One of the biggest problems for transitioning service members is knowing they want to transition – but not fully understanding what they want to do in the next phase of their career, or how to get there. Answering the 5 Ws before you separate from service is a critical part of your military transition. Here’s where to start and how to get there.

Start with “Why”

Make sure you are clear on why you are leaving the service, rather than getting out just because your contract is over. For various reasons, many Service members have decided they must get out, seldom thinking about why. Without this exercise, you may end up in a worse situation. You could exert a tremendous effort for little return on investment. Think about:

  • Why do I believe that I am heading towards a better career outside of the military?
  • What are the risks? Am I ready for the unexpected?
  • Do I think my benefits and military career are not as good as I can do on the outside?

Asking yourself these questions and thinking about the answers may help you assess your current and future situation more clearly.

What is the What?

Have you thought about what your new career after the military will be? You need to know the “what” before your Expiration, Term of Service (ETS) date. Do you have the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to perform the “what”?  Do you need to go back to school? Have you begun to develop your brand? Can you use what you already know reengineer yourself?

Who? You’ve Got to Do It!

The “who” is you! If you are coming up short on skills, training or education; you will have to do what it takes to become the competitive new you. Do you need certifications? Classes? Licenses? Maybe you just need to gain an understanding of SAP®, video editing, Microsoft Office, or SolarWinds® products. There is a wealth of information available at your fingertips online for skills training, enabled through video and white papers. If you must go deep, there has never been a better time; there are so many offerings within the GI Bill and numerous organizations trying to assist veterans.

How? Make a Personal Strategic Roadmap

When you know what you are going to do, then you are ready for the “how”.   The how requires a plan with goals and objectives.  Place your goals and objectives down on paper. Break the objectives down further into tasks. Refer to theses often and make sure you stay on track. The “how” success rate climbs if you have an accountability partner, which could be a mentor, a spouse, or anyone who will keep challenge you to stay on track. For more on this information check out, which has a free downloadable Personal Strategic Roadmap.  

Ready, Set, Go! (The When)

When you have a brand and web presence and when your advocates know what you are doing and when you are networked, you are ready to go.

First, is your social media working for or against you?  Are you portraying the new you?  Or are you portraying the “military you”?  Does your resume reflect your professional social media account? Are you portraying what you are looking for on your resume and on social media? Your brand recognition is based on hitting people over the head with what you’re good at and what you desire to do.

Second, make sure your advocates know that you are looking for work. They want to help. Do these people know what your plans are and what you going to do? Think about how they can help and make sure they understand their special role.

Finally, find new professional contacts who can help you. Make new contacts. Join professional organizations, volunteer, and seek a mentor. People can be very generous if you have the right approach and they feel that they can help you. Ask for advice, and thank them. By staying in touch with them you enable new lifelong friendships with professionals in the field you desire to transition into.

Wishing you a successful and lucrative transition!

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Jay Hicks is an author, instructor and consultant. With a special kinship for military personnel, Jay provides guidance on successful civilian career transition and has co-authored “The Transitioning Military Series”. He is the co-founder of Gr8Transitions4U, where advocating the value of hiring military personnel is the key focus. More about Jay and his passion can be found at