A very common failure in military transition to a successful civilian career is a lack of focus. This applies even if you think you might want to keep doing what you have done in the military. A failure to look at your own successes and do some self-analysis so you understand your short and long term goals and what you want is bad news for your future success.  A failure to research and focus on what specific career fields and jobs are the best choices makes your transition far longer and harder. Too many of us think that we can do anything or some wide range of types of work and then expect employers to provide job options based on our resumes. Employers will not do this for you. Other people you know or work with can help with ideas but only you can decide what you are going to focus on doing next.

Three Critical Elements of Successful Career Change

  • Figuring out What You Want to Do
  • Using Your Past to Enhance Your Future
  • Demonstrating Your Value to Employers


Six Steps From Your Past to Future Success

Get out a notebook – bound or machine – and start writing the answers to these questions.  Give yourself time for each.  Go back and add things as you progress.  These will help you move forward effectively to success.


Exercise: Create a list of 8-12 things which you get from your work (besides pay and benefits) which are important to you.

  • Examples: learn new technology, respect of peers, travel, training and development opportunities, work alone, work in a team, big $, social life

Exercise: Ask yourself these questions

  • What do you enjoy doing, are good at, and want to do next?
  • What really matters to you in your life, career, and finances?
  • What environment do you need to be successful and fulfilled?
  • Then consider:
    What do these exercises tell you about the type of jobs or organization culture you need to succeed?


Exercise: Think about your past work successes. Identify at least 6-7 such times you felt great about an achievement and make notes about each. What was the environment, the challenge you faced, what did you do, and what were the results?

Then, look for patterns in your successes.

  • What skills, knowledge, attitude did you use?
  • Were there certain environments or tasks you most enjoyed?
  • What can those successes and patterns tell you about your strengths?


Exercise: Think about how you see yourself and how that impacts your success. Answer these questions carefully.

  • When you meet someone new at work, what do you tell them about yourself?
  • What do you find exciting about your work? Your current/last job? Your life?
  • What five or six activities do you really love to DO in your work?
  • What would you hope other people would say to describe you to someone?
  • Who relies on you for information? Advice? Assistance? Support? Mentoring?

Once you have answered these questions, ask several people you trust at work and among close friends or family, what they think you would answer to these questions. What can learn about yourself from the differences?


Exercise: Identify Career Fields and Jobs which Interest You

  • Pick several of the key words you have chosen describing your strengths and interests and search a major job board or aggregator to see which jobs use these skills. Look at different combinations to see a variety of job options.
    Example: Data analysis +writing +security
    Results: 2244 jobs in Metro DC in a wide range of fields and organizations.

Then assess: What jobs offer the opportunity to meet your needs as identified in earlier steps?

Exercise: Do a SWOT analysis. SWOT = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

  • Opportunities and threats include both your personal issues and external forces.
    Example – Threats: Now jobs in your field increasingly require degrees or certifications you do not have.
    Example – Opportunities: Executive security demands are growing in corporations.

Remember to include the specific skills required by your chosen career field and the key ‘soft skills’ most organizations seek in your SWOT analysis. Soft skills include: effective communications, teamwork, interpersonal skills, flexibility, and similar human skills which transfer across many opportunities.


Exercise: Form your self assessment based on the jobs which you selected as most interesting above.

  • How do you match up to the common requirements?
  • What, if any, additional education, training or experience do you need for jobs you seek? How will you get it?
  • Where are the jobs which most interest you? Are you willing to move to such locations? Lots of military pick out a specific location without looking at the jobs there first.

Exercise: Test your own self -assessments.

Use others whose advice you value to help you “product-test” your self-assessments. Research via your connections whether the market values what you are offering. Ask past mentors and bosses as well as others in your field you respect. You want to learn what they see in these areas:

  • Best strengths and skills you offer
  • How you present yourself overall (resume, social media, in person)
  • Current demand and pay ranges for your top few job choices

Use this information in planning your job search targets, building your network, identifying the value you offer an employer.


Go back through your self-assessments, the comments and feedback you have received, and your research information on possible jobs.  Consider:

  • What do you enjoy doing, do well, and want to do next?
  • What environment do you need to be successful?
  • Which careers and jobs offer the opportunity to meet your needs?
  • What organizations offer the environment you need?
  • Who is hiring people for this work and these positions?

Your career choices, your focus, are the largest investments you will make now and in your future. Put some effort into your analysis and research and you will reap rewards. You are far more likely to find the right work and places for your future success. Employers will see the effort and how you have worked to demonstrate how you will contribute to their needs. Smart ones value this highly.

Adapted from and originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.