If your time in the military is coming to an end, but you still feel called to serve the nation, you may want to consider transitioning into a role in national security. The federal government, corporate defense contractors, other private entities, and research-oriented nonprofits offer outstanding opportunities to service members transitioning to a career outside of the military.
Your military experience or other area of expertise may be in particularly high demand, especially if you have specialized training in current military technology. If you would like to continue working in a related field, start with the various agencies, companies, and nonprofits that make components, software, or intangibles related to your specialized training. Your military background has provided you with a multitude of valuable talents and experiences, including:
- Military discipline: As a service member or recent member of the armed forces, you follow routines and instructions well. When it comes to sensitive national security projects, precision is an essential skill.
- Practiced judgement: Most veterans exhibit good judgment when it comes to making tough calls; you know how to identify and report suspicious activity without hesitation. You can follow a specific process or flow of logic when it comes to making an important decision.
- Task focus and project management: Due to your specialization(s) and the way you’ve learned to organize your time, you’ll do what it takes to complete the mission in an organized, focused, and efficient manner. You can easily follow instructions for prioritizing concerns and managing a hefty to-do list to bring a project to completion.
- Soft skills: Soft skills, also known as interpersonal skills, focus on teamwork, time management, problem-solving and communication. If you’ve been in a leadership role in the armed forces, you’ve learned critical details about one of the most important soft skills: the ability to diffuse a tense situation.
- Hard skills: Hard skills are quantifiable, teachable abilities, such as technical expertise required for a job. This can include skills such as computer programming, a special certification, or foreign language proficiency.
You also have ideal transitioning skills. After all, most members of the military rotate every 2-3 years, Lastly, most people, including employers, have enormous respect for members of the armed forces, which gives you a sizable advantage in any job market.
When should you start job hunting?
“It’s a good idea to start having initial conversations with potential employers about 6-12 months before your military tenure comes to an end,” says James Luke, Vice President, Intelligence & Defense Solutions at Riverside Research and retired colonel with 24 years in the Air Force. “It puts you on their radar and helps the military member know what to expect as their transition to civilian life approaches. Talking to friends and colleagues who have already made that move is also a good idea to manage expectations. Also, the military has a transition assistance program (TAP) to facilitate the move from military to civilian life – covering veteran benefits, job hunting – even things like interviewing and dressing professionally. I went to the TAP class a couple months before I retired. Some participants were there for their second and even third time. They had attended two to three years prior to retirement, again a year out, and finally in the month or two before they left. The early participation gave them an opportunity to apply transition lessons learned as they concluded their military careers.”
How can you network for a transition if you’re still in the military?
Luke advises doing your best to receive a final assignment located where you’d like to remain or retire after your service ends. While virtual networking is crucial to job acquisition, many employers still appreciate and prioritize a candidate who can come to in-person job interviews. Additionally, being in your location of choice will help you find your employer of choice via networking and the natural relationships that form when you stay in one place for a while. Though your job applications and research will happen online, there’s nothing like having local intel.
Where do most transitioning U.S. military service members have the most difficulty?
Most find that the return to civilian life in general is more difficult than a job transition, and this can make job interviews and work environments more difficult. Where you might be used to being constantly on the move or on alert, your new job (especially if it’s a civilian role) will give you some down time and likely some self-management and self-scheduling opportunities.
Luke also advises staying away from military jargon in interviews, as it makes it seem like you don’t know your audience. While you might be accustomed to being at attention or using greater formality (yes, sir; no, ma’am) when addressing a person of greater authority in the military, that’s not expected or the norm in the corporate world.
In the interview process, don’t be afraid to ask how the organization supports veterans. Most federal agencies and defense contractors will have specific special interest groups and resources dedicated to supporting and addressing the concerns of veterans. Participating in such groups can also help you with your general transition to civilian life.
In addition to ClearanceJobs, consider the Department of Defense’s Military INSTALLATIONS, a TAP resource.
Consider a nonprofit in the defense industry as your next employer
When transitioning from the military, it may be challenging to find an employer with the same mission focus you value and have become accustomed to, and that the federal government required. Because they do not answer to corporate shareholders or a particular owner’s interests, working for a nonprofit in government contracting empowers you to contribute in the most substantial ways. Nonprofit government contractors such as Riverside Research value veterans’ experiences and skillsets. Whether working in a laboratory or behind a computer, Riverside Research employees are proud to work for an organization specifically founded to serve national security interests.
If you’re interested in a fulfilling career with a nonprofit in the defense industry, check out Riverside Research’s careers page or attend the #WomenInSTEM Open House in Centreville, VA on September 15-16, 2022.
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