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. 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.

Civilian Life

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.

Initial Counseling

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.

TAP Curriculum

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:

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:

You’ll also have additional CRS requirements determined by what track of TAP you take. Your options are:

Capstone

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.

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.

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