By Jeff McMillan, Chief Analytics and Data Officer, Morgan Stanley
Over 25 years ago, I left the U.S. Army to pursue a civilian career. I loved serving my country, but it was time to do something different. The military builds valuable skills, but often does not prepare veterans for the process of finding a job after leaving the service. Most transitioning veterans struggle with uncertainty over how to launch a new career, simply because no one has taught them the “do’s and don’ts” of identifying job opportunities, networking, interviewing, etc.
Based on my own experience and my time spent counseling hundreds of veterans in the years since, the following steps can help veterans determine what career direction to pursue and how to position themselves to employers as qualified candidates.
- Examine your skills and interests
Most individuals I speak to have little or no clue what they want to do post-military. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed about being unsure, because it takes time and exploration to figure out what kinds of jobs might be a good fit for your interests and expertise. Here are some tips for getting started:
- List the skills that set you apart from other candidates (make sure to use language that non-military people can understand). For example: “I know how to manage and motivate people.”
- Next, describe the kind of work that you enjoy (or don’t). For example: “I get bored by routine work and like to tackle new issues/problems.”
It may take some time to gather and articulate these skills and interests. Your objective is to outline who you are and what you like. You will use this information as a point of reference for evaluating potential career opportunities.
- Research relevant opportunities
Once you have a sense of your skills and interests, use that knowledge to determine which roles suit you best. The best way to do this is by talking to a lot of people. Ask what they do, what they like and don’t like about their jobs, and what skills are necessary for success. After every conversation, ask yourself if the role you discussed is aligned with your skills and interests. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for a “perfect” job, but rather deepening your understanding of various career possibilities. Other useful resources include:
- Job descriptions
- Companies’ websites and mission statements
- Relevant trade publications
- Career fairs
- Determine whether you need further education
One of the first questions people ask when transitioning to non-military jobs is “Should I go back to school?”
The answer depends on what kind of career you decide to pursue. Some jobs require an advanced degree; for others, you’ll need a specialized certification. As you research opportunities, ask people about their educational backgrounds. Keep in mind that some (but not all) employers favor candidates who attended competitive or prestigious institutions. If you do go back to school, make an effort to excel—employers will look at your GPA.
- Develop a crisp and clear message
Many individuals leaving the military hesitate to self-promote, because they’ve been trained to put aside their egos for the benefit of the broader mission. But in the civilian world, if you don’t promote yourself, no one else will. As a job seeker, you need a simple, direct set of talking points that tells people what you want to do and why you’re a fit for the role in three minutes or less:
- One minute on your background and differentiated skills
- One minute on the opportunity you’re seeking
- One minute on why you would be a great fit for the role
As you draft and refine your “elevator pitch,” remember to use language that non-military personnel can understand, and to connect your skills and interests to the role you are seeking in a way that demonstrates you understand the responsibilities the job entails.
- Find a mentor
A mentor is a trusted advisor who can help you learn about your field of choice, provide honest feedback and advice, make networking introductions, and generally serve as a sounding board during your job search. You can find a mentor among your existing connections, or look into American Corporate Partners, which offers free one-year mentorship programs for transitioning veterans. Be upfront with your mentor about how much time you’d like them to commit (such as a 30-minute meeting or phone call once a month), and prepare ahead of time to make your sessions as productive as possible.
Embarking on a new career after serving in the military can seem daunting or intimidating to even the most decorated veterans. Breaking the process down into manageable steps, laying a solid foundation based on your interests and skills, and leaning on others for guidance and support can help set you up for success.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management or its affiliates. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management is a business of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC.