10 Steps to Having a Successful Military Career

Military careers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are challenging and honorable for everyone who takes to the uniform with courage and conviction. Now that you have enlisted for military service, it's crucial to maximize the experience.

The following steps can help you exceed expectations while on active duty. They can also help you get the most of your military career benefits when you transition back to civilian life.

Follow Orders

If you've just completed basic training, you might be mystified about some of the things that come next. Your supervisor might give you instructions that seem to contradict what you'll have already learned. Whenever this happens, you'll need to just make an affirmative gesture and comply with the orders. Remember, not everything you were taught in basic will fully resemble what you could possibly encounter now that you're in the thick of things.

Stay Informed

Once you get to E-4, it's much more challenging to advance any further. In order to get to the next level, the higher-ups will have to believe that you are more qualified than your fellow enlistees. If possible, enroll in a college course on military correspondence. Also get yourself prepared for the next rounds of qualification, because after E-4, it's a matter of proving to the service that you're a keeper.

Stay on Your Toes

The military is a full-time job, except with a much greater set of responsibilities than in your average day-to-day gig. Therefore, while it's important to keep a cool-headed mind, you must also be up to task at a moment's notice.

Keep Your Activities in Line

When servicemen and servicewomen do things that reflect badly on their command, unit commanders can judge it harshly. Therefore, it's crucial to stay sober, avoid debts, refrain from fights in civilian settings, and ensure that all checks are covered at the PX.

Don't Be a Pushover

There's a big difference between being a motivated, responsible serviceperson and being a meek yes-man. By performing your duties to completion within each given timeframe, you'll prove that you're fully capable of your role.

On the other hand, you'll only come off as a pushover if you always do every little favor that others ask of you. After all, the people that are higher on the command chain will know the difference between an upstanding service person and someone who's merely trying to appease. Do your best to make it into the former category.

Take Rumors With a Grain of Salt

Often times, rumors run amok in the military. While there's often little, if any, truth to such rumors, they can often be damaging to everyone involved. Therefore, you should never jump the gun when a rumor comes your way, especially if you have no way of verifying its accuracy. More importantly, never let rumors drag you down or affect your performance on the job.

Learn to Accept a Variety of People

Back when you were in boot camp, there was really no such thing as individuality. Your job was simply to obey orders and work with your team — or face penalties. But once you're out of boot camp, team cohesion is less cut-and-dry. You'll have to do your part to keep it maintained.

However, one of the most crucial lessons you'll have learned from boot camp is that it's possible to work with others from a variety of different backgrounds. While you won't necessarily warm on a personal level to all of your fellow service personnel, it's essential to be able to work with them, regardless of their personality type.

Don't Make Excuses

There's no reason to make an excuse when speaking to a commander or NCO, because any answer you give will be perceived as one. So unless you're specifically asked for an excuse, your best answers will always be along the lines of "yes sir" or "yes ma'am."

Square Things Away at the VA

In order to prevent hassles with the Veterans Administration, have yourself medically evaluated long in advance of your retirement from active duty. Considering how backlogged things can get with the VA — where claims are judged on a "don't tell me; show me" basis — it's wise to make copies or scans of your dental and medical records at least a year before you leave the military.

Furthermore, have those records reviewed by the American Legion, AMVETS, or DAV at least half a year prior to stepping down. With all that completed, get your claim submitted and attend a VA workshop at the nearest possible juncture.

Prepare in Advance for Post Military Jobs

Once you've left the military, you'll need to consider your options as you transfer to the civilian workforce. To help with that pursuit, consider attending a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshop. Open to ex-military personnel for up to 180 days after leaving the force, TAP can prepare you for the job market. Over the course of three days in a TAP workshop, you'll get advice on how to find suitable job openings, tips on writing a solid resume and cover letter, and what to say in a job interview.

Career Success Tips Beyond the Military

As you prepare for a civilian occupation, consider how the experience you've gained in the armed services could translate to your post-military career. There are various ways you could make a compelling case about your credentials to a prospective employer, including:

  • If you've trained hundreds of soldiers on a piece of heavy-duty artillery, consider how your experience with instructing large groups of people could translate to educational and leadership roles in a corporate environment.
  • If you've done accounting work in the military that has led to millions of dollars in money saved, make a case of how you could apply these skills in a financial executive role.
  • If you oversaw the department of machine repair, think of how the applicable skills could make you the perfect candidate for a career in operations.

Employers across various fields in the civilian workforce are generally enthusiastic about the skills and potential input of former servicemen and servicewomen. In any given number of jobs, you could end up having co-workers who also hail from military backgrounds — these people can help you adjust to the civilian working environment. Some of the big hardware and electronics companies are regularly on the lookout for ex-military personnel.

