Starting a Civilian Career

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As a military service member, you’ve mastered valuable skills, displayed great discipline, and participated in highly-coordinated team-based operations. And these are just a few of the many skills that you bring to prospective employers as you transition from the military to the civilian job market. But making the transition from military service to a civilian career isn’t always easy.

Life outside of the military comes with an array of new challenges, not the least of which are the financial realities of civilian life. During your service, the path to a steady income, housing, and health insurance are all clearly structured. But there is often a learning curve when it comes to managing these aspects of life outside of the military structure.

Getting a good job is a critical step, but one that can take time, patience, and persistence. Fortunately, your military service also gives you access to an array of support services, resources, and benefits, all of which are designed to help ease your transition from life in the service to a civilian career.

Getting Transition Assistance

Begin your process of seeking employment by making the most of the military’s transition program. The Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is designed to prepare you for some of the most important dimensions of transition, including your readiness for the job market. TAP provides information, tools, and training to help you and your family prepare for and navigate the experience of transitioning from military service to civilian life. Initiate your program by visiting the Department of Defense website and selecting your branch of service or by contacting your local Transition Assistance Office.

The Transition GPS Curriculum

The TAP program is more than a program for outgoing service members. It’s a curriculum that you’ll engage with at key points throughout your military career. This outcome-based curriculum — called Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) — helps military service members transition to civilian life while helping to identify and advance career goals.

This ongoing transition education program is designed to help you align the goals of your military career with those of your civilian career, and to subsequently begin preparing for this civilian career. If you are unable to access your GPS education in a physical classroom setting, the military does provide access to a Transition GPS Virtual Curriculum as well.

The program merges a core curriculum with individually-chosen subjects as well as career technical training and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Meeting Career Readiness Standards (CRS)

As a military service member entering the civilian job market, you must demonstrate that you are prepared to pursue your “post-separation goals.” The Department of Defense defines this readiness using a metric called Career Readiness Standards (CRS). Your CRS is a mandatory rating designed to ensure that you are departing the military with the skills and knowledge you’ll need to secure and manage a civilian career. The Department of Defense outlines 9 steps you’ll need to take in pursuit of your CRS:

If you’ll be transitioning into a higher education setting or a career training program, you’ll also need to complete:

Visit the Department of Defense TAP program for more detail on TAP, the Transition GPS Curriculum, and the acquisition of your CRS.

Other Transition Services

In addition to your TAP training curriculum, the military provides access to a number of transition support resources both during your service and on an ongoing basis:

Get Your VMET

In order to reference your military service background and experience in job applications and other materials, you’ll need to present your VMET, or Verification of Military Experiences and Training form DD 2586. Your service branch is required to provide you with this assessment in order to verify your experience and training. The assessment details your knowledge, experience, and skills as they relate to your civilian career prospects. To download your VMET, create an account or login with the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program.

Get a Degree or Certification

The G.I. Bill provides a wide range of benefits that can fund most or all of your higher education expenses. Depending on the career path you choose, you should consider taking advantage of these benefits. A quality certification or degree will make you eligible for a wider range of jobs, improve your candidacy for competitive openings, and help you secure a long-term future with greater opportunities for career advancement. Getting a degree or certification is not a mandatory step, and there are many jobs for which your military background may already qualify you. However, the G.I. Bill does provide numerous pathways for you to improve your career prospects and heighten your earning potential. Consider exploring all of these pathways before locking in on a career choice.

To learn more about your eligibility for education benefits, check out our Complete Guide to Using Your G.I. Bill.

Check out our tips for Transitioning from Military to College to learn more about the steps you’ll need to take to make the most of your benefits.

And if you haven’t already done it, you should also begin the process of exploring your benefits by creating an eBenefits account through the VA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also advises contacting a Benefits Advisor directly through your commanding officer or TAP Manager. A Benefits Advisor can be your personal guide through the transition process, providing one-on-one support to help you prepare for civilian life and take advantage of all the benefits you’ve earned.

