The military gives every service member the opportunity to enter with virtually no skills and leave with an array of skills needed in the civilian job market. Some job-related skills are easily converted to civilian terms - military police become law enforcement officers, for example. Other skills, such as leadership and discipline, are also highly prized by civilian companies. Your military career will give you the chance to explore job opportunities and develop your own personal skill set. Knowing what skills to pursue and then developing them will help guide your career decisions while you're in the military. It will also make you more marketable when you decide to pursue a career outside the service.
When most service members first enter the military, they don't think about skills they'll need when they get out. But it's never too early to think about the future. Early planning will help lead to a successful transition when the time comes. Keep these tips in mind while you are serving.
- Consider skills that will be marketable in the future - Whether you have a short time left in the military or retirement is many years down the road, it's a good idea to take a look at employment trends and plan your career moves accordingly. Reading trade journals will help you keep updated about career paths that interest you. You can use the Internet to find journals on a variety of career fields, or check out e-magazines, such as Fortune or US News and World Report, for reviews of the best jobs and careers.
- Choose your military career field with an eye to the future - This is your first step to your career outside the military. Most technical and medical fields are easily transferable to careers outside the military. Your research will tell you if your chosen military career will lead to a civilian job later.
- Decide whether to try to change your career path - Your ability to change careers in the military will depend on a number of different variables, including need for the job you're in or for the job you want to move into. Your unit's career planner or career counselor can provide more information on changing your career field. If you're in the National Guard or Reserve, think about choosing your career field as a way to build skills that will enhance your civilian career.
- Consider assessment testing - Your installation military and family support center, Transition Assistance Program or Army Career and Alumni Program will have assessment tools to help you determine the career paths best suited to your interests and abilities. Many service members take these tests just before they get out of the military but the assessment tests are available anytime - and a lot can be gained by having this information early or in mid-career.
- Pursue your education - Seeking a college degree or technical training while you're still in the military will improve your chances of landing a good job when you get out. Visit the education office on your installation to learn about all of the ways the military makes it easy for service members to continue their education and complete a degree. Service members can take courses from institutions located at their installation, continue their education as they move from one duty station to another, take courses through distance learning - even while deployed - and cover the cost of education with tuition assistance benefits.
Employers and employment recruiters know that military members typically have a skill set that is much broader than the technical skills required in their particular military career fields. Many service members are unsure of what their less-tangible skills are, so they don't always sell them to potential employers. Be sure to identify to potential employers qualifications such as:
- Strong work ethic - Employers value service members because they tend to be motivated, loyal and mission-focused. They know how to get to work on time and do the job right the first time. These skills have become habits for most service members, making them highly marketable to civilian employers.
- Interpersonal skills - Service members have the opportunity to develop excellent people skills, including working in a team environment and communicating effectively with superiors and co-workers. They also develop leadership skills early in their careers. For this reason, most military members possess a confidence in their leadership abilities that is unmatched by civilian workers.
- Creative problem solving - Service members, especially those who have deployed, are accustomed to tackling complex problems and finding solutions that may not be covered in a manual. Quickly analyzing problems and taking the initiative to correct them are skills highly prized by employers.
- Security clearances - Civilian jobs with the federal government often require a security clearance. Because many service members have received clearances, they are often a good match for these positions. Knowing your clearance level, when your clearance was last updated and having a copy of the documentation to support it, will make you more attractive to a government agency or contractor.
Developing your skills
You may already have all the skills you need to get the civilian job you want. Or you may need to make an effort to develop the skills you'll need. If, for example, you're not in a job that transfers easily to a civilian job, you may need to take courses or volunteer for additional duties in order to develop a marketable skill set. For many people, communication and management skills don't come naturally. Developing these skills will also help you when you transition to a civilian career. These tips can help you:
- Seek roles of responsibility - Volunteer for projects that will enhance your leadership, planning and organizing skills. For example, plan the decorations for a formal function or volunteer to oversee a special project your unit has been assigned. Seeking roles of responsibility and volunteering for collateral duties will help you develop skills you can use in both the military and your civilian career.
- Communicate - Seeking ways to sharpen your communication skills may not be a fun task. Many people, both military and civilian dislike public speaking. But it will become easier with time and experience. Volunteering to give briefs to commanders on your unit's activities will help develop your oral communication skills. Selling your unit's accomplishments will also help you build skills that can help you sell yourself to potential employers.
- Take military leadership courses - Leadership courses, such as programs for non-commissioned officers, will help you sharpen your leadership skills and provide structured guidance on building skills you have already been using. These courses also offer solid proof of your abilities for your résumé.
- Find a mentor - A military or civilian mentor can help you identify and develop your skills. A military mentor can help you find the right military schools or advise you on the best jobs or duty stations to advance your career. A civilian mentor in your field can help you keep abreast of trends outside the military including information that can help guide your career inside the military.
- Volunteer - Become a volunteer firefighter, help out at the Special Olympics or tutor students at a local school. Volunteering is especially important if you aren't working in the field you want to pursue. Volunteer work in the local community will also bring you closer to the civilian community, offering opportunities to meet new people and apply your skills in a non-military setting. Many volunteer opportunities exist on your installation or in your community and you should be able to choose activities in a field that interests you.
- Obtain required licenses and certifications - Many military certifications don't transfer readily to the civilian world but it may be easier to attain a corresponding civilian license or certification while you're still in the military. For more information on civilian certification and licensing, visit the Army's Credentialing Opportunities On-Line. This site offers information on licensing and certifications for many occupations, links to credentialing agencies and information on using tuition assistance for civilian licensing or certifications.
Selling your skills to employers
Putting your military service into civilian terms is the first step in selling your skills to employers. But there's a fine line between de-emphasizing your military experience and over-civilianizing your résumé. Many of the employers you will be talking to are interested in your military career - you just need to put it in terms they can understand.
For example, instead of saying, "was officer in charge of," say, "managed." Take out the acronyms and insert terms that employment recruiters can recognize. Most civilians won't understand, "SNOIC for 2d MarDiv G-3, planning and executing all logistics for operations conducted in our AOR." But they will understand, "Supervised staff of 15 people. Planned and coordinated operations conducted by various subordinate units within our division."
The transition professionals who work with the Transition Assistance Program in the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force or with the Army Career and Alumni Program on your installation are trained to help service members succeed in the civilian working world. They offer help with résumés, interviewing tips, guidance on job searches and advice on civilian federal employment. In order to plan a smooth and successful transition, be sure to visit the transition office as much as a year in advance.