Vet Employment Manual: Transitioning Now - Retirees

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier speaks with a Seattle Police Department recruiter at a networking and hiring event at the American Lake Conference Center, May 11. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Dominique)

Having a successful career in the military is a major accomplishment. And the 20-plus years you've spent in uniform mean you have a highly sought-after skill set in the civilian world.

A great place to start is the Transition Advice section, which provides checklists for the tasks you need to complete as you leave the military. That said, there are hurdles to moving from a lifetime of military service into the civilian world, and you have decisions to make. The first step is to look at your options.

OPTION 1: Get a Job

If you plan to move from the military right into a civilian career, there are some steps you should take to be competitive.

Step 1: Translate your skills and build a civilian resume. First, use the Military Skills Translator to find out how your skills 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.

You may also want to consider consulting a "headhunter" who specializes in placing military veterans in organizations looking to hire them. With 20 years or more of military service under your belt, you have skills and security clearances specific companies are likely looking for, but you may not know where to start. Keep in mind that while a headhunter may charge a fee, that fee can be offset by a signing bonus or increase in your first year's salary.

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: 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.

OPTION 3: Try a New Career Field

While your military skills and experience are highly valued, you may want to try something new at this stage in your life. With a pension and benefits in your back pocket, you are uniquely positioned to be able to dream a little and start on a whole new career path that may have nothing to do with your previous job in the military. Here are the steps you need to take:

Step 1: Research popular post-military career changes. There are many incentive programs that are dedicated to attracting former military members into fields like teaching or construction. Get information on what those incentives are if you are attracted to that field, and then find out if you need to complete any schooling or certifications or get another degree.

This is a great time to double check your GI Bill benefits. If you are going back to school to begin a new career field, make sure the school you choose will meet the requirements for that new field.

Step 2: Make a financial plan. While this is good advice for any of the options above, entering a new career path where you will more than likely be starting at the bottom makes a financial plan especially important. Understand your military pay and benefits so that you can plan for any schooling to start your new career and for the monthly bills as you begin in a new field.

You may want to look into any incentive programs employers may have for those who already have retiree health care benefits. In some cases, you can negotiate a higher salary by forgoing benefits offered by your new employer.

Download the Vet Employment Guide PDF.

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