job, there are steps you should take to make sure you're competitive in the civilian job world.
Step 1: Translate your skills and build a civilian resume. First, use the Military Skills Translator with personality assessment to find out how your skills and interests match up with current job openings. This is an important step for those entering the civilian job market after being in the military.
The translator will take your military occupational specialty (MOS) and provide possible jobs that match that skill set. To ensure the matching function is effective, provide as much information as possible, such as collateral duties and leadership functions. Keep in mind: If you have an active security clearance, you may be qualified for higher paying jobs.
Next, build your resume. This can be challenging since translating military skills to civilian equivalents isn't always easy. How does your military experience translate into language a hiring manager can understand? Doing a little research and asking fellow veterans to share their resumes with you can help. As a veteran, you can also have your resume reviewed by Monster for free.
Step 2: Research. Even if you are interested in the same general field in which you've been working while in the military, you need to research career progressions and get advice on interviewing again.
Use the Military Skills Translator with Personality Assessment and pay close attention to the optional fields where you can put in your civilian work experience or any additional civilian accreditations you've earned since leaving the service. Use the personality assessment to discover if there are career paths you haven't thought of yet that may be attractive to you.
Finally, if you have a security clearance, look at employers who are specifically looking for those with active clearances.
Step 3: Apply. Navigating modern hiring practices can be confusing. The days of mailing out cover letters and resumes are gone, and today's application and screening processes can impede your success if you aren't armed with the right information. Know from the beginning that most resume screening is automated, so it's important to use keywords from the job description in your online application.
Second, a cover letter is still important, but you must personalize it to the job you are seeking and even include details about the company where you are seeking a job.
Finally, you may never hear back from a recruiter once you've submitted your application and resume. In fact, one of the biggest frustrations for transitioning service members is the lack of communication either in the application or interview process. Be patient and follow up if you want feedback, but understand you won't always get it.
OPTION 2: Go to School
If you've been thinking about your career path, you might be wondering if going back to school is a good choice for you. Whether you are earning your first degree or getting an advanced degree, there are some basic steps to take to ensure you are prepared.
Step 1: Figure out what type of degree you want and what school would be the best fit. Start by using a school finder to identify options based on the kind of degree you are looking to get. Do you want to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar school or get your degree online while you continue to work? Beware of "diploma mills" that promise a quick education but leave you with a degree that is less than desirable to employers.
Step 2: Find out how much of your education benefits will apply to your degree. Start by calculating your time in service and what your education benefits are. Know the difference between the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as they have different benefits.
Did you transfer a portion of your education benefits to your family? Be sure to factor that in, as you will have less at your disposal unless you transfer it back.
Finally, once you've got a short list of schools you'd like to attend, contact their offices and find out what you need to do to use your benefits at their institution.
While the GI Bill is applicable everywhere, each school has its own administrative process. Researching common questions and answers about how to use your GI Bill can streamline the process.
Step 3: Make a financial plan. Going back to school is usually done to increase your earning potential. That said, being in school can mean a huge shift in your finances. Whether or not you are using your GI Bill benefits, it's important to make a financial plan and understand where you may need to make up a difference with a part-time job or possibly a work-study job with your college or university. You may have to cut back on spending or living expenses if you aren't working full time. And if you are still working full time, take into account any school-related expenses you may not have had before in your budget.
OPTION 3: Start a Business
Veteran entrepreneurs are increasingly common. With incentive programs from franchises to high-profile success stories like Combat Flip Flops or Black Rifle Coffee Company, many veterans consider making the move to be their own boss. Here are three steps to take if this is your path:
Step 1: Solo or franchise? Do your homework to understand the risks and rewards of both options. Many franchises have a special discount for veterans who want to join their chains, but buying a franchise can be expensive. Understand ahead of time what is expected of you and what the success rate is for franchisees.
If you are starting your business solo, know what your financing options are, and consult with a professional about how to properly set up your business to protect your assets. Seek out other veteran business owners and ask for their advice to help prepare you to make the right decision.
Step 2: Decide how much time this business will take. Is this a side venture you're hoping to grow while working full time? Are you more comfortable as a sole business owner or will this venture be a partnership? Are you quitting your job entirely and going all in on your new business? These are the questions to ask yourself and research to determine more than just what business you will open, but also what place it will occupy in your life. Once you've decided what your business looks like from a time and commitment perspective, you can begin the nuts and bolts of planning appropriately.
Step 3: Make a business plan. That sounds like a no-brainer, but having a comprehensive business plan before you begin is a good way to think past your aspirations and look at what goals you need to make, and when, to stay successful.
This step will require research, other business owners' advice and an understanding of what to include in your business plan. This should also include a financial plan; estimates of start-up costs; realistic expectations of when you may see a profit; and the timeline and requirements for any permits, licenses or other legal to-do items to begin your business.