Starting a career is a significant hurdle nearly every veteran moving from military to civilian life encounters. Some vets make their military career transition look easy, but a Pew Research Center study found that 26% of veterans struggle with the change, and that number rose to 48% when looking at vets who served after 9/11.
In addition, veterans face issues that many civilians don’t have to consider, from something as simple as reframing their skillset for the business world, to more serious issues like potential discrimination.
Fortunately, if you are a veteran, you have abundant resources available to help with your military to civilian career transition. Use the tips below as a guide to making your civilian job search as effortless as possible.
The first step to landing a job after the military is honing in on what you want to do. However, the number of career options in the civilian sector is overwhelming. Of course, some careers will match up nicely with your branch − for example, an Army Aviation pilot will find civilian helicopter jobs easily. But if your role was less specialized, or you’re considering a change, think about what you’re really looking for when starting your search.
Begin by reflecting on your military career and the successes you had, as well as goals for where you see yourself in the civilian sector. Then, make a list of the skills and expertise that you picked up in the military.
Remember to include both “hard skills” (skills that can be measured, like inventory management) and “soft skills” (skills that are difficult to measure, like collaboration or attention to detail). Your Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) will give you a good overview of what you’ve learned. Don’t focus on the individual tasks you performed, but rather their outcomes and the lessons you picked up from them; then research the job market to see how those skills and experiences fit in the civilian world.
To get you started, here are common careers for veterans that might fit your skillset:
Some of those positions may require extra training or schooling. You can always reach out to a career advisor for help determining what talents you possess, and which field is best for you. It can be helpful to have someone on your side guiding you toward a career path that will be rewarding.
Once you know your skills and the best ways you can apply them, start building your resume. Don’t just start listing your skills and prior positions; there’s a good chance the hiring manager who looks at your military accomplishments won’t know what they mean. You’ll need to translate them to civilian terms first.
For example, instead of saying “Officer in charge of Company B,” you can say, “Managed and trained [#] of personnel.” Or, if you were a main battle tank crew member, say, “Heavy equipment operator.”
Acronyms and abbreviations are everywhere in the armed forces, but the outside world may not understand them. Those are the first items you should focus on decoding in your resume. Use these civilian-friendly terms for common acronyms:
Speaking of your MOC, use the full title of your job − not the field number − when listing your prior positions. In other words, if you were designated 12W in the Army, you’d put “Carpentry and Masonry Specialist” on your resume.
After compiling your civilian resume, start searching for and applying to jobs. It can be difficult if you don’t know where to start, but numerous resources are available to help you find a job after the military. If you know the career field you’re interested in, iHire’s industry-focused platform is a great way to find employment in the sector of your choice.
Another way to narrow your search is to look for the companies that hire the most veterans. According to Military Friendly, these organizations are some of the biggest veteran employers:
Government agencies are also excellent places for veterans looking for work, so be sure to include those in your search.
You don’t need to spend all your time online to find a job, though. In fact, networking is one of the most powerful job search tools. You likely made many friends and contacts while you served, so reach out to them to see if they know of any open positions. In addition, look for networking events or job fairs in your area and attend as many as you can. If you have a positive conversation with someone at the event, get their business card or contact info so you can follow up with a thank-you email.
When you begin applying to the jobs you find, remember to tailor your resume for each position and add specific keywords from the posting to your resume. This will help get you past a company’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and in front of a real person faster. Many employers use an ATS to sort through the first round of resumes, meaning “bots” will scan your resume for those keywords. If the ATS doesn’t see the right keywords, it will decide your resume doesn’t match the criteria for the position, and you won’t move on to the next step.
It’s unfortunate and unfair, but there’s also a chance that you’ll face discrimination in your military to civilian career transition due to your status as a veteran. The good news is that you have certain protections by law as a veteran. Between the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), your employer cannot fire you, refuse to hire or reemploy you, or deny you a promotion because of your military service. Continue your job search knowing that if you do face discrimination, you’re not alone in your efforts to fight back.
The interviewing process is one of the last obstacles you’ll face before securing your career after the military. The key to acing the interview is preparation, something in which most veterans are familiar.
To start, research the company the people you’ll be meeting. Check out the company’s “About” or “Careers” pages on their website, and see if you can find the interviewer on LinkedIn. Your research will probably give you insight into the dress code for the company, but if not, plan an outfit that conveys a professional manner and in which you feel at ease. It doesn’t need to be a dress uniform, but it shouldn’t be PT clothes either.
Bring several copies of your resume with you to the interview, as well as your DD214 (Report of Separation) and DD2586 (Verification of Military Experience and Training). They’ll verify your military service, training, and experience with the hiring manager.
Finally, come up with answers to some of the most common interview questions ahead of time. Questions like:
If you don’t know what you’ll say to these questions and others, the interview will be much more challenging. Think of your time in the military and draw on your experiences and training, but craft your responses in civilian-friendly terms. Practice your answers to become more confident and comfortable – you can even hold mock interviews with friends or family to really make sure you’re ready.
There are many resources to help you find careers for veterans. Check out these sites to see what other kinds of assistance you can access: