Transition Series: Military to Civilian, Part 1

Ryan Erickson

Using my lessons learned from my mid-2019 exit from the Coast Guard, this was what I've learned on my own and from reading a few books and many websites/articles. [None of the items I share are necessarily endorsed by me. If I'm sharing them, it's because I found them helpful, that's all.]

An interesting thing happens to many people when they're making their move from being a full-time member of the Armed Forces to that of being a part-time or full-time civilian; uncertainty takes hold. You've just spent a few (if not a bulk) of your years planning every step of your career (as much as you could) to make it to that next level. But now, you're getting out and on your own. What's your next move?

A year ago, I'd been embarrassed to address this outside of my house: my transition plan sucked. I'll bet, if you ask anyone who exits the military, or those who leaned on the service's transition specialist for everything, they'll probably be able to tell you the same thing once they got/get back on track.

It's no joke, that move from a cushy government job to the civilian sector (transitioning to a GS job is excluded here) is hard. And whether you'll admit how "cushy" your employment was or not, as one who was an infantryman (Enlisted), seaman/airman (Enlisted), and an officer through their career, being in the service was a hell of a lot easier than being on the outside.

I thought I was prepared. I was wrong.

That quote, that's from me. This isn't some scare tactic to keep you in, it's a reminder of what you need to do before getting out; plan.

Make & Understand Your Objective(s)

You've made up your mind, and you're getting out of the service for one reason or a hundred. Great! Now what? Do you know what you want to do? Where are you going to live? Is your family (if you have one) onboard?

Here's a list ('cause everyone loves lists) of things to consider:

  • What do I want to [or can I] do as a civilian (job)?
  • Where do I/we want to live?

Wait, only two items? Yes. But those two items come with a lot of baggage and are very dependent on one another's answers for the following question to be asked and answered, and asked, and answered, etc. While we'd all love to get a good-paying job upon our military exit, the fact is, 90+% of us won't. I don't have the actual statistic available, but most of us won't find that one job that a) makes us happy, b) pays what we (think) we need, and c) is all around perfect for our forever job. I'm also part of that majority. But in the end, it's worked out (we'll discuss the rebranding of oneself later).

Taking the list of two items above, let's break them down into tangible items which we'll later turn into objectives.

What do I want to [or can I] do as a civilian (job)?

This isn't a tricky question if you look in the right places. Each of the services (well, maybe not the Space Force yet) has a listing of what's called your Statement of Work (SoW), a term you'll see on the outside. It's how a branch of service has defined your job: there's a lot of gold in this mountain of words. It's just a matter of extracting it.

I came across a good resource for this task, MOSDb. I can't speak for all of the services, but the Coast Guard doesn't use the MOS moniker, so as a point of reference, this stands for Military Occupation Specialty. The linked site has a great listing of (I think) all of the occupation specialties. So, if you can't find it on your service's intranet, this is a good starting point.

I'm using the MOSDb site to pull the information for an 11B, an Infantryman. I've heard many people (from the infantry realm), especially those coming off of a first or second tour, stating something along the lines of "I don't know how to do anything in the civilian sector, but I know how to shoot people... maybe I'll look at contract military..." To which I reply, stop.

First, let's look at the opening portion of the 11B job description,

"Supervises, leads, or serves as a member of an infantry activity that employs individual small arms weapons or heavy anti-armor crew served weapons.
Serve as principal noncommissioned officer in an infantry battalion or higher to supervise the processing of operations and intelligence information in an Infantry brigade or higher level unit; provide tactical and technical guidance to subordinates and professional support to both subordinates and superiors in accomplishment of their duties; plans, coordinates and supervises activities pertaining to organization, training and combat operations; edits and prepares tactical plans and training material;..."

This, my Grunt friends, is what I would call resume fodder. First, it's all true. And it's the published standard. Next, it's already broken out for you. You simply need to convert it to civilian terms. That is, civilianize it. I'm writing this from the perspective of an E-4/E-5 and very off the cuff;

MilitaryCivilian (we're not mentioning any shooting/killing in this... it's doesn't bode well with many employers for some reason)
Supervises, leads, or serves as a member of an infantry activity that employs individual small arms weapons or heavy anti-armor crew-served weapons.1a. Supervisor/manager of a team or project...
1b. Led a team of X through a project that provided logistic support for training efforts... [perhaps you were the lead for the team that set up the training ammo depot?]
1c. An active member of logistics support/team supporting management objectives...
2. Provided training to junior personnel, ensuring compliance with doctrine...


Serve as principal noncommissioned officer in an infantry battalion or higher to supervise the processing of operations and intelligence information in an Infantry brigade or higher level unitUsing set (or company) objectives, devised a plan for a team of X to accomplish the goal of ____. (basically, you're taking what you've been told, making a plan, and executing that plan; you need to show that you can take a little bit of info and execute a plan from such)
provide tactical and technical guidance to subordinates and professional support to both subordinates and superiors in accomplishment of their dutiesAble to execute a plan, even an unpopular one, and get the team to come together and accomplish the goal.
plans, coordinates and supervises activities pertaining to organization, training, and combat operations; edits and prepares tactical plans and training materialDesigned and executed project plan over X days to ensure X team members/people were trained to the X standard; provided hands-on training, and personally ensured the plans and actions were completed to the customer's standards...

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0Tq3Yx_0bByi7aL00
Screenshot of my current resume (2021)Me

If you're planning this early enough, you may have time to expand upon your next career with some training/certifications (we'll discuss this later). Case in point, when I took my Project Management Professional (PMP) course in 2018, there were five (3 Navy, 2 Army) DoD members in my class, and the service was paying for it (two of them were getting out too within the next six months). I had to pay for my own (the woes of not being DoD), but DoD might be able to help you out.

Next, you'll need to take your thought of your next job and start hunting. If you're not tied down to either a physical location nor mind possibly working remotely, you're going to be overwhelmed with the possibilities. In no particular order I'd start with;

When I started looking, and people would ask how the job hunt was going, my default answer became, "It's very fluid." That's the truth of it, too, if you don't have any idea of what you want to do-- that's okay-- be fluid.

This is a good start, we'll continue this on Tuesday (06 April 2021).

The items we're going to be covering in the near future will be:

  • Formatting a resume (headers, text, etc.)
  • The training you can take before you exit the service
  • Rebranding yourself for the next thing
  • Work on cleaning up your social media
  • Work on setting up your online resume profiles (LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.)

If you're looking for help landing a job, reach out. I've been there, gone through the deep-deep-depression, and still found a good job after much research. Within reason, this is me wanting to help you, for free.

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As an evangelical practitioner of Project Management and Agile, I’ll bring you regular articles on the craft. Training, trends, business acumen, and a global perspective on the now and future. Oh, and I'm dabbling in crypto.

Kalaheo, HI
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