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Planning and preparing for your exit and transition are essential, and is a major predictor of success out of uniform. 

Career Transition is Life Changing - Make it a Successful One

As diverse as military careers are, all service has one certainty: at some stage, it will end. When a soldier, sailor or airman or woman leaves the military, there are steps they can take to make this life-changing transition more successful.

NZDF Liaison Officer for Families of the Fallen Tina Grant says planning beyond your NZDF career, assessing your experience gained during your time in uniform, and learning the civilian equivalent of your military skills are all elements of a successful career transition. 

“You need to have a plan for what you’re going to do when you get out. When you’re in, you don’t care. When you’re out, you don’t know. That’s when people can run into trouble.”

It’s a question of getting the correct terminology for the civilian equivalent of military skills, Tina says. Anyone who has held rank will have general management skills. The task- and outcome-orientation of many military tasks translates readily into the supervisor and project management environment.

“We go overseas wearing several hats. We’re multitasked, but don’t sell ourselves as this. If you’ve led a group of soldiers, you have management experience.”

All interactions had with locals and military partner countries while on deployments – from building relationships with tribal leaders to sourcing food supplies from other United Nation forces count as international business experience, cultural awareness and operating effectively within multicultural environments.

“The guys who are in Iraq right now will come back with experience in instructing, cross-cultural communications, and risk management, in addition to all of the specific operational skills they have developed,” Tina says.   

“We can learn the operating systems within a civilian workplace – but the innate qualities military service develops in their personnel are of great value to civilian employers, especial in terms of leadership.”

RSA Senior Strategic Advisor Danny Nelson says if you are thinking about leaving the Defence Force, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.  

“At some point you may question the reason why you remain in the military, and Civvie Street can look like an easier option for better rewards. But there is fierce competition for most civilian roles. 

“If you’re applying for a job through an online wanted ad, you could be one of 50 to 80 applicants. It’s not uncommon for people to go for many jobs before getting interviews. 

“Working out exactly what your strengths are, and communicating how your experiences and skillsets make you the best person for the job is critical to success.”   

A common experience many service personnel can face on when transitioning to civilian life is a sense of disillusionment, resulting in frustration, drifting from job to job, or questioning of self, personal value and identity. This often strikes two or three years after leaving. 

“Planning and preparing for your exit and transition are essential, and is a major predictor of success out of uniform. 

“You want to look back at your time in the military as an important and valuable part of your life – one achievement among many.”


If you are looking at leaving the NZDF, you can make your career transition easier.

  • Have a plan. Once you are completely sure you want to leave, plan, act, and keep moving forward. Set things up in advance, before you need them.  

  • Expect an adjustment period. Best case: you’ll find and switch roles quickly, and adjust seamlessly. However, a fully-successful career change often takes about three years. There will be frustration and course-correction. Plan and calibrate accordingly.  

  • It’s a process. Optimise each step. Your application makes an employer read your resume. Your resume gets you an interview. Your interview wins you the job. Your referees prevent buyer remorse. Commit effort to each step.

  • Get help with your CV or interview skills, from a professional if necessary. View this as an investment, which will pay itself off quickly, in your new, lucrative, job.

  • Translate for those not from a military background. Ex-service personnel have highly desirable skills – but can under sell themselves in communicating this to civilian employers. The primary issue will be “team fit” and “culture” – specifically, employers may have perceptions of military personnel as inflexible, having authoritarian tendencies, or being “an angry vet”. Instead, explain and promote your professionalism, team and goal orientated approach to work.









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