Editor’s note: The following article was contributed by Sarah Maples of Veterans of Foreign Wars. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length. This content originally appeared on RallyPoint.com. Find more at https://www.vfw.org/.
Transitioning from a military career to a civilian one can sometimes seem like an overwhelming process. Just deciding what type of job to look for right after you leave the service can be challenging.
Should I stay in the same career field, use the skill set I already have? But I might be interested in public policy or, no, maybe I want to start my own business. Do I need to go back to school for an HR degree or an MBA? I don’t want to stay in my current location, so is a local job fair even worth my time?
Leaving the service means you have an array of different choices regarding your post-military life and career. And sometimes, that’s exactly the problem ― too many choices. Narrowing the options can reduce your stress level and help you make a better decision. Here are a few recommendations to limit your choices and improve your chances of not just landing a job but landing the right job.
1) Define Your Go/No Go List: While it can often be difficult to articulate what you want your post-military career to look like, it is often less difficult to define what you want your post-military life to look like. Are you willing to work nights and weekends? Is there a specific location you’re interested in? What salary do you need to support yourself or your family? Is one week of vacation a year enough or do you want more? How much are you willing to travel for work?
Making a list of these type of questions and your answers to them gives you a reliable tool with which to evaluate possible employment options and narrow down the field of potential choices. It also makes you more likely to choose a job that suits you and your goals.
2) Run the Marathon: The military is a culture of sprint ― as fast and as hard as you can until you accomplish the mission or it’s time for your next change of station. Your civilian career is going to be more like a marathon, lasting usually at least twice as long as your military career. You need to pace yourself.
Pacing yourself means you shouldn’t feel pressured to get the perfect job right out of the gate, but don’t take any old job either, as both of these extremes can hurt your overall career development. Choose something that’s going to move you in the direction of your long-term goals, that provides the capacity for growth and that matches your Go/No Go list. Additionally, remember that these days individuals change jobs and companies frequently during the course of a career. The first job you choose isn’t likely to be the job you spend 30 years doing. Even if you make a bad first choice (I did), you and your career can recover.
3) Focus on the Culture: Too often, transitioning service members focus on the job, rather than the organization. No matter how much a specific job might suit you, if you don’t like who you are doing it for, you aren’t going to be happy. In fact, there is nothing worse than a toxic work environment or one that provides you no opportunity for growth. Avoiding these environments is as critical to your job search as choosing a position that interests you.
Also, as I mentioned above, you are unlikely to have the same position for your entire civilian career. By choosing an organization that you believe in and that suits your Go/No Go list, you not only improve your quality of life, you improve your chances for longevity and upward mobility in that company as well.
Deciding what you want your civilian career to look like can be challenging. Chances are, the first job you choose won’t be the one you stick with. But you can improve your choices by identifying the things that matter and how you want your life to look. Remember that your civilian career will be a series of events, and you need to pace yourself. And look for a company culture that suits you.