No matter how long your military contract is, starting off on the right foot is critical to how smoothly the rest of your service time goes.
From the beginning, it’s important to set personal goals and have a firm understanding of what you need to do to be the best at your job.
A positive attitude and willingness to be a team player will set you up for a successful military career, too. Above all, keeping out of trouble — legal, financial, and otherwise — will also keep your record clean and your command happy.
Need more insight on how to have a successful military career?
Read on for our advice on what to start doing immediately.
Succeeding Between Boot Camp and Your DD-214 Exit
Whether you plan on just fulfilling your initial contract or making the military your career, there are several goals to consider to ensure success.
Set career goals early on, and review each one as you get closer to advancement periods, end of contracts, and as new opportunities arise. Every decision you make will impact your next step, so looking at the overall picture can be helpful.
Read any biography of great military leaders, and you’ll notice a pattern: They all had goals they wanted to achieve that took careful planning and preparation. Success doesn’t happen by accident and that includes your military career.
Taking the right stepping stones throughout your short — or long — military career can help you feel more accomplished and proud when your DD-214 finally gets printed.
Here are our tips on how to make the most of your time serving our country:
Set Goals for Your Military Career
Goal setting helps you achieve your personal and professional goals. Writing these goals down can help you remember to review each goal and its action steps. When setting goals for your military career, ask senior leadership you admire how they got to where they are now. Their insight can help you take the right steps to get to your end goal.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- What are your goals while you’re in the service?
- What do you want when you return to civilian life?
- Who can you receive mentorship from?
- Would writing down and reviewing goals help you stick to it?
Choose training that will give you more job options while in the military and/or transfer to a civilian job successfully. Study and meet qualification requirements to help you advance.
Additionally, programs like tuition assistance, USMAPS, and other educational programs can help you set yourself up for more marketable job skills in the civilian world.
Create a Budget
Develop a budget and stick to it. Budgeting isn’t a skill you use once and move on from.
If you get used to budgeting now, it will pay off as you go through life and learn how to prepare for emergencies and big purchases.
Setting a monthly budget will also help you get a handle on any debt you may have. The government doesn’t look kindly on debt: Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, service members are required to pay their debts. If you don’t and let it continuously build, you risk getting discharged.
To create a healthy budget:
- Start each month with a budget
- Allot every dollar to a category (rent, food, etc.)
- Don’t forget to build a savings
- Pay off your small debts first
- Avoid taking out loans to pay bills
Better money habits = less stress and more mental energy to focus on your career. If you’re financially secure, you won’t have to worry about if your electric will get turned off while you’re at work. Service members dealing with too much debt can lose security clearances and the ability to deploy as well.
Set a No Excuses Rule
If there’s one thing that isn’t tolerated very well in the military, it’s excuse-making. Don’t offer excuses to commanding officers. Especially if it has to do with being late for duty, muster, or any other duties you’re meant to uphold.
Here’s how to stop your excuses:
- Learn from your mistakes
- Take steps to fix your mistakes
- Don’t blame others
- Develop a positive mindset
The biggest takeaway? Always be respectful and take responsibility for your actions. You’ll gain respect by acting with integrity and courage. Watch how effective leaders take charge; it’s almost never with making excuses every step along the way.
Always Keep a Learning Mindset
Learn as much as you can about your position and new opportunities as they become available. Whether it’s learning from new leaders or taking on additional studying for qualifications, you always have a chance to learn something new if you’re open to it.
Ways to keep learning in the military:
- Take college classes
- Look into apprenticeship opportunities
- Enroll in career-related webinars
- Look at advancement options
- Ask for mentorship
Start getting a college degree while you’re serving to create opportunities both while you’re in the military and when you leave. One of the most important parts in your role as a service member is to stay on top of your skills. Never get complacent as it hinders your ability to advance and become the best service member you can be.
Build a Strong Network Throughout Your Military Career
Military life can provide opportunities for meeting people from very different backgrounds. Be open-minded and willing to learn more about them. In very few other fields do you have the opportunity to meet people from all over the country each day on the job. Take advantage of your ability to network with as many people as you can.
To best build your network:
- Be a resource – If others have questions about what you do in your military life, be helpful. Use your knowledge for good and share it with others.
- Know what you do well – Have a bit of an elevator speech prepared for when people ask you what exactly you do. Obviously, security clearances can get in the way of some of this. Have the answer ready when others ask, “What do you do?”
- Send valuable leads – The best part of having a network is the ability to make solid connections with others. When you send valuable assets to companies or your network, they always remember it. Often, they return the favor.
Take advantage of work opportunities and social events. It can help both your career and build a group of friends for personal support. Having a large network can also help you post-military when you’re looking for civilian work.
Poor choices can carry more weight and severe consequences in the military than other jobs. Like if you don’t show up for work, you can go to jail. Strive for getting positive attention instead, and take pride in your work by always doing your best. That means showing up on time, knowing your role for the day, and taking care of service business efficiently.
What else does “adulting” require?
- Keep your cool – You’ll find yourself in stressful and heated situations. Your superiors are watching how you respond, so act accordingly.
- Build a nest egg – Do some emergency financial planning and remember to save for retirement. It’s not only smart, but demonstrates maturity.
- Act with integrity – Do what you say you’re going to do. Show up for watch, be honest, and work hard. It pays off in the moment and later down the road.
It’s not always easy to be an adult, but taking responsibility is noticed by others. Senior commanding officers will appreciate your maturity. Even if you aren’t always rewarded for your behavior, conducting yourself in an honorable manner is often reward in and of itself.
A Successful Military Career Depends on You
From the moment you sign on the dotted line, you’re taking an oath to uphold your branch’s reputation. By starting your career with a positive, can-do attitude, you’re bound to make better decisions as a service member.
Those decisions ultimately influence your career trajectory, too.
Remember that your decisions impact yourself, but also others in your division, command, or platoon. Sometimes, extremely poor decision-making can cost you your career.
With every choice you make, you’re sculpting your future. If you plan to make the military a lifelong career, step carefully with your choices. When in doubt, ask for guidance from wise counsel, including leaders you respect.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard on how to have a successful military career? Share in the comments below! Marines, check out our tips on accelerating your career after boot camp!