10 Questions Veterans Can Ask if They Have No Idea What to Do Next

Staff Sgt. Paul A. Barbosa, a native of Houston, Texas, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, signs up for touring a federal agency during the Operation Warfighter Internship Fair. (U.S. Army/ Sgt. Micah VanDyke)

Question: I've got three months until I separate from the Army. It seems everyone around me knows what they're going to do next. I don't have a clue. Help?

Answer: It may seem like you're the only one who doesn't have their post-military life mapped out, but that's not true. While some of your colleagues may have a sense of direction -- they've applied and been accepted to school, have job offers lined up or have started to plan an entrepreneurial venture -- that doesn't mean they have all the answers.

As you consider what's next, here are some good questions to ask yourself:

1. What do I enjoy doing?

While you may or may not get a job doing what you love to do, it's a great place to start. List your hobbies, the parts of your current work you enjoy the most and what you can imagine would be fun to spend your days working on.

2. What am I told I'm good at?

Have you received feedback that you're a great problem solver or writer? Do your peers come to you for help navigating personnel challenges? Reflect on comments, insights and feedback you've received about your strengths.

3. What would I hate to do (for a living)?

Another helpful list to make is what you imagine would be terrible work. For example, would you enjoy sitting at a computer, writing code all day? How would it feel to work outdoors in inclement weather? Could you imagine working with young children? List out all the jobs you believe you would not like to do.

4. Which of my skills do I enjoy leveraging the most?

While you likely possess many skills and talents as you exit the military, not all will be relevant, useful or helpful in the private sector. Make a list of the skills you possess that you do enjoy leveraging.

Perhaps you're skilled at working with complex technology systems, you know how to navigate high-stress situations or you've developed expert-level public speaking skills. Make a list of all skills you would enjoy building on and using post-military duty.

5. With some more training, what could I do?

Are you just shy of completing schooling to be an electrical engineer? If you love to bake, could a degree in culinary arts give you the opportunity to work as a professional baker? Consider areas where your skills, talents and experience would get you further with additional schooling and training.

6. Which jobs are in high demand?

Do some online research about the jobs that are highly sought after. What industries or sectors are hiring the most? Do you have skills or interests in a career in those areas? Instead of trying to invent a new career path, consider ones that are thriving today, where demand is high for talent.

7. Have I talked to others to explore options?

Talk to people in your network about their work and jobs. How did they get into that line of work? What do they enjoy the most, and where are the challenges? Listen and learn from your mentors, friends and coaches to see what sparks interest in you.

8. What jobs are plentiful where I want to live?

If your goal is to start a family farm and you'll be living in downtown Manhattan, you might have a tough go. Instead, if you've identified where you'll live after the military, look around at companies in that area that are hiring, industries that are booming and identify which large employers are located nearby. This might spark some ideas.

9. Is a gig job best for me?

Could the reason you've been struggling be because one job just doesn't sound enough? Gig jobs are part-time opportunities -- think Uber drivers, Instacart deliveries, consulting, pet sitting -- where you can work as much or as little as you need to maintain your lifestyle.

This work could help you get more experience and still bring in income without committing to full-time employment.

10. What parameters are there in my work?

If your family needs require you not to travel, for instance, then it will be important to look at jobs that don't require travel or allow you to work remotely some of the time. If your own health limits your movements at work, that might also drive some choices off the list because of the physical nature of the work. Consider your personal and family needs alongside your career goals here.

There's no magic formula to figuring out what to do next. But when you can draw from what you enjoy doing, what you're skilled (or could easily get trained on) and what provides you with the lifestyle you desire, your list of options becomes clearer.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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