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It’s Time To Think Beyond Your Military Occupational Specialty

Many military job sites offer military occupational translators to help transitioning service members figure out what they should do once out of the military based on what they did in the military. There are two big issues with this.

First, few veterans want to do what they did in the military after they are out. Second, the assignment of a military specialty is largely arbitrary. If the Marine Corps needed truck drivers when you got in, you probably became a truck driver. You may not have wanted to become a truck driver and you may not have been a good truck driver, but the needs of the service always come first.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to limit your career opportunities when you get out. Read on for three tips to transition into something completely different.

1. Take time to explore different careers.

About six months before your separation date, make a list of 10-12 different careers and jobs you think you’d enjoy doing. At this point, don’t worry about your qualifications for these jobs. Instead, think about the type of life you want and the type of work you’d like to do. Do you want to work outside or inside? Do you want to work with other people? Do you want to be in a leadership position? Maybe you’re interested in building things with your hands or wearing a suit to an office. The most important thing you can do at this stage is to keep an open mind and not just fall back on what you know and what you are familiar with.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, think about the people you know who have similar jobs outside the military or work in related industries. If you only know a few, look up folks in your area on LinkedIn and ask them out for coffee. Ask them about what they like and don’t like about their jobs, where the industry is going, what the career prospects are like, what companies are hiring, and recommendations they have for someone interested in following in their footsteps.

2. Chart your course.

Once you have a better sense of what you want to do, it is time to plot a course to get there. Start by figuring out where you want to be in five years. If possible, use one of your mentors as an example. Then start planning out the steps you need to take to acquire the necessary skills, education, and experience to do that job.

For example, Hirepurpose posted an opportunity to be a game developer at Activision, the video game company responsible for making the Call of Duty franchise. A number of veterans responded that veterans weren’t qualified to design and code video games. But that is incredibly shortsighted. You may not be qualified today, but if you take the right steps out of service to acquire the skills and education required to be a game developer, then what would stop you? Plenty of accredited schools that accept the G.I. Bill even offer video game developer degrees. Your career prospects are only limited by your ability to plan and make smart choices out the service.

3. Use your benefits.

Today’s G.I. Bill is an incredibly generous investment in our generation of veterans. Use it wisely. Too many veterans waste it on for-profit school degrees or programs that are not going to give them a competitive edge in today’s job market. Don’t mortgage your future. Use your G.I. Bill smartly to acquire the education you need to fill the job you want. Don’t use it to collect basic housing allowance or to get a degree that isn’t competitive. That is shortsighted, lazy, and is going to hurt you in the future.    

4. Invest in soft skills.

The soft skills, not the hard skills, you gained in the military are what set you apart in the civilian job market. Companies are eager to hire folks with real world experience, who are creative in their approach to problem solving, hardworking, able to learn and acquire new skills, and who can lead teams or be a good member of one. No matter where you start, have the confidence to know that if you retain those character traits, you can go far fast.

5.  Be a boot (again).

Some veterans take offense to starting at the bottom and having to work their way up into a job more commensurate with their age and experience. But you shouldn’t be afraid to be a boot again. The pay cut might hurt in the short term, but it can be worth it if you are in a job with opportunities for promotion and advancement in the company.

When you joined the military, you joined with a goal in mind to achieve a certain rank and a certain billet. You didn’t expect to be a squad leader right out of boot camp, you had to earn it. That is even more true in the civilian job market. Before you’re hired, let the company know you are willing to start lower than you’d like, but that you intend to work hard, prove yourself, and acquire the experience and skills needed for rapid promotion within its ranks. A good employer will value that.

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