Transitioning to a Civilian Job? Four Tips for Veterans Facing a Career Change

Guest Post:

For many military service members, transitioning out of the armed forces does not mean immediate retirement from work. Veterans often choose to pursue a second career after leaving the service to continue to support their family and gain experience in a new field. There are many tools available to assist these individuals in finding new career opportunities, including newly announced Google search features that help veterans identify openings that match their unique skill set. While this is great news, a career transition can still be daunting. For men and women who are facing a move out of the military, here are four tips to help navigate the career change.

Register for Transition Assistance Program (TAP) classes and make use of all your resources

One of the many great resources offered to servicemembers is Transition Assistance Program (TAP) classes. These classes are designed to help servicemembers transition out of the service more easily and include seminars and workshops on helpful topics including resume writing, skill assessments, interview tips and Veterans’ Benefits. Once you’ve made the decision to retire from the service, you should register for TAP classes to become more informed and properly begin your transition.

In addition to TAP classes, you can research other online resources and seminars offered by organizations like the AAFMAA , the USO, and the VFW. And don’t forget to make use of your personal network! If you know someone who recently transitioned to a non-military career, consider reaching out and asking them to meet up for lunch or coffee to hear about their experiences.

Identify your career preferences before beginning a job search  

While you’re serving in the Armed Forces, your career path is usually well defined based on the amount of time you’ve served as well as your branch and rank. For veterans who are transitioning out of the service, especially those who entered at a young age, transition may be the first time your career path is completely wide-open. While the chance for a new start is very promising, it can also be daunting if you don’t know where to start. When you arrive at this crossroads, step back and ask yourself a few questions before diving into the job search. A few questions to consider include:

  • If you were involved in a specialized area of the service (i.e. engineering, technology or medicine), would you like to stay in that general field when working as a civilian?
  • Do you have a preference as to the type of company would you like to work for? For example, would you prefer services or manufacturing, and other similar criteria?
  • Are you looking to stay in the same geographical area or are you open to moving to a new location?
  • Do you require further education or training and is this something you’d need to undergo before starting the job or can it be done while you are working?

These questions are just the beginning and are by no means all-encompassing. It’s also important to discuss your career plan and ideas with your spouse and family, since they will be affected. These discussions can often lead to additional questions that pertain to your family’s unique situation.

Find ways to leverage your military experience for a new career

One of the greatest challenges for a veteran who is entering the civilian workforce can be finding ways to explain the qualifications they earned in the military to a potential new employer. Remember that it may be hard for a new employer to see the connections between military-specific skills and skills needed for their new hire, particularly if the job is in a completely different industry. To leverage your abilities within the context of a new position, it helps to identify the impact and results of your military work and identify the broader skills you used to achieve your outcomes. A civilian employer will not always understand the day-to-day duties of your work in the service, but things like leadership, organization and strategic thinking resonate well across all industries.

When you land an interview, prepare adequately

Conduct research on the company you are interviewing with and be prepared to share with the hiring manager some specific ways you can bring value to the company. It might be helpful to conduct a practice interview with a trusted friend or relative, preferably someone who hasn’t served in the military. When you practice responses, avoid jargon and technical language. If the person you’re practicing with doesn’t understand your responses, it’s likely the potential employer won’t either!

During an interview, it’s also important for you to come with questions of your own. I mentioned further education and training earlier. While this might not be a requirement for hiring, if it’s something you’re interested in, you may want to ask the employer if they have any programs for continued education and training. This demonstrates initiative and a desire to make you more valuable to the company. Another good question to ask might be “What are your goals for the company in the 30/60/90 days?” Pay attention to their answer and be prepared to explain how your unique skills can help them meet these goals.

Job transitions and interviews are stressful for everyone, no matter what your work history is. For the men and women of the Armed Forces, they can be especially daunting. However, there are plenty of tools out there designed to help veterans make the next move after retiring from the services and these tips are a great place to start!


Carlos Perez is the COO and Assistant Secretary of AAFMAA. Prior to joining AAFMAA, Perez served over twenty-six years of active duty Army leadership as an Engineer Officer in a variety of command and staff assignments, including battalion command in the United States and operational and combat deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

About Commander in Chief At home

Erin is a military spouse and, sometimes temporarily single mom to 4 boys. She's a writer, editor, teacher, and (Autism) mom.
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