How to Maximize your Military Experience when Leaving the Service

By Lt. Col. Paul Capicik (USAF, Ret.), American Sentinel University

One fact that will powerfully affect your life is that you will have to depart from the military at some point. The more you plan for this major life-changing event, the more opportunity you will have for a successful transition to a follow-on career.

Leaving the military means a change in career course

Several major factors can have a significant impact on planning your post-military career direction:

  • Education and training
  • Experience
  • Certifications and certificates
  • Social networking
  • Family
  • Financial situation

A person’s career is a long, complex journey, so it’s imperative that you stay proactive in your own career planning. The key is knowing that you can’t rely on anyone but yourself to get you to your goal. You have resources and help at your disposal, including making the most of every opportunity and resource afforded you by your time in the military.

Maximize your military experience

You should receive plenty of experience from your military training, especially in your primary job there. Work to maximize your experience by not only doing the basics, but ask questions to understand how and why things work and get a firm grasp of the processes involved. Then broaden your scope by proactively researching or conducting informational interviews about peripheral industries or technologies that touch or affect your primary job.

If you happen to have contractors that assist you, learn what you can from them and establish a working relationship that can be used for networking purposes later.

You may also be able to get additional experience as an off-duty volunteer with community organizations. If you are looking to change careers (say you are an aircraft engine mechanic and you want to learn to fix computers), look for off-duty volunteer work that provides practical experience in a new area. Some enterprising people even get off duty jobs, which provide added experience. Even hobbies can help pave the way to future careers.

Consider certifications and certificates

Many career paths require certifications and/or certificates. There is a difference, and both serve a purpose:

  • A certification generally refers to an earned credential that demonstrates the holder’s specialized knowledge, skills, and experience. Examples from the IT industry include Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA certifications.
  • Certificates normally refer to a document conferred at the successful conclusion of an educational offering. Examples are often found in the healthcare field.
  • Further distinction can be found here.

For some career paths, these credentials are critical, if not required, to obtain employment. For instance, many government IT jobs require certifications. If you are in a military IT career field, your training and experience can prepare you to take certification exams with little or no additional study. Funding is even available to help you pay for preparation training if needed.

Ask questions and learn about the certifications and certificates that are applicable to your desired career path, then plan how to obtain these in advance of changing careers. American Sentinel University offers many certification programs.

Network in person and online

In today’s environment, “social networking” can mean a lot of things, but it can be critically important in career planning. You need to understand what social networking can do for you – and how it can hurt you.

Getting “connected” is a very important aspect of job hunting and equally important is portraying a positive¬†online persona. You should build both personal and online connections as well as develop an online presence that can positively show your skill set and experience.

Remember to develop a relationship with available contractors. These contacts can be invaluable when it comes time to transition from the military. A prime reason for social networking for career planning is to cultivate relationships with people who can vouch for your capabilities and work ethic or who can inform you of job openings. You would be amazed at the number of people who get jobs through networking. In fact, two out of the three post-military careers I have had resulted from networking with contacts.

In addition to developing personal contacts, you need to get online and develop the “virtual” aspect of your social network. Join groups and reach out electronically to contacts in your areas of interest. It will help you keep abreast of the latest developments and show you how others in the field think and interact.

Your participation, even by asking questions, can help make you known and make you aware of opportunities that could meet your desired career goals. Don’t underestimate the value of social networking.

There are also statistics and trend guides available online that may help you plan. For instance, if location is important to you, a site such as can help you see job status in the past year by location.

Be comprehensive and be persistent – these are two winning practices. The more effort and interest you put into covering all your bases, the more likely you will experience the kind of success you desire.

Named a Military-Friendly School by GI Jobs for the third year in a row, American Sentinel University offers outstanding military benefits for service members, spouses and veterans, including reduced tuition rates, an expansive transfer credit policy, no-cost books for active-duty, and personal support for the unique military lifestyle. American Sentinel provides accredited, quality Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs for high-job-growth industries, combining the flexibility of its100% online platform with dedicated personal support. Programs include IT, computer science, GIS, nursing, business intelligence, management, and IT industry certifications.

Paul Capicik is a 26 year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who served as a command pilot qualified in both fixed and rotary wing aircraft and held several strategic and operational plans and program positions. Following AF retirement, he spent more than 12 years with Civil Air Patrol as director of several departments and Chief Information Officer for that nationwide 60,000-member organization. An Air Force Academy graduate who also holds a Master’s in Information Technology, Lt. Capicik is Vice President, Military Programs at American Sentinel University.