Undoubtedly, as you turn in your separation papers and prepare for an exit from the military, you’re flooded with questions: What do I do first to prepare for a civilian career? When do I start formulating a resume? Who should I contact about opportunities? And so on.

Your career transition timeline will have certain aspects that are set by the Department of Defense (as part of your transition plan), but many are unwritten.

In my new book, “Success After Service: How to take control of your job search and career after military duty, I offer a detailed two-year transition plan. Here are some excerpts and highlights for you to start thinking about today, wherever you are in your transition, as you prepare for what comes next.

Why do you need a timeline?

The flood of “to do” items you’ll want to complete in a timely fashion prior to separation will grow exponentially with every day it gets closer. A timeline is helpful to ensure you don’t miss an important deadline; have enough time to cultivate the relationships you’ll need; time to plan the steps in the right order; and time to just breathe.

What should your timeline include?

If you’re 18 to 24 months out from separation, your transition timeline should include things like:

  • Complete your DD Form 2648, the DoD pre-separation counseling checklist, to know which benefits and services you’ll need counseling for.
  • Register for Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, classes.
  • Talk to your family about their goals and needs immediately after your separation and long term.
  • Determine your financial goals after separation. How much will you need to earn?
  • Start building social media profiles, beginning with a LinkedIn profile.

When you’re six to 12 months out from separation, you should:

  • Complete your Military Occupational Code Crosswalk and Gap Analysis.
  • Create a skeletal resume. List what you’ve done and the results you’ve achieved. Wherever you can, consider the civilian equivalent.
  • Create a list of target companies (ideal employers).
  • Find a mentor or coach who can help guide you through transition. Initiate those conversations.
  • Begin informational interviews to learn about companies, industries, career paths and opportunities you might be interested in pursuing.

At three months out from separation, you should have most of your checklist items in place. In addition to what’s listed above, consider:

  • Scheduling your capstone event with your commander or their designee.
  • Begin crafting your elevator pitch: How you’ll answer the “tell me about yourself” question.
  • Start attending job fairs and career fairs (right now, these might be all virtual).
  • Refine your social media profiles and resumes to clarify what you’re looking to do next.
  • Begin applying for jobs and interviewing, always being clear about your availability date.

With 30 days or less until you separate, add these items to your transition checklist:

  • Intensify your informational interviews. Look at the patterns in the advice you’re receiving about the industry you’ll be pursuing, the companies you’re targeting and the career path you’re interested in.
  • Refine (again) your resume and social media profiles to be even more clear about what you’re pursuing, why you’re interested in that work, and how your previous military experience aligns with this new focus.
  • Check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. Are there questions or concerns rising up? Talk to your mentor and support system about these issues.
  • Relax. Yes, relax. Relocation, separation and transition are stressful, and you need to make self-care part of your checklist. Be sure you’re getting rest, exercising and eating healthy so you stay top of form for the next chapter in your career and life.

While the list above isn’t exhaustive, it’s a start as you plan your transition out of the military. Add to the timeline important dates or events you’ll want to be sure you account for as you move from one culture, career and environment into the next.

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