The Good news:  You have skills and knowledge that can lead to a good job.  Companies are hiring vets and the federal government has hired more in the past few years than ever before.

However, you may want to jump into an active job search and find a job fast. Or perhaps you think that a resume and a little Internet searching will result in an offer quickly.

But you need to understand your destination – and yourself – to successfully target and execute a job search that will result in a job where you can happily succeed. Too many transitioning military do not do this and end up unemployed for some months or in a job they will fail at too soon. You need to start with a plan.

For most military folks, the return to the civilian world is a big change. And the longer you have spent in the military, or the shorter your previous civilian work experience, the bigger the knowledge gap. So it is time for a plan. And a good plan starts with research.

The keys to successful careers are:

  • Build on your strengths
  • Develop specific short and longer term goals and act on them
  • Make connections to other people (yes, networking) and keep them active

Today we are going to talk about your strengths. How do you even know what they are?

Start by thinking about these questions. Make yourself a record of your answers so you can review and expand upon them as you think more about what you want to do as a civilian.

Question 1: What do enjoy doing that you are good at doing as well?

Whether you have thought about it or not, you have already established a pattern of success. You made it through basic training and probably several specialty courses. You have a record of achievement in your work. Find or get your past records and ERs to create a master file of your experience. The trick is to identify your successes in the areas that mean the most to you. And then to turn these successes into ideas for your job search.  Think in depth about what you enjoyed doing the most and what you were best at doing.

Question 2: What longer term goals or dreams do you have?

Have you some dreams, tucked away until you can return to them? If so, what do you need to learn or do to make those dreams a reality? One of the NCOs I talked with dreamed of being a minister. But he did not just dream – he had been taking courses to get a divinity degree. He volunteered with his church and was about to become a youth minister there. He had plans to grow further after retirement.

Think about your past interests and goals and other duties which you enjoyed or careers you thought you might like. Explore these as part of your planning process.

Get Help

  • Take advantage of every service available to you!
  • If you are on active duty, use the transition services.
  • If you are recently returned or about to return from deployment, take advantage of career transition programs including Yellow Ribbon events and job fairs sponsored by your unit.
  • Seek out the Veteran’s representative at your local employment services office.

All of these services offer useful information and assistance, although the quality varies. Each can help you figure out more about the process and your role.

Question 3: How do you start to analyze and quantify your skills and achievements?

Make time to remember your own successes and see what they tell you. Go through you entire work record. Look at the experiences and achievements that really meant something to you. List the accomplishments you are most proud of.

Then review the common elements among these for the skills you want to continue to use, those you want more of. Identify also the ones you never want to do again.

Build-out the details of each accomplishment. As you do this, you are building a record to define your future job search.

The list of skills you enjoy using the most becomes a way to search for jobs. Combine the top 2 skills and use a big job search engine, like, to see what jobs come up. Read the ones that look interesting. What skills do you already have? What do you need? This is one easy way to find several options for jobs which may not have occurred to you already. And you can repeat it with your other skills.

Develop Your Success Stories

Now use these same experiences and accomplishments to create stories of your successes. You know the formula from childhood:

Once upon a time… This is your first sentence or two describing the situation or task you faced.
Our hero… This is a few sentences about what you actually did.
And they lived happily ever after! This is a sentence or two that describes the results.

Together these three elements – (1) the situation or task, (2) the actions, (3) the results – make a success story that can have many meanings and uses!

Recently I talked with a Marine who felt that there was nothing in his service that could be useful in the civilian world beyond physical security work. He had been an Embassy guard in several difficult places. As we talked it became clear that one success story might be about his role in assessing difficult situations quickly and taking the right actions both to protect embassy staff and to ensure positive relations with the locals. This included communications and interpersonal skills, analysis of data, presentation skills, training others, and teamwork – all vital for many civilian jobs.

Your success stories are a terrific way to figure out what work really interests you. They also provide information you need to find the places where you can succeed, develop a great resume and cover letters, and interview effectively.

Take the time to create at least six to eight. After you flesh them out a bit, talk to trusted friends to learn how to improve the story and tell it effectively. You will learn more about yourself as you do this – incorporate that too.