By Mike Olivier
There are a few transitions in life that are inevitable; of that number there are fewer still where the day and time are certain. The transition from the military to civilian life is one of those transitions.
For those entering the civilian workforce, now is a good time. The military is heartily supported by all sectors of society, the economy is good, and unemployment is very low. That means getting a job is most likely not as difficult as it has been in the past. Nevertheless, there is no one standing outside the base gate handing out hundred dollars bills and employment contracts. Which means finding a good job is going to take work, and it is still going to require planning.
The good news is that the transition date for your departure from military life is certain, and you have advance notice. For some, this transition is seamless—they will go to work in the family business, a few will change their military uniform for civilian clothes and go back to work at the same desk, and some will go to college. Most will venture into the unknown and look for work. It doesn’t matter if you’re going on to school, to work, or going back to the family farm—getting there successfully is going to require a degree of planning.
One thing that most likely rubbed off during your time in the military is an acknowledgement of the value of planning. There is not much in the military that is not the result of planning, good or bad; and knowing when you are released from active duty provides you the opportunity to plan your next step. This ability to backward plan is going to provide you with options, and it is going to give you a better chance of succeeding in your transition. The military now offers a number of transition classes, and there are countless programs and agencies that will help point you in the right direction. Taking advantage of these resources is about the most common-sense action one can take. Even if they are incomplete in some respect, these resources can provide you with options and direction.
Before you can plan, you will need to identify a goal: even if this is a leap into the unknown, there has to be somewhere to land. In this process, the question is often framed as “What do you want to do?” It is good to think about this holistically; that is, where do you want to live, what do the others in your life want, and, practically, what do you need? The answer to these and other related questions may align with one another, or, more likely, the answers will point you in opposite directions. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that this is a discovery process, and that answers to these questions may only eliminate options, but that’s a good thing. As you narrow your options, the remaining few provide direction to your transition goal.
In terms of backward planning, the milestones in the plan are going to be set by the objective. If the goal is to go to school to gain skills or to complete a degree, then identifying and getting accepted into the school is going to take time. The planning elements are gathering up transcripts, completing forms and applications, and meeting deadlines. Applying for a job also takes time as you determine what skills you need to be competitive, complete a resume, attend job fairs, and schedule meetings with recruiters. About 80 percent of people get a job through networking. If you have been in the military and out of the job market, out the network, you have to be proactive to establish your network. This is not a weekend task. You will need to establish your network by focusing on the industry. All industries have associations and events, and you create your industry-specific network by attending these events and meeting people. Volunteering at these events is another good way to get to know key people in the industry. If you want to be part of the successful 80 percent, you need to be known within the network.
Transition, for most, is stressful and challenging—it is a culture change, it is a risk. Improve your success and reduce risk and stress by backward planning. Knowing when you get out, where you want to end up, and the tasks to be completed are all elements of the plan. The most important point is don’t wait—start the plan and execute. When you get out, be where you want to be, not struggling to get there.