“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

What are you going to be when you grow up?  This is always a “fun” question thrown around as we approach retirement or separation.  In the military, we often brag about retiring young enough to pursue a second career.  But WHAT career?  The knee-jerk reaction is to pursue the path you were on while active duty.   In certain fields, it is a seamless transition.  Jobs such as military police, dental technicians, and human resources all tend to translate relatively well to the civilian community. 

However, other transitions are far some seamless!  How do you pick a new career when your entire adult life was spent rigging parachutes or maintaining torpedoes?   Maybe you can find a federal or contractor position on an airborne/submarine base but every transitioning parachute rigger or torpedoman is thinking the same thing. 

This can be a terrifying feeling.   As we search for jobs based on our work history, we can find ourselves losing hope.  

But we have alternatives!   It isn’t a hopeless scenario.  

Do an honest assessment of your skills and interests.   Many times, our military career paths were chosen based on ASVAB scores, enlistment bonuses, or school availability.   What we CAN do doesn’t always equate to what we WANT to do.   Explore your options and look at what interests you.  The beauty of transitioning is that it is not the end of the story, it is the beginning of a new chapter!  Maybe the good guy was an MP in Chapter 3 but Chapter 4 can find our hero working as a school teacher!  One tool that is available to determine our direction is the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile (MBTI).   It is a simple test that can help to identify what personality type you are.   This type of test may help you determine your path!

Sometimes these new careers require a degree or certificate that you just don’t have…yet.  Remember, when we joined the service, we joined at the bottom.   We had to train, drill and practice in order to get to where we wanted to be.   This is a fact of life that cannot be avoided.  You may need to pursue more education to achieve your new goal.   That is ok.   Explore the GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation, and FAFSA to find a way to get the training that you need.  There are often entry-level positions that don’t require a degree that may provide relevant, practical experience while in school. 

“But we may have to find work now!   While working towards my dream job, I still have to pay the bills!”  We can still find fulfilling work while figuring out our long term goals.   Most people in America will work several jobs throughout their lives.   Even without the degree or certificate, we bring a great deal to the table!

We have functional skills that are valuable in any arena.   Leadership, communications, organization, training…these are merely a few skills that most of us have developed in our military service.  These skills can bridge our service history to our civilian aspirations!     Provide short, quantifiable paragraphs describing how you led, what you organized, and who you trained.  Try to avoid the jargon but explain what you did.   Remember:

  • ·A potential employer may not care that you know how to rig a parachute.  He/she may care a great deal that you can learn to do critical tasks and then pass that knowledge to others. 
  • ·An HR manager doesn’t know the procedures of maintaining the torpedo.  He/she will care that led 32 people in a torpedo maintenance shop. 

And remember, what we bring to the table depends on who is eating dinner!  A quick glance at a job announcement can help you to determine what functional skills are important to the hiring manager!  

Some tools:

A quick and free Myers Briggs test: https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

A link that helps translate military jobs to civilian jobs:  http://www.mynextmove.org/vets/

Information about Educational benefits: http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/education_programs.asp

These are merely some of the techniques that have worked for other Veterans.   We each have our own unique story and perspective.   If you are in the midst of decision making or career transition and need someone to help you, please call Still Serving Veterans and ask for one of our Veteran Employment Services counselors.  We have your back!

Article by Ben McQuerry, Senior Chief Petty Officer, US Navy, Retired, Veteran Employment Services Counselor.  bmcquerry@ssv.org