Military Transition: Excitement….But?

Posted by Pat Tovo

Stickman Family Welcome Dad Soldier IllustrationOkay, let’s be honest. There are many things that excite you as you plan to leave the military and there are also thoughts that create fear. As you work your way through the transition process it’s important to surround yourself with valuable resources and former colleagues who have successfully commandeered the return to the cleared private sector. We want to help you focus on the excitement, diminish the fear and prioritize a return to the civilian world.

Let’s take a look at five common challenges you will face in your transition. Hopefully this will help steer you more efficiently through the process.

Lack of Purpose

While serving in the military you were focused on a mission, you focused on a target, successfully navigated your work and then waited for your next assignment. As you face a career in the private sector, professional life will appear more abstract. You may lose a sense of purpose and mourn the loss of mission.

Recommendation: Your new assignment is to find purpose in your life and not just in your work. While in the service it’s common to view your job as your life, this isn’t so much the case in the private sector. Many veterans have looked successfully to the cleared community to find roles that continue offering them a sense of mission. But no matter the industry, organization or type of work, be it governmental, corporate or non-profit, you’ll need to find new purpose to round out your post-military life. Become engaged in your community, be an active volunteer with a cause near your heart, provide mentorship, lead your church activities – there are many ways to serve that will give your life meaning beyond the paycheck.

Unfamiliar Chain of Command

Structure is the backbone of the military. Hierarchy, rank and status are very clear from the beginning. In the private world the lines are not so predictable. While there is a common structure (i.e., a company President will have a certain role within the organization no matter the business), you need to understand that the chain of command will appear in a different form when you join a civilian business.

Recommendation: In your military career you were trained to resolve a situation whether it was your problem or not. Civilian counterparts may not work the same way. Titles and roles will matter to civilian workers in that they typically assume position and authority, but not necessarily the chain of command. If you’re targeting a certain company in your job search, learn the culture and try to get an understanding of the command hierarchy. During job interviews, know that it’s appropriate to ask about company culture so you get a good feel for how you would fit in.

Unique Promotion Structure

The tradition of the military is a fairly predictable promotion timetable. It’s common that if you are in a role for a certain period of time and if you perform at acceptable standards, you’ll move up to the next rung of the leadership ladder. Aside from a few exceptions, the military promotion structure is recognized. This creates some apprehension in the transition process with questions about private sector organizational fit, possibilities for advancement and uncertainty about where to go for help.

Recommendation: During the job interview process if you decide you’re serious about pursuing a position, inquire about their advancement policies. You’ll want to know what it takes to move up or laterally within their organization. Inquire about the company philosophy on promotion from within the ranks. Please know that every company will have a different structure and you should be clear on what your career path might be before your accept a job.

Lack of Adrenaline Rush

While every job will have some stress and pressure, you will likely not feel the same adrenaline rush that you had during your time in uniform. The civilian work environment will not have the frequent urgency you may have experienced in the service.

Recommendation: Keep reminding yourself that even though you have been trained to thrive under mission pressure, that pressure is different now. There are many careers that will keep your skills sharp and utilize your ability to think on your feet, but it probably won’t include high stakes situations. Remember that your world is different now; different, not right or wrong.

Feeling Isolated

During your time in the military you were surrounded by people with a shared mission and passion. Your fellow service men and women watched out for you; they went through challenges alongside you. This critical environment formed a bond that is unlike anything you may experience in the private sector. As you settle into civilian life, you may have feelings of being isolated.

Recommendation: Long before you separate from the service, begin to develop your network. Regardless of where you’re headed after departing the military, you need to expand the circle of supporters that will be available to you in the civilian world. This can be family members, clergy, former colleagues, school friends, job connections, etc. After you have landed in your new community, look for veteran organizations that can help you acclimate to your new life. While it’s important to stay connected to those you served with, it’s just as important to create a civilian support system.


If you’re beginning your transition then you have surely realized that it is a process. You will face challenges along with wonderful opportunities. Every low will be balanced by a high and you will learn to grow from the experience. Along the way don’t be shy about seeking mentoring and guidance to provide the tools that will help make your cleared civilian career successful and fulfilling.

Pat Tovo guides job seekers in conducting successful employment searches through targeted prospecting, effective resume writing, and polished interviewing skills. She enjoys facilitating workshops and working one-on-one in career counseling.


This entry was posted on Monday, June 25, 2018 2:57 pm

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