Whether you are transitioning military to civilian after a short time or a full career, there are resources available to help you make this move. Sure the quality of transition resources varies. But I am still surprised at how many miltary folks don’t really use most of what is available to them.

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.

There is excellent research which consistently shows that the keys to successful careers are:

Build on your strengths

Have goals and act on them

Make connections to other people (yes, networking) and keep them

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?

Don’t just think about your current assignment. Look at other things you have done over your career.  Consider achievements in volunteer, community, or outside work too. What made you feel good at the end of the day? What did you most enjoy? What skills or knowledge or talents did you enjoy using most?

Write down some stories or notes about these skills and the aspects of the work you liked best.

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 last year dreamed of being a minister. But he did not just dream – he had been taking courses to work toward a divinity degree for some years. He volunteered with his church and was about to become a youth minister there. And then he planned to grow onwards after retirement.

Perhaps you, like many of us, do not have a dream job. But you may have longer-term goals which you hope to achieve. These may be work-related but they also might be life-related. Perhaps your long-term goal is to live in a specific area or to make a difference for a cause you believe in. Whatever those goals are, they become an important aspect of your career choices too.

As you work your way through defining your strengths and your goals, you will learn a lot about yourself that you probably have not really thought about much. Document your happiest/best personal achievements as a part of this process too.

Then start talking to people you trust. Talk to past bosses, mentors, peers, friends and family about what you see as your strengths. Ask them for feedback and ideas. You may discover strengths you have not given yourself credit for. Or you may find that others see some of your strengths as even more important than you do. You will hear different views of your achievements and ideas and knowledge. You will get ideas for jobs and careers that you have not thought of. Take it all in. Think about what you learn. Decide what to accept and use in your transition.

I think of a Marine with embassy and site-guard experience, in one war zone after another, who did not think he had any experiences or strengths that translated into civilian work beyond more guard work. His explorations of these two questions led him to a realization that he had been very good at training and mentoring others, at organizing and at dealing with a wide range of people in often difficult circumstances. He took his various military training programs and got them evaluated for college credits and enrolled in a business degree in a good state college in the area he wants to live in.

More information on preparing for your transition:

A terrific compendium of career-related resources. More on What do you want to do next?

What are you doing today, this week, now to get ready for the civilian work world?

Originally published in ClearedJobs.net