Career Corner: Military Transitions

Military soldiers being transported. — Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

One question I hear often from readers is about military transitions. Many members of the military devote the first 20 years of their career to the U.S. Military. Around age 40, they’ll retire and start entirely new careers in the civilian world. I receive questions about how to successfully make this change. 

The number one thing I see that trips up people transitioning is this: they don’t realize just how hard it is and, neither do those around them. The military will often help people who are transitioning by offering a class about how to get a job. Many of the people I’ve met who have attended this class assume that the transition will be quick, painless, and easy. They also assume that they will be compensated the same or more than they were in the military. 

To make matters more complex, their loved ones also believe the transition should be easy. Unfortunately, this is a problem not just with military folks, but with anyone looking for a job. Your family can never understand what’s taking you so long. This can leave the job seeker feeling lonely and deflated as if they’re the only one who has ever had to work this hard to find a job. 

If we can agree that job searching is hard, then what? The people I’ve seen with the smoothest transitions have done three things well. First, they’ve started early. They didn’t wait until they were out of the military to begin looking for something new. Second, they put their fears and limitations on hold. In other words, they were willing to step out of their comfort zones to explore jobs they may not have considered. And, third, they kept their expenses low. In the civilian world, a paycheck is not a guarantee. Especially in the beginning, if you can keep your costs down, it will be less stressful if your search takes time. 

Beyond that, listen to yourself. When you are job searching, you’d be surprised at how many people come out of the woodwork with advice. Your great uncle Bob who you barely know will suddenly have an opinion on what you should be doing with your life. If you’ve spent your entire career in one field, this guidance can feel good. But, don’t fall into the trap. Great uncle Bob probably has no real experience in the work he’s advising you on. 

Start early. Form a support group. Reach out to people who have been through this transition before. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know through networking site, LinkedIn. And, be on the lookout for companies that specifically recruit transitioning members of the military. 

Last, but not least, be patient with yourself. You’re starting an entirely new career. This is hard for anyone – military or civilian. It takes time. It’s going to be hard. But, in the end, it’s worth it. 

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at

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