This post was written by SGM Jason Maglathlin, a SkillBridge Fellow with GSOF and transitioning military Veteran.
What follows is an outline of the steps that have made my transition from Active Duty service successful.
This is not designed to be a “one size fits all” approach to transition.
This is to provide some context and framework to a process that can be daunting and nebulous. I hope this helps some of my fellow Veterans understand what transition entails, and how to provide feedback that improves the process for the next person to follow.
Feedback? Questions? I’d love to hear it. Drop a comment below or connect with me on LinkedIn and I’m happy to continue the dialogue.
Entering your transition with a growth mindset is optimum. Most of us leaving the military don’t know what we want to do next.
In one way, shape, or form, military service is what we planned and prepared for while we were young, and then we performed our service without an eye on what would happen when the time came to leave the military.
If you’re looking to pivot into a new career field, you will have a lot to learn. There are so many new things to learn and to soak it all in you’ll need to have an open mind. Be curious, look around to see what is out there, look into different industries, and determine how your skills and strengths translate into what is required to enter new industries.
Maintain your humility; you have accomplished much as a member of America’s elite. To be successful in SOF in any capacity, you have to be humble, and the same goes for the next chapter of your life. People want to help you, but be gracious. Say thank you frequently and actively listen to the thoughts and ideas people are providing.
When separate advisors are giving the same advice, heed it. Have the emotional intelligence to accept others’ criticisms. They are not attacking you, they are most likely providing candid feedback for you to use to succeed. Take their guidance and use it to better yourself.
Use the tenacity that made you successful in the SOF community to figure out what is the next landing spot for you. Have the self-awareness to know that you don’t have all the answers and understand that that’s ok. People want to help.
Have informational interviews with scores of people and read about things that interest you and those who work in that field. Find a mentor or two or more. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and what value you can add immediately to any company you join. You can be confident and humble. Be confident in knowing that you have dealt with stress on a different level than simply a profit and loss statement. Know that you have soft skills that will bring value to the company. Finding mentors, learning and growing is the key to your future success.
Are you humble enough to do that? Are you listening to what mentors have to say to you?
Veterans have found success beyond the military but didn’t get there because of rank and title, or based on the number of people they led in the military. They found success because they worked hard, listened, and continually refined themselves based on the feedback they received, and translated their skills into the industry they wanted to enter.
2. Own your transition.
Make a conscious decision to transition, and then begin primarily focusing on transition and your family from that moment on. Let the people you trained take the next project or mission. There will always be another deployment, school, mission, or project. Trust your team, then jump into planning for your future.
Make and execute a plan in the same manner you would plan a mission. Use the same tools we use for pre-mission planning and apply what you know about Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB), planning, and targeting throughout your transition. Systems have been established to guide and assist service members in transitioning from the military, but that is all they are – guides and assistance.
You only get as much out of the process as you put into it.
Following the minimum steps and executing the minimum requirements will only get the minimum results. Landing the job or career that brings you joy, fills your cup, and provides you and your family with happiness and success requires you to take control of the process and own the outcome. You need to set your desired end state and follow the steps you decide on to attain that goal.
Be flexible enough to change tactics or techniques and plans as you realize that your original azimuth needs to be recalculated. Take ownership and continually push towards your goal.
There are plenty of employers looking for veterans with the values, soft skills, and leadership experience in the civilian world. Still, you must find them, impress them, and convince them to hire you. You have to do the heavy lifting–nobody else will do it for you.
3. Start early.
The Army SFL-TAP program will start working with service members 24 months before their separation date. Other services vary in timelines and implementation, but the Transition Assistance Program is a Congressionally-mandated DoD-wide program, so your branch will have at least some version of it.
Determine how the program works for your service and start the program as early as possible. You can repeat classes closer to your retirement date to refresh your memory, or re-attend with your spouse, but get it finished. Then you can focus on finding a transition assistance program that will provide in-depth help with the skills you’ll need to acquire and master for successful job hunting.
Non-profit transition assistance programs vary in their preferred time-to-transition. Regardless of what program(s) you choose, begin working with them at their earliest preferred time range. Choose programs that help you start looking at what you want for your next career and thinking about what makes you happy. Then develop a plan for getting there.
DoD policy allows service members to participate in internships through a program called SkillBridge for up to 180 days, starting 180 days before their separation date, as long as all mandatory transition requirements are complete. Using backward planning, incorporate SkillBridge into your plan, ensure all of your prerequisites are taken care of before applying for an internship, and request Permissive-TDY from your Commander.
4. What is important to you?
Figure out what is most important to you.
To meet your goal of being happy and successful with your transition, you need to determine what that endstate looks like for you and your family. Spend some time thinking about what you value most and what you would want in your next career.
Speak with your spouse to get their input.
Ask yourself the following questions: Do you want to make as much money as possible? Maintain maximum family time? Enjoy the people you work with? Live where you want to live? Or, more than likely, is it a combination of these?
