I haven’t spoken to anyone who hasn’t found the process of separation to be complicated and frustrating. Unlike everything else in the military, there isn’t a manual or regulation to tell you what to do. You can attend career transition classes, figure out what paperwork you need to submit, but the transition is yours. And after years of being told what to do, it can be pretty scary to make a big decision on your own.
It’s okay to be anxious. Changing careers is a major life decision. Some of you have families to think about. The important thing is to THINK IT THROUGH. Leaving the military should not be a knee-jerk reaction, something done without thorough planning. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen someone leave the military with no plan except to return to their hometown. What if their hometown has no employment prospects or education options?
That’s where having a “game plan” comes in.
First off, you need to have an emergency plan. Do you have a 6-8 month emergency fund, in case you find yourself unemployed for a while? (That means housing, car, bills, food.) Do you have someplace you can live (perhaps with family) in a pinch while you get back on your feet?
There is no guarantee that you will find a job immediately upon separation. Make sure you have enough saved up, and that you are ready for the worst-case scenario.
Second, you need a career plan. If you are using your GI Bill to go to school, have you started applying to multiple schools before you separate? If you plan to get a job in business, have you created a resume and a profile on LinkedIn? Have you done the research on where the types of jobs you want are most available? Having an idea is not having a plan. You can intend to go to school or find a job, but if you aren’t taking the steps necessary to secure that plan, it is not a real plan at all. Talk is cheap; take action.
Lastly, you need a backup plan. I’ll be honest; I have at least two or three of these. Is there a family business or former employer that can hire you temporarily? Is there another school or career field you could apply for? You’re heading out into a tough economy; while there are initiatives to help veterans find jobs, the fact is that educated, experienced civilians are also having trouble finding jobs. It’s competitive out there! Your backup plan may even mean returning to the military, or signing up for the Reserves or National Guard to augment your income. And that’s okay. Just make sure you have that safety net lined up.
Leaving the military is not a decision that should be taken lightly; I spent over a year preparing my transition. I talked to people who’d been through it before, did my research, and made plans. I know where I’m going, and I know I can’t fail because of my emergency and backup plans. But I know that isn’t the case for everyone. If you’re thinking of making the leap, make sure you’ve done your homework. No one is going to do it for you, and this is your big chance to really determine your own future.
What’s your game plan?
“Boots” is the author of the blog “From Camo to Corporate”, which collects resources and advice for veterans transitioning from the military to Corporate America and the civilian world.