The Military and the Career Decisions You Should Make

The Military and the Career Decisions You Should Make

The Military and the Career Decisions You Should Make

March 30th, 2018

By Maryn McKenna

As an Army sociologist, Maryn McKenna has spent much of her time researching the development of careers in the armed forces. While she is constantly amazed at how differently the military factors into a person’s life, she’s even more intrigued by the idea of educating yourself to identify the factors that ultimately influence where you end up and what sort of career path you ultimately take.

In interviews with dozens of service members, McKenna found that it’s not just careers per se, but the entire way they develop that matter.

“[The service members] who went to the most specialized level in school, the degree of academically preparedness they showed, were, on average, going to the most technical field and occupational specialty available,” she says.

To do that, the service members she worked with changed their expectations about how their lives should look, and how they were different from what the civilian economy had to offer. That meant having a much better handle on not just what they would like to do, but what kinds of jobs and potential careers they thought that they had a good chance of getting into.

The timeline for you

“What I’ve found with my service members is that people think of your whole life in a sort of sequence,” McKenna explains. “You decide what your career will be when you leave the service. It’s kind of the last stage in your career development.”

Well, isn’t that kind of life the entire purpose of pursuing a military career? Not necessarily. “The whole notion of landing at Fort Rosecrans and building your skills, building your employment and your employment opportunity, and finally graduating to the highest levels of advancement within that field of your chosen discipline. It’s more about the process of getting there,” McKenna says.

To get an idea of how you could have spent a part of your life differently, McKenna asks a series of questions. Take a look at how your answer might differ, if you were a Vietnam War veteran, for example, and she asks what changed in those years.

“What I try to do is come up with a sequence, in which you could draw from a bunch of experiences,” she says.

For instance, a previous Army duty stint may have given you a better idea of what sort of employment opportunities are out there, and whether those might be a good fit for you, in your chosen field. “In the case of someone who was very interested in medicine, it could be an internships with medicine organizations, really honing in on some medical specialties and making sure that they were interested in being based in Boston, in a city that they know well, but is nationally known for particular medical fields, and that makes a lot of sense for them.”

If you had that sort of training, McKenna says, “You’d probably be able to evaluate medical programs not just on course work, but on how you might be contributing, based on your interests, to future applications, so that that made you a really good fit to receive further training,” she says.

Other factors

Then there are the financial considerations. You could also be a bit more successful in your search for a job if you’d spent more time learning about the salary range for various professions. “You could make an income projection using salary data that would give you a sense of the barriers to employment,” she says.

“People who are more educated about how careers are valued and how they are valued relative to more traditional occupations are going to be better equipped to make the most of their careers and the decisions that they make.”

Of course, people can make their own plans about what will give them the happiest life, whether that’s pursuing a career or just getting a chance to really see what’s out there. The fact that people who went into the military had an opportunity to rethink their expectations about their life may have helped them make the most of what’s already available to them.

Originally published on ETF Digest.

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