No one is ever wholly prepared when leaving the military. Even if you already have a job or degree plan lined up, there will always be an adjustment period as you make for the civilian workforce. By taking care of a few things early, you can save some headaches down the road.
1. Start taking care of medical issues immediately
This is an excellent tip for anyone in the military, but especially someone separating within a year. Start the process of tying up any loose ends with medical care now and gathering your records. This will ensure that you receive any care you need and have the information required for any disability claims filed.
2. Start saving
Decide how much money you can set aside now to help offset any drop in income. You may need a couple of extra months to find a job, or maybe you’re going to school and will only be working part-time. Don’t forget to take into account budget items that will end up costing more after you’re out. These include medical care, prescriptions, groceries (if you buy at the commissary), fuel, and even checked bags when you’re flying. Depending on whether you’re separating or retiring, the benefits you retain may vary. Throughout your transition, you will have opportunities to meet with financial planners on base to help with your budget.
3. Gather your paperwork
You will need your records for your transition process. Gather your evaluations, awards, and training history. You will need them for your transition class, but they will also help with resume writing. The sooner you find out something’s missing, the more time you’ll have to correct the issue.
4. Register for transition classes
Military transition classes are a mandatory part of separation. Not only will you learn how to prepare for your next career, but you will also find out about programs and services available that can help you find success faster. Many bases also offer extra courses on the federal hiring process and entrepreneurship. By attending a transition class early, you’ll have more time to make use of these resources.
5. Learn about your education benefits
If you have a GI Bill benefit, it is crucial that you understand what you are entitled to. Read up on the new Forever GI Bill. If you plan on transferring benefits to your family, this must be done before leaving the service.
6. Apply to colleges
If you are planning on using education benefits after leaving the military, now is the time to apply if you haven’t already. If you haven’t decided on a career track yet, consider scheduling a meeting with a career counselor or education services officer on base. Once you decide what you want to do, look for a reputable school with a program that will put you on track.
7. Get certified
Does your future career require any certifications? If so, you may be able to start them before you leave the military. One certification that can help in the civilian workforce is Project Management. If you served for a while and had any leadership opportunities, you are well on your way to adding this certification to your resume. Visit the Onward 2 Opportunity site to learn more about available certification tracks.
8. Consider going part-time
As a reservist, you can retain some benefits, and even retire later on. You only commit one weekend per month and 2 weeks per year, so this is a great way to continue serving and earn points toward retirement even though you’re leaving active duty. To learn more, talk to your career counselor, or a reserve recruiter. This is an excellent option for those who aren’t retiring from active duty.
9. Learn to translate to civilian speak
Everyone will tell you to adapt your resume for the civilian workforce, but you also need to practice incorporating this into everyday conversations as well. Practice telling the story of your career in a way that makes sense to civilians. This will help you in interviews and networking. The more you get used to talking about your service in ways that make sense in the civilian world, the more value you will add to employers and colleagues.
10. Build a master resume
Gather all of your documentation together and write out a comprehensive resume from your military career. This will take a lot of time, but save you time in the future. Use metrics to quantify your experience. If you implemented a process that reduced man-hours by 50% while doubling productivity, say so. Once you’ve listed everything, take a look at job postings you would be interested in and add anything they’re asking for that you missed. You will not send this resume to anyone. You will use it to create tailored resumes for positions you find, pasting only the relevant bullet points into the document. Make sure to include wording from the job posting on the resume you submit. For example, if they’re looking for a “team builder” and you have “leader” on your resume, you should swap in their words to get noticed.
11. Touch up your LinkedIn profile
In your transition class, you’ll probably set up your LinkedIn profile and add a professional photo. To make the most of LinkedIn, engage with your connections. Join relevant groups and follow companies you’d like to work for. Connect with other military members and veterans, as well as professionals who already have careers established in the field you will be entering. As a military member, you can get a premium account free for a year. Decide when you want to start the premium account, as you might want to activate it more toward the end of your service. Here are some great tips for veterans using LinkedIn.
12. Start networking
It’s never to early to start networking. Begin by building relationships with people who have careers you admire. Ask for informational interviews with people who offer help and don’t forget that you may have something to offer as well. It may seem overwhelming at first to get started, but you will see more rewards come from networking than from filling out random job applications.
13. Touch base with your military mentors
If you’re going to be job hunting, you will need some references. Think about the supervisors you’ve had that have had an impact on you who may be willing to be contacted about your service. If you haven’t been in touch in a few years, that’s ok. Contact them and let them know your plans. As you rebuild the relationship, you may find they have connections you weren’t aware of that can help in your transition.
14. Start a new job while you’re still in the military
Do you have a little time to volunteer off duty? Does someone need some freelance work done that you can do to learn a little extra cash? Be on the lookout for internships or other work you can do while you’re still active duty that will help you build up experience. There’s also a program called DOD Skillbridge that’s worth looking into, as well as organizations like Shift.org. If your commanding officer allows it, you could spend the last 6 months of active duty working for a civilian company. Your paycheck will still come from the military, but you’ll gain skills, experience, and connections.
15. Prepare your family
Significant life changes affect the entire family. Be aware of the impact the end of your service will have on the family. Even good things, like being able to stay at home more, will have an effect and interrupt family dynamics. Will you be traveling more? Less? Will you be moving? Downsizing? Consider your family’s needs and take advantage of resources that can help them prepare for transition as well.
16. Tell the story of your service
Whether you served 3 years or 30, you have a story to tell. Start gathering photos, memorabilia, challenge coins, and uniforms to preserve. Have certificates framed, and if you’re retiring, let someone from your command know if you want anything special, like a flag flown over Fenway Park. Sometimes these requests are made last minute and hard to fulfill, so start thinking now about how you will document your story in words, photos, and items.
17. Update your civilian wardrobe
Chances are, your civilian professional wardrobe needs a little updating. Browse the internet for looks you like, and consider getting help at a department store. If anything, purchase an outfit that you can use for interviews to get started. Not all jobs require a suit and tie every day, so you may want to check the dress code at the company you end up working at before spending too much. If you’re short on cash, see if your community, school, or base has a lending closet for interview clothes.
18. Consider how your routine will change
With everything else going on during this pivotal time in your life, it’s easy to forget about the little things. You got used to certain facets of military life. Are you going to keep up your workout schedule? How will a different holiday or work schedule affect your life? What kinds of activities do you wish to keep in your daily routine and how will you incorporate them? These are just a few questions to consider for your well being.
This is a lot to take in, and it’s only the beginning!