6 smart ways to conduct successful military to civilian transition

6 smart ways to conduct successful military to civilian transition

by Chad Storlie

Leaving the military and transitioning from the military is difficult. Love the military, hate the military, or somewhere in between, our time in the military, 2 years or 40 years, was, and remains, a life changing experience.  The transition from the military will be a shock but following these tips will help make the transition easier.

Have 60 Days Leave When You Depart the Military. It is hard to save up 60 days of leave when you depart the military, but it can be done.  60 days of leave is 60 days of pay, allowances, healthcare, insurance, and TSP contributions.  This buffer of two months’ pays when you are on “terminal leave” is an incredible foundation to an effective career switch.  It allows you to network, interview, find multiple opportunities, and then receive multiple job offers.  If you can’t leave with 60 days, then accrue as much leave as you can and always ask for an “exception to policy.”  Leave the military with 60 days leave to start your transition with an economic buffer.

Have 6 Months Living Expenses Saved When You Depart the Military.  In addition to 60 days leave, have 6 months of living expenses in cash and in a separate, “break only in the case of emergency” savings account.  Six months of living expenses + 2 months of leave will give you ¾ of a year in living expenses.  Best case, you find a job in a month, and you have a great foundation in retirement, college expenses, or a new boat.  Many military veterans have poor leaving the military experiences because with no savings and no leave, they must take the first job offered them which can be a poor match for their career aspirations.  If you can’t save 6 months, then try saving two to three months and try to have debts such as credit cards and car payments paid off or reduced.  Any savings helps create a financial buffer to discover the perfect next career.

Apply Only to Companies Where You Have 6, Non-HR Contacts.  The job application process is horrible for job applicants.  Lots of activity, high hopes, and then silence.  Instead of shot gun blasts of applications, make connections inside companies before you apply.  Have at least six contacts inside a company before you apply.  When you do apply, let these contacts know and ask them to put in internal recommendations.  I once had a successful hiring from a company when I had 18 contacts that I brought to an interview with their phone numbers, dates we talked, and notes from conversations.  Create 6 internal contacts before you apply.

No 6 Page Resume & Cover Letters. Military personnel get an enormous amount of career experience, accomplishments, schools, and other accolades.  However, most resume reviews or college applications get seen for under a minute during the initial screening process.  Resumes should be 1 page, 2 pages maximum, and cover letters ¾ of a page.  I have seen 6-page resumes that drive people away.  Focus on clear, easily understood, crisp, and impactful well-defined accomplishments.  Remember, unless it’s a college paper, 6 pages is too much for anything. 

Start Your Job Interviewing 6 Months Out at A Minimum. Six months from leaving the military is the time you should be interviewing for jobs at the maximum rate.  It is not uncommon for corporate hiring processes to take from 3 to 6 months.  With that in mind, 6 months from leaving the military is the most effective time where you are still paid, you are attractive to companies as an immediate hire, and you have sufficient time to generate multiple opportunities.  If you are deployed or at a remote location, some companies will allow video interviews or phone interviews.  If you cannot interview in person, continue to network and look for opportunities to connect remotely.  Remember, six months out from leaving the military is the best time to interview.

No Major Purchases Until You Have Been Out of The Military for 6 Quarters. Yes, you are reading this right.  No cars, houses, fishing boats, etc. until you have been out of the military for 6 quarters or 18 months or 1.5 years.  This is because one of the greatest dangers of new employment is variability.  Companies, industries, markets, and customers can all change quickly and often for the negative.  When this happens, often the last employees hired are the first to go.  There are so many stories of a new house then no job; or a new car then no job; or a new motorcycle then no job.  New jobs are to save, pay off bills, get a secure budget, maximize your new benefits, and plan for a larger purchase in 6 quarters.

Make the best of leaving the military and follow these 6 Tips:

  • Have 60 Days Leave when You Depart the Military
  • Have 6 Months Living Expenses Saved When You Depart the Military
  • Apply Only to Companies Where You Have 6, Non-HR Contacts
  • No 6 Page Resume & Cover Letters
  • Start Your Job Interviewing 6 Months Out at A Minimum
  • No Major Purchases Until You Have Been Out of The Military for 6 Quarters

Share your tips how to have an effective experience leaving the military.

About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 320 articles in over 170 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics.  Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better.  Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management.  Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.  Follow Chad @Combater and website.


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