Most of us do not travel to a new destination without figuring out how to get there. A GPS can help you arrive to your final destination, but in order to get there you need an address. In order to have a successful transition to post-military life, you need a plan – you need an “address.” Your address in your steps or goals that will help get you to your final destination. Think of these steps as your GPS turn-by-turn directions, guiding you to a successful civilian life.
Pick a Destination
What do you want to do after you leave the military? If you already know what you want to do, that’s great. That’s the hardest part.
If you are with the majority of people who are still figuring out what they want to do after the leave the military, don’t worry. But you’ll want to start thinking about your future plans early so you have plenty of time to accomplish any necessary steps. Luckily, there are many resources to help you in deciding what post-military career you want to pursue.
In addition to resources provided by your military service, you can research your options by contacting friends, family, or other veterans and asking them what they did to get where they are today. Once you have narrowed down on your post-military vocational goal, it is time to plan your route for civilian success.
Choose Your Route
Once you know where you want to go, you need to choose your route. The route is all the steps you will need to take in order to accomplish your goal. Do you need an undergraduate or graduate degree to accomplish your goal? If so, you will need to register and study for the right standardized exam, such as the SAT, GRE or LSAT.
You may want to try to visit the colleges or universities that you are interested in attending. If that is not an option, you can browse their websites and contact the admissions office to talk to an admissions counselor or even a current student.
In addition to figuring out where you want to go to college, it is never too early to plan for how you will pay for tuition and educational expenses. For instance, there are various GI Bill benefit programs which provides financial assistance to help veterans pay for higher education.
Connie Asher enlisted in the United States Air Force when she was 18. She was not sure how long she would be in the military. “I started planning for my life after the military as I was processing into it. I signed up to participate in the GI Bill offer, where a small amount of money would come out of my paycheck each pay period, for approximately a year,” she says. Although she had a guaranteed job to be an Air Traffic Controller, she decided to have a backup plan. “Participating in the GI Bill was my plan B. I’m thankful I was smart enough to initiate as I was starting my plan A.”
If you want to jump right into the workforce, you will have to work on a resume and highlight skills that are important in the civilian work, such as leadership, organization, and independence. If you are able to, try to attend job fairs in the area that you are interested in working. Additionally, compile a list of the companies or organizations you want to work in. Contact their human resources department to see if you can do a job shadow or an informational interview. Both job shadowing and informational interviews give you the opportunity to learn more about a field and a company to give you a better idea of what it will be like working in that type of job. If cold-calling companies seems too daunting, use social media, such as Facebook or LinkedIn to compile a network. Contact individuals in your network to describe your interests and see if they have additional resources that you can explore.
As you are planning to transition to post-military life, you may hit some roadblocks. It is best to anticipate potential roadblocks ahead of time, so you know how to get past them when you encounter them. Identify any skills or experiences that you are missing to accomplish your goal and create a plan for how you will either acquire them. Is it possible to obtain these skills before you leave the military or will you have to wait until after?
Asher was not able to cross train while staying in active duty. So she decided not to re-enlist and enrolled in a local college. “The grace of time I had in being a military dependant, living on the base, and having military dependent benefits was a blessing many do not receive,” she says. However, she raised two small children while attending school and volunteering part-time. “It was a difficult time, but the military experience taught my self-discipline I needed to persevere.”
Be Prepared for Detours
As you are thinking and planning for your transition to civilian life, it is important to be flexible. Things do not always go as planned. Sometimes taking a wrong turn can lead you to the right destination, even if it wasn’t where you originally wanted to go.
After graduating from college, Asher worked briefly in the private sector; however, she found it “jolting to leave the military and work for a private sector.” She ultimately utilized the services of a local Department of Veterans’ Affairs office to help her revise her resume and find a government job as a paralegal. In fact, she went back to the VA office several times during her career for assistance in advancing her career.
Accessing the resources available at the local VA or AMVETS office can help you focus on getting the right information you need to pursue your dream career.