September 12, 2018  |  Purdue Global  |  Updated March 28, 2023

In the military, you rely on teamwork to meet established goals. Very few victories come down to the work of one single person. That esprit de corps—the loyalty and pride of working as a unit toward a goal—is what many find so enriching about their time in the service, but it’s also why transitioning to the civilian workforce can be a challenge for some.

Looking for a job is, for the most part, a solo effort. However, with the right preparation, the move doesn’t have to be so daunting.

Here are our tips for a successful transition from military service to the civilian workforce.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

1. Prepare for Your Transition in Advance

When is the right time to begin preparing for your move back to civilian life? While you’re still in the service. If you wait until you’re out of the military to tackle these tasks, it could make your transition more stressful and potentially prolong your job search.

Here is a list of important things to do before you leave the military:

  • Enroll in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP gives armed forces members access to employment information and training. Servicemembers begin TAP within 1 year of their separation, or 2 years before their retirement. Explore career ideas, learn job search strategies, and pick up skills for your job search, such as resume writing and interview skills.
  • Ask about VA benefits. The VA provides numerous benefits that can help you once you’ve entered civilian life. These range from health care and home loans to college education and job training benefits.
  • Explore the job market. Don’t wait until you are out of the military to start thinking about your next career move. Start learning about different industries and assessing opportunities to figure out where your interests lie.
  • Request letters of recommendation and other paperwork and documentation. Make your transition as hassle-free as possible by getting all of this taken care of ahead of time.
  • Work on your resume and LinkedIn profile. After you’ve taken time to review career options, start crafting a resume that fits the position you are interested in. Highlight the skills you gained during your military service that apply to the job you’re seeking. Create a top-notch LinkedIn profile that helps recruiters find you.
  • Investigate higher education. Some of the career options you may be interested in may require additional training or a degree, so start creating a list of potential colleges and universities.

Purdue Global offers a Military Credit Estimator that can help determine how long it will take you to get a degree, based on your branch of service and current skill level.

2. Take Inventory of Your Skills

As a member of the military, you have skills and attributes that employers find highly valuable, such as leadership, discipline, teamwork, and the ability to negotiate high-pressure situations.

Think about the jobs you’ve performed during your time in the armed forces. Would you like to find a similar position in the civilian workforce? As you research different career options and industries, keep in mind what you enjoyed (or didn’t) about your military experience. This will help you nail down the type of career you’d like to pursue.

>> Read more: Career Guide for Military Veterans

Take steps to clarify your strengths with a skills inventory. These types of assessments can help you determine your capabilities and identify areas for improvement. Here are a few to consider:

Once you’ve completed one or more of these skills inventories, you can begin matching your skills to jobs and career paths.

3. Explore Your Education Options

After you’ve researched different industries and jobs and assessed your skills, the next step is to determine the educational requirements you may need to meet.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can help. It features the typical education and training necessary to work in hundreds of occupations in the U.S. For example:

  • If you want to become a software developer, go to the handbook and type “software developer” in the search field in the upper-right corner.
  • The first result returned is the handbook’s entry for this career. Click on it, and then click on the tab labeled “How to Become One.” This page tells you that software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree.

Once you determine the type of training or education (if any) you need to work in your chosen field, you can search for schools that offer those programs. Look for:

  • A respected school that’s accredited and with programs that hold industry-relevant approvals and accreditations
  • A school that recognizes the value of military training and work experience and offers college-level credit for ACE-evaluated military training and the CLEP and DANTES examinations
  • A school that’s committed to helping military students reach their career goals

You can also consider looking into online formats that enable you to develop the skills you need while balancing your family obligations and other aspects of your new civilian life.

When you couple your military service with a college degree, you become an even more desirable job candidate. Purdue Global offers military degree programs and benefits that meet the needs of servicemembers who are transitioning to civilian life.

>> Read more: Attending Purdue Global: 5 Steps for Military Veterans

4. Build a Job Search Network

Your transition from military servicemember to civilian will, in many ways, be about who you know as well as what you know. Work on building a robust network that can help connect you with job opportunities. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Build a personal brand through LinkedIn that will attract new contacts. Have a professional headshot for your profile. Create a summary that discusses your professional passions and pursuits. The summary isn’t a resume—it’s an opportunity to sell yourself to your next boss. Remember to talk about your military experience in ways that will be relatable to recruiters and hiring managers.
  • Engage with people online who share your professional interests. Participate in group discussions, send private messages, and comment on their social posts to generate conversations with them and build connections.
  • Tap into your informal networks. Friends, family members, former teachers, clergy, and other people whom you served with may have connections you aren’t aware of. Keep in touch and let your social circle know the type of job you’re looking for when you transition out of the military.
  • Don’t focus only on decision-makers. While higher-ups in companies may be the ones who ultimately decide to hire you, you shouldn't overlook other people who can also influence the hiring decision and may have valuable insights to share in your job search. Engage with all types of people working at various levels of the career path you want to pursue.
  • Remember that the opportunity to network can happen anywhere. You don’t have to wait for business events and job fairs to network. Be open to conversations with new people at your kid’s baseball game, the grocery store, church, and other places you spend time. You never know whom you may meet and what opportunities they may be able to connect you to.

>> Read more: LinkedIn for Job Seekers: How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

5. Recognize That You Can Successfully Manage This Challenge

Transitioning from the military to civilian life may have its challenges, but it isn’t an impossible task, especially when you take time to prepare, identify your support resources, and create a realistic plan. This brings us to our final tip: Believe that you can successfully manage this process. Because you can. Need more help? Check out these resources:

Your Path to Success Begins at Purdue Global

A military career and a college degree are a powerful combination. Learn more about Purdue Global’s commitment to military students or request information to connect with one of our military advisors to find out about a specific program.

About the Author

Purdue Global

Earn a degree you're proud of and employers respect at Purdue Global, Purdue's online university for working adults. Accredited and online, Purdue Global gives you the flexibility and support you need to come back and move your career forward. Choose from 175+ programs, all backed by the power of Purdue.

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