As a military service member, you’ve mastered valuable skills, displayed great discipline, and participated in highly coordinated, team-based operations. These are just a few of the many skills that you can 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.
In this guide, we’ll go over what you need to know to make a successful transition from your military service to pursuing a successful career as a civilian, including information about finding job opportunities, accessing your G.I. Bill® benefits, what paperwork you need, and how military programs can help you reach your professional goals.
Life outside of the military comes with an array of new challenges, not the least of which are the financial realities of being a civilian. During your service, the path to a steady income, housing, and health insurance is clearly structured, but there is often a learning curve when it comes to managing these aspects of life outside of the military.
Getting a good job is a critical first 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. It 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.
TAP underwent an overhaul in fall of 2019, especially with regards to process timelines. According to the new guidelines, TAP starts 365 days before servicemembers retire or leave the military, or as soon as possible after an unexpected separation. Ideally, retiring servicemembers should begin the process two years before they intend to retire. For a full description of changes to TAP, including eligibility changes, click here.
To initiate your enrollment in TAP, visit the Department of Defense website and select your branch of service or contact your local Transition Assistance Office. From there, the process moves through the steps below.
The first step in TAP is to have an interview with a transition counselor, who will help you navigate the process, determine your career goals, and assess your existing professional skills. They also help you manage your benefits and entitlements and navigate other transition services you might qualify for.
Throughout your transition process, you’ll engage with TAP's curriculum, ensuring that you are prepared to succeed in a civilian life. This outcome-based curriculum 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.
The program merges a core curriculum with individually-chosen subjects as well as career technical training and entrepreneurship opportunities. You can choose between tracks in higher education, vocations, or employment. A few required courses include:
- Managing Your (MY) Transition
- Military Occupational Code (MOC) Crosswalk
- Financial Planning for Transition
- VA Benefits and Services
- Department of Labor Employment Fundamentals of Career Transition (DOLEF)
For sercivemembers who can't attend courses in person, the TAP curriculum is also available virtually. The online course options are intended to be supplemental; it is still best to attend classes in person.
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 assessment rates your preparedness 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 five steps you’ll need to take in pursuit of your CRS:
- Complete an Individual Transition Plan (self-assessment)
- Register on eBenefits
- Complete a Continuum of Military Service Opportunity Counseling
- Prepare a post-separation financial plan
- Complete a Military Occupational Codes (MOC) Gap Analysis (or provide verification of employment)
You’ll also have additional CRS requirements determined by what track of TAP you take. Your options are:
- CRS for DoD Education Track: Complete a comparison of higher education institution options
- CRS for DOL Vocational Track: Complete a comparison of technical training institution options
- CRS for DOL Employment Track: Complete a resume or provide verification of employment
The final step in the TAP process is the capstone evaluation, where your CRS and your transition plan are evaluated by a commander to ensure that you are ready to transition into civilian life. The capstone is mandatory.
Get Your VMET
In order to cite your military service background, training, and experience in job and college applications, you’ll need to present your VMET: Verification of Military Experiences and Training form DD 2586. Your service branch is required to provide you with this assessment, which details your knowledge, experience, and skills as they relate to your civilian career prospects. To access and download your VMET, create an account or login on milConnect.
Subjects on your VMET have been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE), which provides a database of college courses and civilian careers related to each military subject or experience. While not a guarantee of college credit, recommendations on your VMET document can give you a good idea of what direction your career or education can go after you leave the military.
Other Transition Services
In addition to your TAP training curriculum and your VMET document, the military provides a number of transition support resources, both during your service and on an ongoing basis after retirement.
- Installation briefings: classes and seminars on goal setting, change management, and evaluating job offers.
- Individual assistance: provides personal help for you and your spouse for up to 180 days after the end of service, including one-on-one support, resources, needs assessments, and referrals.
- Veterans Employment and Training Service
Earning a Degree or Certification
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, 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.
Funding is often the first question on everybody's mind when it comes to earning a degree or certification. For most servicemembers, the G.I. Bill® provides the answer, offering a variety of funding benefits for earning college degrees or attending vocational school.
To learn more about your eligibility for education benefits, check out our Complete Guide to Using Your G.I. Bill®.
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.
Preparing Your KSAs
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.
You’ll need to customize your KSAs to match the requirements for each vacancy. To get started, create 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 narrow down your career search.The
Military Skills Translator is a good portal for exploring career options based on your experience. This tool allows you to enter your branch of service and your military rank to determine the civilian jobs for which you might be best 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 offer programs aimed at helping veterans find, apply for, and keep employment. You can get help creating your resume, preparing for interviews, and managing service-related challenges 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 portal that points directly to a range of employment opportunities with industries and organizations that show preference to veteran hires. It also offers a host of other employment support resources.
- My Next Move helps you search for job opportunities based on keywords, industries, or your own military experience.
- 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 Department of Veterans Affairs offers a wide variety of resources for retired servicemembers.
- The Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program provides employment support for veterans. It is particularly beneficial for those who are ill, injured, or have service-related challenges that impact employment options.
- Vet Centers provides readjustment counseling in or near your community. You are encouraged to contact Vet Centers through its Facebook Community page to initiate contact with a counselor in your region.
- The National Center for PTSD — a subsidiary of the VA — offers treatment options no matter where you live. Every VA medical center keeps PTSD specialists on staff, and there are also an additional 200 specialized military PTSD treatment centers across the country. Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) also offer PTSD care. You can find one of these programs locally by using the VA PTSD Program Locator.
- Give an Hour (GAH) — in partnership with the University of Phoenix — provides free mental health care for active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members, veterans, and their families.
Veterans Crisis Line puts you in immediate contact with qualified Veterans Affairs responders trained to understand the mental health challenges unique to veterans undergoing readjustment. Responders are available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
All calls, chats and text messages are confidential, and support is available immediately. Support is also available for deaf or hearing-impaired individuals.
Managing Service-Related Challenges
Part of building a successful post-military career is ensuring that you have the support you need. 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 mean having to manage 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 member of your community. Begin by seeking support through agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, which offers resources designed to help military veterans cope with mental health challenges and transition into civilian life.
Here are a few such agencies:
As a veteran, you already command a set of skills that make you valuable to prospective employers. If you take all the appropriate steps to hone, display, and improve these skills, you can build a successful career in the civilian sector.