Navigating Professional Development When Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

Navigating Professional Development When Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life was originally published on Vault.

Deciding to leave active duty and transition to civilian life is often a stressful and difficult decision. Upon transition, military members might have questions about what their next moves should be. Should they go back to school? Venture a new career path? What skills from their military career can they translate into a professional setting? 


Professional development resources are great tools for newly transitioned veterans to help them advance in their careers. By learning new skills and developing relationships with like-minded industry experts, veterans set themselves and their new employers up for success. Here are a few different ways veterans can use professional development to help advance their careers.


Think outside the box for networking 


Networking is an effective way to build relationships with like-minded industry professionals and opens the door for new opportunities with employers, business partners, and clients. Whether a virtual networking event on LinkedIn or an industry conference, attending panels and seminars is a great way to learn about new tools, trends, and opportunities in your current industry, or one you’re interested in exploring. Suppose you have a personal or organizational goal to broaden your network with other veteran professionals. In that case, free mentorship organizations like Vets2Industry and HireMilitary are great venues for expanding relationships and opening the door to connect with potential recruits for a company. In any approach, showing initiative and bringing in new business are desirable assets for any employer.  


While gravitating towards fellow veterans is natural as a former military member, it’s also important to broaden horizons to other professionals. For instance, on LinkedIn, take advantage of digital networking platforms to connect with individuals in similar or targeted industries. Making the right connections with vetted contacts can help professionals in any sector flourish in their careers and establish long-lasting relationships. 


Explore new professional development opportunities 


Beyond networking, expanding knowledge with tangible skills and tools can help you advance in a civilian career. Keep an eye on industry trends to identify the latest in tools, software, and best-practices you can learn and explore. Take the time to research professional development opportunities in these areas thoroughly to determine which are most appropriate for your skillset, goals, and current workload. Ask your employer about professional development opportunities within the organization, such as mentoring and training programs. Maintain an open line of communication on professional development opportunities with managers and supervisors. If the areas of further learning are valuable to the business’s growth, it might be open to covering costs. 


Whenever possible, look for resources and programs catered to veterans or those which offer discounted access to former military members. LinkedIn’s premium features are freely accessible to veterans for one year. Programs like PM-Pro Learn offer military and veteran rates on catered project management courses for individuals at all experience levels. Obtaining a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification, Agile Project Management certification, or SCRUM can make you a more valuable team member or job candidate in many industries. Across the board, showing employers you’re a team player willing to learn more to help the company grow displays leadership and initiative, which won’t go unnoticed in a professional setting.  


Communicate needs and goals with employers


While the idea of approaching employers with professional goals might seem intimidating at first, it’s important to maintain this line of communication. Employers hire veterans because they see the value in translating military skills into a professional setting, and therefore, it’s beneficial to self-advocate. Communicating professional development goals with employers shows you’re excited to gain new skills, become a more valuable team player, and work to reach shared goals. 


Make sure to have answers to potential questions prepared in advance for these conversations. How much will these programs cost? What value will they bring to the organization? How much time will be allocated towards training? During talks with supervisors and executives, stress the benefits training programs, seminars, and development courses will bring to the organization as a whole. Applying these simple techniques and knowledge of proper resources can create a lasting ripple effect throughout an organization, encouraging colleagues to pursue growth opportunities themselves. In any scenario, professional development should be viewed to mutually benefit both personal and organizational growth, creating a more productive work environment. 


Justin C. Pearson, First Sergeant, U.S. Army (Ret.), is VP of Business Development at the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA). Justin served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, earning the Bronze Star during a combat tour in Afghanistan. Justin has experience managing strategic partnerships and collaborating with Fortune 1000 companies to expand their military talent pipeline.