Weigh them, put them on a scale, and determine which of these are negotiable and which are non-starters.
All of the transition assistance programs in the world cannot teach you what you need to be happy in your next career. Only you and your family can determine that. These programs can help you in every facet of your transition, but if you don’t know where you want to be, they can’t begin to help.
There are endless choices after the military. You must choose a path for post-military life and ensure that the steps you are taking along that path are helping you progress toward your end state of happiness and success.
If this still sounds daunting, here are three books that I recommend you read as soon as you decide transition is in your near future.
- Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans,
- What Color is Your Parachute 2022 by Richard N. Bolles, and
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek.
Those three books will make you think about what drives you and brings you fulfillment, and how to incorporate that knowledge into prospective career fields and your overall job search.
OK, I lied, there’s one last book I recommend to everyone transitioning from the military: The Transition Mission by Herb Thompson. In this book, Herb provides a solid outline for beginning and planning your transition and serves as a good start for a five-paragraph operations order.
5. Take full advantage of the resources available.
The number of free resources available to transitioning veterans is staggering. Beyond the service-mandated transition programs, many non-profit organizations came about to support transitioning service members due to the inadequacy of the service-provided transition assistance programs. Take the time to investigate these programs and find one(s) that fits your values, timeline, time available to you, goals, and preferred career path.
The resources available within each program vary, however, most include education and support in areas that civilians typically pay (sometimes a lot of money) for, to include resume creation, LinkedIn education, networking events, and executive coaching.
I personally have taken advantage of the following transition assistance programs and found them extremely helpful.
The Global SOF Foundation: The SOF for Life program helps prepare transitioning SOF operators and enablers above and beyond what the service-mandated programs provide. This platform provides a consolidated and vetted list of mutually supporting and networked programs aiding personnel transition from military service to civilian employment.
Global SOF also takes on SkillBridge interns and is one of the places where I did my own SkillBridge internship.
The Honor Foundation: A world-class non-profit career transition institute for transitioning U.S. Special Operators. They deliver tailored executive education, one-on-one coaching, and access to an exclusive professional network by providing tools that maximize potential and prepare veterans to succeed independently.
The Commit Foundation: The COMMIT Foundation empowers service members, veterans, and their families to create purposeful and fulfilling transitions by providing personalized programs, resources, and the support of the community.
FourBlock: FourBlock is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supporting service members transitioning from military service to meaningful civilian careers. After more than ten years, our flagship Career Readiness Program is taught by corporate executives in major cities across the U.S. and now serves more than 600 transitioning veterans annually.
Warriors Ethos: An effective transition experience for service members, veterans, their spouses & caregivers requires a common thread commitment on behalf of the service member or veteran and the business community. This common commitment – one of engagement, education, and (job) placement, or EEP – is key to the success of Warriors Ethos. Both parties agree to understand the needs and expectations of the other. The civilian business community offers service members the opportunity to try different real-world experiences to better understand how some military skills translate to “corporate America.”
Hiring our Heroes: We connect the military community with civilian companies to create economic opportunity and a strong, diversified workforce. (SkillBridge placement)
Hire Heroes USA: Employment assistance is the #1 requested service from transitioning military members, and Hire Heroes USA provides that service to thousands each year. We help veterans and military spouses get hired through personalized service and support, and we help companies hire and retain them.
The Tuck Next Step Program: The transition from the military into the civilian world is complex and demands new skills and knowledge. Tuck’s Next Step program is your partner to navigate that transition and set your sights on a new horizon: a business career.
This rigorous virtual certificate program delivers an education experience that is both immersive and impactful. Together with the members of your cohort, you will be transformed.
Elite Meet: Elite Meet, founded in 2017, is a network-focused 501(c)3 organization that supports transitioning elite Veterans and an unmatched talent pool to corporate partners. Cultivating relationships is a pillar of Elite Meet. We facilitate events and provide forums for interaction between our members and corporate partners. We believe each connection is meaningful and necessary for our member’s transition.
Our members know that the virtues of hard work and servant attitude are commonplace. Our corporate partners highly seek these qualities as they understand our members’ value to their team.
Elite Meet, known for our signature conferences and intimate events in which corporate partners educate our Veterans on their industry and opportunities, provides a forum for learning and networking for its partners and Veterans.
American Corporate Partners (ACP): ACP is a national non-profit organization focused on helping returning veterans and active-duty spouses find their civilian careers through one-on-one mentoring, networking, and online career advice.
Don’t be overwhelmed by my list– what was right for me isn’t right for everyone. But I strongly encourage you to look into these and participate in at least 3 to help you find your path.
6. Build your network.
You need to build your network before you need it.
