In recent years, more than 65,000 active-duty soldiers have separated from the Army annually, according to Department of the Army statistics. In fiscal year 2014, for example, more than 20,000 retired, while the remaining 45,000 separated either by choice or requirement.No matter why they leave, most soldiers are seeking second careers. Many military occupational specialties mirror career opportunities in the civilian and federal sectors including logistics, intelligence and law enforcement. According to G.I. Jobs’ Top 20 Hot Jobs for Veterans 2015, operations management, information technology and engineering are some of the best careers for former soldiers to transition into because of the salaries, needs of the market and job security.While some experts said combat arms is one of the more difficult military occupations to transition out of, others said all military skills are valuable on the outside. They just need to be articulated effectively on the resume.Here’s some advice from experts and former soldiers about making a successful transition:1. Get a Head Start“Start early. [Almost] everyone, at some point, will transition from the Army into the civilian workforce,” said retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, who spent 36 years in uniform before retiring in 2011. He is now the Association of the U.S. Army’s director of NCO and soldier programs.“If you have an end date for your term of service or a potential date when you will retire [or separate], backward plan to ensure you have everything in place for a smooth transition,” Preston said.DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) ensures that soldiers start planning their transition from the military no later than 12 months prior to separation. Carlos Rodriguez, transition service manager for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., said retiring soldiers should start preparing 24 months before leaving the military; separating soldiers should begin 18 months ahead of time. He adds that soldiers can utilize TAP services at any time, even if they haven’t yet made concrete plans about getting out.___________________________________________________________________________The only soldiers who may receive less than 12 months’ time to complete our programs are those who are involuntarily separated on short notice. We still make sure those soldiers receive as much help from TAP as possible. —Carlos Rodriguez___________________________________________________________________________“The only soldiers who may receive less than 12 months’ time to complete our programs are those who are involuntarily separated on short notice,” Rodriguez said. “We still make sure those soldiers receive as much help from TAP as possible.”Every soldier has specific benchmarks to reach during the TAP process. They include creating an individual transition plan, and learning how military skills translate to civilian occupations. Troops also complete a Department of Labor workshop that includes help with writing a resume.Shortly after marking her sixth year of service, former Spc. Jessica Randon separated from the Army after failing to meet physical fitness standards. She received a little over a month’s notice that the Army was processing her out. Quickly separating from the Army can be challenging, she said, but “as soon as I had an idea that I was finished, I started preparing. I didn’t wait.” She now works for TRICARE doing clinical work for inpatient services.“Start early—earlier than you think you need to,” said Randy Noller, an intergovernmental affairs representative with the VA. “And be honest with yourself regarding your skills. One might even say humble yourself just enough to be realistic.”2. Advance Your Education Soldiers who achieve more education make themselves more valuable both in and out of uniform, Preston said. The skills gained through education become a force multiplier—that is, something that dramatically increases the effectiveness of a mission.Preston said envisioning the inevitable and embracing the changes to come helped him strategize for the future. That led to him earn his MBA during his years on active duty.“Education, both formal and job experience, serves as credentials in the civilian workforce,” Preston said. “To be competitive in today’s workforce, you need a college degree.”Noller advised soldiers who “don’t have a degree in the field you want to work in” to “start using the education benefits and go to school full-time now.”According to VA researchers, from 2000 to 2009 about 15 percent of veterans achieved their bachelor’s degree while still in uniform. Almost 10 percent earned an advanced degree while serving.___________________________________________________________________________Opening the doors of increased responsibility in the civilian workforce requires undergraduate and graduate-level education. So backward plan from your exit date, and set goals to increase your civilian education throughout your Army career. —Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, USA Ret.___________________________________________________________________________“Opening the doors of increased responsibility in the civilian workforce requires undergraduate and graduate-level education,” Preston said. “So backward plan from your exit date, and set goals to increase your civilian education throughout your Army career.”3. Find a Mentor “Get a mentor,” said U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Jhamon Grant, 321st Sustainment Brigade materiel maintenance NCO. He believes it’s hard to go wrong when you take advice from someone who’s already walked the path you’re about to take.___________________________________________________________________________Get a mentor. Some of the most successful people in history achieved their goals because they received guidance from those before them. —Army Reserve Sgt. Jhamon Grant___________________________________________________________________________Grant is currently between civilian jobs but is actively looking for work. He said his mentors are helping guide him through the process: “Some of the most successful people in history achieved their goals because they received guidance from those before them.”Grant said he has multiple senior NCOs as mentors in the 321st. Those mentors are helping him make the right decisions for the future in his quest to find the ideal job.4. Believe in Yourself Misha King served about a decade in uniform before separating as a sergeant. Now a congressional affairs specialist with Defense Contract Management Agency, she said being persistent pays off. After all, she said, no one will work as hard for you as you will work for yourself.___________________________________________________________________________Don’t be afraid to call and bug folks for information. Put together a plan of action based on your findings, and execute. I started applying on USAJobs.gov at least six months prior to separating. I was lucky and was able to separate and start my new job one week later. —Misha King___________________________________________________________________________“Don’t be afraid to call and bug folks for information,” she said. “Put together a plan of action based on your findings, and execute. I started applying on USAJobs.gov at least six months prior to separating. I was lucky and was able to separate and start my new job one week later,” she said.She added that having a positive attitude and keeping your goals in mind are paramount. Securing a job in the civilian sector may stretch out for weeks or even months. The positive attitude can help during the wait; having specific goals will help you hone in on career opportunities.“Never believe that skills acquired in uniform do not translate into value” in the private sector, said retired Col. James P. Hogan, president of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Audie Murphy (North Texas) chapter. “Connect to services that can assist you in translating military skill sets into civilian language.” After Hogan retired, he worked as a consultant in the automotive industry and branched into entrepreneurship. He is partnered with iMatter, LLC, a coaching company that helps entrepreneurs achieve their career and life goals.5. Network Ted Daywalt is chief executive officer of VetJobs.com, an online website geared to help veterans transition into civilian careers. He said growing a network of friends in the civilian workforce prior to transitioning is a good thing. After all, sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know.“Network, network, network,” he said. “The opportunities to network outside of the military are more available for active-duty troops than ever before. The Internet serves as that game-changer. Resources like LinkedIn and other social media outlets for professional growth give troops a way to communicate with potential employers long before leaving the military.”Daywalt, a retired Navy officer, said he founded VetJobs.com because he noticed veterans having issues finding civilian jobs after successful military careers. He wanted to make a difference assisting the nation’s heroes.___________________________________________________________________________The opportunities to network outside of the military are more available for active-duty troops than ever before. The Internet serves as that game-changer. —Ted Daywalt___________________________________________________________________________Daywalt said two of the most important points of networking are keeping a great attitude, and following up with contacts. After all, approaching the civilian job market is a game of strategy. Every move counts.