While the month of December typically makes us think of holiday decorations, visiting with friends and family and seasonal cheer, if you’re transitioning out of the military your mind is likely focused on what you can do to prepare for your next career. Given that this year (2020) has been filled with change, uncertainty and anxiety for job seekers and employers alike, here are five things you can do this month to ensure your transition sets you up for success.

1. Create a transition plan.

Any transition should be prepared for in advance. Exiting the military and joining the private sector is no exception. List out your goals, the steps and resources needed to achieve those goals, and the benchmarks you’ll use to assess your progress. Be as specific as you can with each list:

For your goals, consider short term (e.g., find a project management job with growth potential in aviation or aerospace) and long term (e.g., build a career as program management leader in the aerospace industry) goals and assign timelines to each.

Then, for the resources you’ll need, consider whether upskilling is needed to gain the career momentum you desire: Do you anticipate working in a job for a year before pursuing additional education, for instance? Will you need more training before you can jump into your ideal career path? Do you have a healthy professional network of contacts who can support and mentor you? What other resources will you need to achieve those goals?

Finally, consider the benchmarks you’ll look for as you build out your plan: Will you need to have a specific income level achieved by year three? What’s Plan B if you fail to meet that goal? Do you expect a certain title or status in the company by year four? How will you know you’re on that career path?

2. Organize your assets.

As you assemble your transition plan, consider the assets you have accumulated during your time in the military (and before): What specific skills and experiences do you bring that are valuable to employers today? Are your exportable skills in high demand in the industry you’ll be pursuing? Do you have a strong online presence and network who will vouch for your work and style? Or do you need to remind the people you know who you are and what you can offer? Organizing your skills, experiences, contacts and other aspects of your career to date puts you in the best position to articulate and promote them to a target employer.

3. Reach out for help and advice.

Do not expect to make this transition alone. It will be critical that you develop a set of contacts who can guide, advise and mentor you through the challenges and opportunities you’ll be facing. Mentors should play a big role in your career today and going forward, as will professional contacts who can make introductions and referrals for you to key opportunities. Lean on them for their expertise and support, but ultimately use your own goals, priorities and values as the filters through which to make final decisions.

4. Communicate your goals.

As you build up your network of supporters, referral sources and mentors, and bring your online positioning into alignment with your new career goals, be sure to remind those around you what you’re pursuing. For instance, you can’t assume that because you once told your LinkedIn network that you’re looking to work in the aerospace industry they’ll remember that a year later. Or, that they’ll remember the value and passion you bring to a potential opportunity. Ensure they remember you and what you can offer by posting information online, sharing insights in conversations, and collaborating on topics that allow you to reinforce your goals with others helps them remember you when an opportunity you want crosses their path.

5. Stay optimistic.

This one might be the hardest to accomplish in a year that feels filled with uncertainty. Everyone you’re dealing with – recruiters, networking contacts, other service members also transitioning – is also likely feeling the stress of the challenging employment market. If you can remain upbeat and positive and help them see the possibilities where they might fear challenges, you’ll make a good impression and show your resilience.

As you get ready to exit the military, use this month to get your career plan, assets, contacts and value proposition aligned and promoted to ensure you have a smooth and successful transition.

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