Transitioning to Civilian Career

What to do after a 20-year military career

| April 21, 2014

After a 20-year career in the Navy, I retired as Commander.  I’m now married with two children and living in Virginia Beach, VA.

When I was in the service, I really liked working with people.  When I retired, I wanted to continue working with people, but also to be more in control of my time.  Going from a Surface Warfare Officer where you’re training for combat and sailing on the high seas to working in a suit and tie is a big shift in mentality and processes.  I had to prepare for that shift, so I really thought “what do I want to do?”  That’s what I encourage anyone who’s within 12 months of separating or retiring from the service to do.  Make a list, like I did.  I wanted:

  • To help people do things they wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own
  • To stay connected to the military and in some way help current active-duty servicemembers
  • More control and flexibility over my job
  • More time to spend with my family
  • To do something I believed in.  I didn’t just want a job.  I wanted to have the same feeling I had while serving my country in the Navy.

I talked about it with my wife.  Because of our experience with First Command as clients, she mentioned becoming a Financial Advisor as an option.  The Financial Advisor role appealed to me because it would let me by my own boss, and I would get to keep working with military folks.

Financial advising may not be for you, but there are plenty of jobs available that can keep you connected to the military.  In addition to making your “what do I want to do?” list, there are many other factors to consider when leaving the military:

  • Do you have the money to make the weeks or months transition to your new position or to start your own business?
  • Are you comfortable getting out and meeting new people?  Are you socially active in your community?  If so, then take advantage of that.  Network!
  • Do you believe in what you’re going to do?  Whether it’s selling a product, building a bridge or designing software, really believe in it.  Don’t just pick a job.  Try to make it a career.
  • Do you have your spouse’s support?  Make it a family decision.  Working in the private sector is much different than working for the U.S. military.
  • Does the position you are applying for offer training or mentorship programs?  Do your homework to find out how much/what kind of help you’ll get from your new employer.

Finally, have confidence in your own abilities.  Many of the skills you’ve learned and certifications you’ve received in the military can be transferred to a civilian career.

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