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To the Military and Beyond! Careers After the Military

You want to see the world, develop your potential, serve your country -- all that good stuff. But what if you know -- or later decide -- that a long-term military career is not for you? What happens when you decide to doff your uniform and don your civvies for good? How hard will it be to build a second career after the military?

Well, when you make the transition from military to civilian life, you'll find yourself doing a lot of translating -- translating your military accomplishments into terms that those outside of the military can understand and appreciate. That's because the military has its own distinct culture, with lots of customs and rules that can seem overly formal, rigid and even strange to outsiders. Overcoming stereotypes and presenting yourself in the right light is vital for those making the transition.

Daniel Gilbert is making that transition right now. He served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and has been retired for one and a half months.

"So far, things are going well with the job searching and I already have interviews scheduled," says Gilbert, who lives in Nevada.

Gilbert says he has no regrets about his years of military service. The experience changed him in many positive ways and provided him with valuable experiences.

"I came into the military at 18 years old with only local experiences to learn from," Gilbert says. "I have had the chance to visit some of the most beautiful countries in the world, but also some of the worst.

"I have also been lucky enough to work with some of the best technicians and people that the world has to offer," he adds. "It's a special bond that service members have with each other, knowing that you have to protect each other from all forms of dangers."

While in the Navy, Gilbert conducted a lot of training. This led to many personal rewards.

"I think the main one would be watching those that you have trained succeed in situations where they might not have been able to without my involvement," Gilbert says. "There is no greater feeling than knowing those that you have taught know their job and are in a position to teach those that come after them."

So what do former members of the military such as Gilbert offer future employers?

"On top of being occupationally qualified....the [military] gives them leadership skills," says Capt. Holly Brown. She's with the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group. "Whether you're an officer or a non-commissioned member, you're given responsibility for people and resources."

This ability to handle responsibility is a real selling point. Businesses place a high value on people they can rely on. Employers know they get that by hiring a former member of the military.

"There's not an organization in the world that gives someone the amount of responsibility that we'll give a soldier on the first day of work," says Col. Kevin Shwedo. Shwedo is director of operations, plans and training for U.S. Army Accessions Command at Fort Monroe, in Virginia.

Each branch of the military offers career transition counseling. For example, officers in the military are able to get pre-retirement assistance from The Retired Officers Association (TROA).

There are also programs such as the U.S. Army's Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS). PaYS matches new recruits with companies that promise them an interview and priority consideration once they complete their term of service. More than 160 companies are involved. The recruit is interviewed by the company near the end of their enlistment term with the Army.

Many former officers (as well as non-officers) find leadership roles in business. This seems a natural fit. After all, they have spent years managing and motivating hundreds or thousands of soldiers. They have also used their analytical skills to develop and execute plans of action, often in extremely stressful situations -- valuable assets for any leader, whether in a military or civilian capacity.

"Someone who has successfully completed a term of enlistment, you know they've maintained their physical fitness, you know they've been screened of drug usage, you know they've learned to work as a team, they are self-starters and have discipline and dedication," says Douglas Smith with U.S. Army Recruiting.

"The whole list of intangible qualities that you develop -- I think America's employers know that," says Smith. "American business is looking for those qualities."

"There's that sense of discipline (and) a strong work ethic," says Brown. "Also, in the Forces we're very task oriented and performance oriented. These are all skills that employers look for."

Naval Lt. Chris Parsons echoes Brown's comments. Parsons is with the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School. "The first thing the employer is going to look at, they know the person has self-discipline," says Parsons. "They know the person has....the ability to manage time. We teach people leadership, so the employer knows the person has been given the fundamentals of leadership and management."

Whether you serve your country for three years or 30 years, a military career can provide you with skills and experiences that will continue to serve you for a lifetime


Transitioning Out of the Military
Advice from the experts

Partnership for Youth Success
Information on the PaYS program

Back to Career Cluster


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.