If you’ve already completed these steps, check out The Best Schools for Military Personnel & Families.

Preparing You KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)

If you haven’t written your KSA (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) statements, now is a good time. This is a written narrative summarizing the attributes that qualify you for a given position. KSAs are required for any job in the federal government, and for many government positions at the state and municipal levels. If you plan on seeking a civilian role in government or public service, take steps to prepare your KSAs in a way that best represents your strengths and virtues.

Many of the jobs that you apply for — including all jobs in the federal government — will outline specific KSAs that apply to the vacancy. You’ll need to customize your KSAs to match the requirements for each vacancy. However, you can get started now by creating a single authoritative KSA statement that can be adapted to each application. This strategy can also help you hone in on your most marketable attributes and, consequently, narrow down your search for a suitable career path.

Click here for tactical tips on composing your KSAs.

Choosing A Path

Whether you’re developing KSAs for a public service role or you’re hoping to move into the private civilian sector, your best path forward is one that connects your experience in the military with the role you hope to play in the civilian sector. Find the overlap between your service and the civilian job market.

If you helped manage strategic communication in the military, consider exploring a career in media, journalism, public relations, or marketing. If you provided tactical planning and strategic leadership, consider paths to business administration, organizational management, and entrepreneurship. If you provided computing skills to military operations, parlay your knowledge into a career in a high-growth area like programming, web development, or cyber-security.

Whatever your military experience, find ways to channel it into your next move, whether this move is toward a college campus or a place of employment. Your military background has given you a wide range of skills and experiences. Now it’s up to you find ways of making these skills and experiences relevant to the civilian job market.

The Military Skills Translator is a good portal for exploring career avenues based on your unique background and experience. This tool allows you to enter information regarding your branch of service and your military rank in order to determine the civilian jobs for which you might best be suited.

Getting Career and Employment Support

Fortunately, the Military, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and a host of other public and non-profit groups have programs aimed at helping veterans target, find, prepare for, and maintain employment. Get help creating your resume, preparing for interviews, managing service-related challenges and more by exploring the agencies and outlets below.

Make use of as many of these services and resources as you need to on your path to a sustainable career.

Veterans.com is a valuable stop on your way to post-military employment, a portal that points directly to a range of employment opportunities with industries and organizations that show preference to veteran hires, as well as a host of other employment support resources.

My Next Move is a resource aimed at helping you search for job opportunities based on keywords, industries, or your own military experiences.

NovoResume provides practical resume advice for military veterans, and offers tips on what to include, what to avoid, and how to format the ideal resume.

The National Resource Directory (NRD) connects wounded warriors, service members, veterans, their families, and caregivers to support programs and services.

The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program provides employment support for veterans and is particularly beneficial to those who are ill, injured, or otherwise have service-related challenges that impact employment options.

Managing Service-Related Challenges

Part of advancing a successful post-military career is ensuring not just that you land a job, but that you have all the support you’ll need to maintain a job and advance a career. For many veterans, this is a challenging prospect. From physical, mental health, and substance abuse challenges to the general difficulty of re-acclimating to civilian life, veterans are a uniquely vulnerable population.

Maintaining a positive employment situation may require you to manage a number of overlapping challenges related to your service.

If you’re struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, take steps to manage these conditions so that you can remain a healthy and functional part of your community and place of employment.

Begin by seeking support through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA, and a host of related agencies, offer a spectrum of resources that are designed to help military veterans cope with mental health challenges and transition into various dimensions of civilian life.

Among them:

If you’re struggling to acclimate to the general experience of returning to civilian life, take a look at our tips and resources for Transitioning from the Military to Civilian Life.

As a veteran, you command a set of skills that make you valuable to prospective employers. Be sure that you take all the appropriate steps to hone, display, and improve these skills as you work towards a great career in the civilian sector.

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