For a transitioning veteran, few scenarios can be as exciting or as daunting as landing that first job following military service. 

By Denny Moynihan, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. (ret)

In a way, military life was easy because your branch of the service told you what assignments you needed to take in order to continue on a successful career track.

Once you receive your DD-214, nobody is telling you where to go or what to do.  It’s all you.  Daunting.  Exciting.  Sometimes a little bit of both.  While it may have been commonplace to complain about a detailer or assignment officer, now it’s in your hands and your decisions have lasting consequences for you and your family.

Why That First Job Matters: It sets your location, your sector in the economy, and your new rank in your new world.

  • Your location:  There may be family or personal reasons driving your location decision.  If not, look for places where the economy is thriving and may present you with other professional opportunities down the road.  If you land your first job in a one company town or in any area that’s not thriving, your next step may require another move.  Unlike the military, paid moves are not a certainty.
  • Your sector:  Your first job outside of the military presents you with a great opportunity to do something incredibly different.  Do it.  There will be no better time to launch into your dream job.  Making a safer play in your first job, or staying with what you’re familiar doing, will make the leap to your dream job or sector a little longer in subsequent jobs.  While it can be done, once you’re in one sector it takes a lot of extra effort to transition to a new one.  Make your first transition count.
  • Your new rank:  When we moved across assignments our rank and pay came with us.  Your first job will set your new rank.  Shooting too high for a job or title may leave you on the sidelines if the market doesn’t place the same value on your skills as you do.  Conversely, settling for a position beneath your capabilities makes it harder to rise up the ladder because you will be starting your climb ata lower level.  While you may not find a rank structure and pay table in the civilian world, employers will look for a natural progression similar to how you rose to positions of increasing responsibilities in the military.

Why That First Job May Not Matter:  You may not be there very long.  That may be your choice, your employer’s choice, or forces beyond either of your control.  While some vets remain with their first civilian employers for an extended period, many other vets have several jobs before they find their true professional and cultural fit.  No big deal if the first job doesn’t last forever, as long as you’ve transitioned to a good location, in a good sector, and at the appropriate level.

What Really Matters:  Your approach.  Be thoughtful.  Be aggressive.  Build and rely upon your network to help you navigate through this new experience.  Take advantage of the skills and leadership abilities you’ve developed over your military career, and find a job in this new world that can leverage your skills and allow you to thrive in your first job and beyond.


In his final tour on active duty, Moynihan was at the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO) serving as principal spokesman for the Department of the Navy and providing strategic communication counsel to the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. He led the Navy’s public affairs community of more than 2,500 active and reserve officer, enlisted, and civilian communication professionals.

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