Adjusting to Post Military Jobs

Communication in the military is considerably different than it is in civilian life. Therefore, once you exit the military, it's important to master the body language and speech patterns that are suitable for the civilian workforce. Keep the following in mind:

  • Refrain from using military slang. When someone fails to show for a business meeting, don't say they've "gone Elvis," just address the matter in plain-spoken terms.
  • Don't refer to times of day in military time. Instead, refer to times in regular a.m./p.m. terms, because in the regular world, 13-hundred hours don't occur within the same day.
  • Don't address coworkers in formal terms like "sir" or "ma'am," just call them by their first or last name.

Whichever avenue you pursue, tout your assets as an ex-military applicant. Veterans are generally known for their ability to lead large groups of people and manage stressful situations, which are skills that employers value in prospective job candidates. Other traits that are shared by nearly all veterans — but less so among the average job seeker —include unbreakable poise, thorough accountability, and plain-spoken directness.

Further Career Success Tips: Network

Finding a job online is easier said than done. While it might seem easy to blast your resume to a hundred different openings and wait for the best offer, the prospects don't bode so well when thousands of other applicants are doing the same thing.

In order to rise above the world's overcrowded field of jobseekers, it's crucial to network. You can start by using social media to connect with veterans who have already transitioned from active duty to civilian work life. Take some time to acquaint yourself with these people. Ask them how they made the adjustment, and then ask whether they know of any job openings.

Devote Time to Your Search for Post Military Jobs

As a standard rule of thumb, every one to two months you spend on the maintenance of your career prospects —networking, resume updates, job seeking — is responsible for $10,000 in salary earnings. When you adjust those figures to a standard annual income of $40,000, it equals four to eight months of job seeking and/or career planning.

Therefore, it's important not to put off your post-military career preparations until your final days of active duty. When you consider how you had spent nearly 400 hours training to become a soldier during an eight-week span of time, it's not asking much for you to spend a fraction of that time to land your next big job opportunity.

Extend Your Grapevine

When it comes to the job search, it's crucial to pinpoint anything lacking in either your network or credentials. Your network should include people who could hook you up with job interviews. If no one like that exists within your current social media grapevine, it's time to bring such people into the fold.

Additionally, an examination of your credentials in the civilian job market will help you better determine whether the time is right to step down from active duty, providing that it's a matter of choice. A big mistake that's often made by people when they exit the military is to only talk with pre-existing friends who've long been gainfully employed, because such friends will often lack insight regarding the demands of today's hiring managers.

Ten Great Leads Beats 100 Dead Leads

For the full-time job seeker, it's often tempting to apply for anything that offers good pay and hours, regardless of whether you have the degree or experience that's called for in the description. In most cases, this is just a time-consuming error, because the chances of actually getting an interview are virtually nil. After all, job recruiters — who receive dozens of applications on a daily basis — have a knack for sorting qualified from unqualified candidates in a heartbeat.

When you consider the demands of the military, where officers must meet the requirements of a given role of duty, it's easier to understand the expectations of civilian employers. Therefore, the prudent course of action while on the job search is to spend a few hours each day scanning the employment wanted ads, but only responding to the 10 percent for which you're at least 95 percent qualified.

Involve Your Partner in the Decision-Making

Whatever opportunities might come your way as you transition from military service to civilian employment, you should discuss the possibilities in advance with your spouse or partner. After all, a given job could offer plenty of benefits, but it could also demand certain lifestyle adjustments, such as moving, travelling, or working odd hours.

Factors such as these could be further impacted by your partner's career prospects and the needs of your children. With all that lies at stake, you'll want to verify whether you and your partner are on the same page regarding these possibilities before you accept any job offers.

Enroll in an Online College Program at Vista College

Vista College provides educational programs for current and former military members and their families. With our flexible, career-focused mission, we accommodate a variety of schedules by offering online classes, both day and night. Our military admissions representatives are here to further help our servicemen and servicewomen make the adjustment to civilian life, work, and studies.

At Vista College, we're committed to returning the favor that you — our loyal servicemen and servicewomen — have done for our country. In our effort to break the square-peg mold of standard classrooms, our courses are designed to meet a diverse set of needs, including those of students who've spent significant time away from civilian environments. Whether you wish to get your education online or on ground at one of our campus locations, the courses offered by Vista College will arm you with the skill sets needed for success in today's job market.

The pursuit of a new degree can always be a prudent endeavor, regardless of your present occupation. Here at Vista College, you can tailor your educational schedule around your current activities. In addition to our scholarship opportunities, you can combine your military career benefits with the ones we offer for an affordable, top-quality education.

A lot has changed in the job market over the last couple decades, including the demands that employers place on the education level of candidates. In order to stay competitive, it's no longer enough to have a high school diploma — it's crucial that you at least have an associate degree.

At Vista College, we have programs running every five weeks. With our low student-to-staff ratio, we're equipped to meet the individual needs of each student. Once you've completed one of our certificate/diploma programs, you can then proceed to earn an AAS degree in one of several majors.

At Vista College, we're committed to helping all of our students succeed. To that end, we offer ongoing job/employment assistance through our Lifetime Career Services program.

Get the most from your military benefits and start an online course today.

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