Planning a Career Change? Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Checklist Tips - Part 1

Updated July 2021

Planning a Career Change? Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Checklist Tips Part 1 - USAA Member CommunityThis is part one in a series on military-to-civilian transition. Be sure to check back for more in this series.


One of the greatest challenges of leaving active duty is to create a comprehensive and detailed career transition plan for your next career. There are a great many considerations, such as where to live, occupations to choose and how to begin to conduct research on all the possible opportunities.


After my transition to civilian workforce, there were many things I wish I knew going into the process. The following is my advice for a career-planning checklist for those leaving active duty or for military veterans who are looking for a new career or opportunity. The goals of this transition checklist are for you to identify your career goals, identify how to translate your military skills into understandable and quantified accomplishments for your resume, create a robust network in the Geography-Industry-Occupation that you want to work and live. Finally, it also ensures a process that helps you improve your skills throughout the career transition process.

The first step is to identify your career goals. For example:


Military Career Transition Goal: Create 3-5 acceptable job offers in the geography, industry and occupation that you want to work in a minimum of 30 days prior to the end of terminal leave.


Goal Date: Start new employment a minimum of 30 days before the end of terminal leave or sooner.
There are four critical areas we are going to focus on to build your checklist of actions. In part one of this series we will focus on:


9 Steps to Understanding the Current Business and Hiring Environments:


A critical first step in a career transition is to understand what are the attractive industries, occupations, and geographic locations that are driving the economy. This helps ensure that you start your career search in locations and occupations that are growing or stable.


  1. Schedule daily reading on the general business environment.
  • Local paper, business and local sections
  • Businessweek (online or print)
  • The New York Times (online or print)
  • Fortune (online or print)
  • The Wall Street Journal (online or print)
  • Create specific Google news alerts on topics of interest.
  • Create alerts in all business sources to receive daily updates.

2. Take the offered ACAP/TAP transition class for initial transition knowledge and find available resources. Make contact with your local city and state veteran, Department of Labor and State Workforce development officials.


  • Schedule a regular, physical check-in and progress update with these agencies.

3. Take notes on cities, states, industries and occupations that interest you and have growth.


4. Expand your general business knowledge and learn how to translate and apply your military skills to solve business problems.


5. Create the Geography-Industry-Occupation (GIO) Mind Map to identify opportunity.


  • List at least five city-state geographic combinations where you would like to work (Geography).
  • List at least five industries that you would like to work or interest you (Industry).
  • List at least five occupations that you would like to work or interest you (Occupations).
  • This list of Geographies that you want to live, Industries that are attractive to work in, and Occupations you enjoy creates the GIO list.
  • Create a prioritized GIO list matched with company names to start networking.
  • Your GIO list may be flexible. For example, if you have a specific city, state that you want to live, then you will need to discover more Industries and Occupations to target.

6. Use the ACTion Framework to create a list of your primary and translatable skills for your resume. The ACTion framework has a veteran focus on their Attributes or employment characteristics that will make them a great employee; Concrete skills the veteran has received for formal education in and outside the military; and Translatable military skills the veteran can translate into skill sets an employer needs.


  • List your work attributes with examples. Stories that focus on the Situation you were in, the Task (s) you had to accomplish, the Actions you took to achieve success, and the Results that were achieved (STAR format) are a great way to do this.
  • Concrete skills that you possess that translate to the workplace. This formal training relates to skills that the company needs.
  • List military-to-business-transferable skills. These military skill sets can be translated to help the company out, such as SOP creation, coaching, small team leadership, planning and competitive analysis.

7. Prepare your initial resume and general cover letter describing accomplishments from ACTion framework.


  • Ensure your resume lists quantified accomplishments and results and is not a summary of your past responsibilities.
  • A resume must clearly demonstrate your accomplishments and what you achieved in clear, understandable and quantifiable terms.
  • Follow guidelines provided by TAP and ACAP for resume creation.
  • Have a minimum of five non-military professionals review your resume and incorporate their feedback.

8. Use the backward planning method to identify your new job start date, and then allow 6-8 weeks for each stage of this process. The total time for your transition plan should be 8 months to 12 months.


9. Determine your pre- and post-military financial requirements and an initial budget.

These detailed steps in learning more about the business environment you wish to develop a career in and hiring environments will assist in your transition from your military career to your new civilian career.


Up next in the series: Tips for How to Plan and Target Your Career Search, Networking and Transition Plan.


Related resource:

Leaving the Military - USAA

Have something to add to this article? Share your advice in the comments section.





About the blogger:
Chad Storlie is the author of two books: Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success. Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. An adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, NE. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.



1 Comment
Occasional Visitor

Nicely written article. Thanks for sharing.