We all have family, friends, colleagues, and people we associate with – personally and professionally–before, during, and after military service. Your network is that group of contacts you recruit, maintain, and nurture to benefit from and with whom you will reciprocate that benefit. Solid networks are win-win relationships based on rapport, trust, and mutual benefit.
You don’t know where a job opportunity might come from until you speak and network with people. Every one of your informational interviews should always conclude with: “Is there anyone else you would recommend I speak with?”
Talk to the people you know to help you find other connections to companies you may want to work for. Whether that network is through social media, church, a sports club, or anything else, use it and expand it.
Use doesn’t mean exploit or take advantage of. But it could mean investigating their network and seeing where potential connections could exist. LinkedIn is an extremely powerful tool for this; it allows you to search by location, employment, employer, etc. No matter what you’re looking for, you likely have someone in your network who is, at most, three degrees away. Kevin Bacon needing six is so old school!
If you have a plan and know the path you want to take, finding connections that open doors becomes far more likely. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 85% of job offers are a result of networking into the job opportunity, not blindly sending resumes and cover letters to companies that don’t know you (and often already do know who from their network they want to hire when they publish the open job).
7. Use your time wisely.
Time is limited. Use it wisely.
Research your desired career field(s) and learn the requirements to land your desired job. Know where you want to go, what you need to get there, and understand the value you bring to the civilian world with your experience in service.
Companies can find people with degrees; this country has no shortage of degree holders. There is a shortage of experienced, hard-working, values-based, diverse workers with a track record of success. They can teach you systems and processes; what they can’t teach is work ethic and values and drive to get the job done correctly and on time.
Determine what, if any, educational requirements you need. Confirm whether or not you need to pursue another degree with people already working in the job field. Unlike the military, extra schooling won’t get you promoted faster in the civilian world unless that education brings value to the company. Verify if another degree or certification will make you more competitive.
While your time in the military may not have bestowed degrees upon you, validating your knowledge of the specific subject matter, it certainly provides you with highly sought-after experience in the civilian world. Use that experience and speak to how that experience will serve you and, more importantly, your potential employer moving forward. If the degree is critical, then go take the time to earn it.
8. Get a mentor.
Better yet, get two or three mentors. If you have several people willing to commit their time to you, you’ll gain more from the relationships. Since roughly 80% of new job opportunities come through a personal connection, a solid personal brand, networking, and mentoring are critical for transitioning service members.
The difficulty of transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce is difficult to understand for most Americans who have never served. Transition is difficult because you’re jumping from one industry to another, and from one culture to another entirely different world.
During the process, mentors can serve as guides, sharing expertise and lessons learned to vector you into the career you’ve dreamed of or may not know you were looking for.
Service members should consider speaking with several mentors to help eliminate blind spots and gain a well-rounded perspective. Additionally, when you become a mentee, you must put forth the effort and respect your mentor’s time. Ideal mentees are enthusiastic, energetic, organized, and focused. They embrace feedback while remaining honest and responsive. And they learn to under promise and overdeliver.
9. Be tenacious.
Identifying your desired end state helps you plan the steps to achieve that goal. Owning your transition enables you to maintain the pace at which each phase happens. If you encounter setbacks, slowdowns, or roadblocks (and you undoubtedly will), overcome them by using your training and the resilience that made you a successful service member.
If you identify something blocking your progress, don’t accept it. Fight for your goals, and don’t allow self-doubt to creep in. Reach out to your mentor(s) and your
network to get advice and help push past the sticking point.
Throughout it all, be open-minded and maintain a growth mindset–tenacity is imperative, but an open mind will allow you to accept alternative plans if they become necessary.
10. Give back.
This process is a two-way street. Give back to the veteran community where you can.
Take the time to make yourself available to mentor, coach, or advise those service members following behind you. Successfully transitioning takes planning, hard work, diligence, focus, and support from your family, friends, and others willing to speak with you.
Make the time and effort to pay it forward to help those that come after. You will find a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in helping your fellow veterans.
11. Take care of YOU.
Throughout it all, take the time to take care of yourself.
Self-care goes a long way in taking that giant leap out of uniform and into the civilian world. Maintain friendships and social connections, and build a new tribe of people wherever you end up. Support them, and they’ll support you.
And hey, don’t forget to workout and maintain some semblance of fitness. A body in motion stays in motion. It’s easy when you no longer have mandatory PT to fall off the wagon, and loss of physical health can impact your mental health, as well.
In the end, if you’re having trouble adjusting–seek help. Everyone needs a confidante, whether it’s a friend, spouse, or professional…the help is there, and there’s no shame in needing support on this journey.
Thanks for reading,
SGM (Soon-To-Be-Retired) Jason Maglathlin
Jason is a transitioning Army Special Forces SGM who has spent the last 25 years in the Army. He is currently conducting his SkillBridge internship with the Global SOF Foundation. If you’d like to have a cup of coffee with Jason to discuss transition, reach out via LinkedIn: