10 Tips to Help Service Members Get a Civilian Job After Service

If you think you’ve arrived at the moment to leave the military and start a career in a different uniform, know that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it, and plenty of help to show you the right way.

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The first and best piece of advice is this: Have a plan, and start working on it sooner rather than later. This will give you the best shot at success.

For all the difficulties that may come with adjusting to civilian life, finding a good, satisfying, challenging career doesn’t have to be one of them. Even if, as you begin to weave your exit plan, you’re not certain where your skills are best suited, know that your military training and experience make you an attractive candidate, whatever line you pursue.

Do not keep your plan in your head. Leonard Bell, U.S. Navy (Ret.) and military career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University stresses getting it on paper, literally or digitally.

“You must have that plan of action to not only have it thought out,” Bell says, “but have it written out to hold yourself accountable. That’s how you prepare.”

As a soon-to-be veteran, you’ll enter the civilian workforce having improved your “soft” skills: commitment, discipline, resourcefulness, collaboration, how to earn respect, leadership, and an appreciation for the chain of command. Because they recognize this even before they have examined an applicant’s resume, a wide variety of businesses and agencies — private and public sector alike — give preference to veterans.

“In the military, we’re taught how to work through high-stress environments, which translate well in the civilian workforce,” says Jerry Quinn, COO of American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Va.

Transition from Military to Civilian Jobs

Whether you joined up simply to qualify for veterans benefits or you’re on an admiral/general track, if your vision of the future includes a civilian career, now is not too soon to begin formulating your strategy. Finding the right job straight out of the military may require transition planning up to two years before you claim your honorable discharge.

Beyond this, there are only suggestions, no absolute rules. That means you can chart a course of your own design and destination. You have been training for this. You have readiness and attitude on your side.

Bell likes to ask his students, “[I]f money was not an object, what would you be doing? What do you see yourself doing in the next five years? Key in on your passions and values so you are able to work toward a career that will fulfill you.”

Civilian work transition happens successfully all the time. Some 200,000 troops leave military service each year, and, according to a Pew Research Center survey, roughly 95% of them seek civilian employment.

Know these two things as you embark on your post-military planning: First, you don’t have to recreate the wheel; others once walked in your spit-shined shoes have cleared a path. Second, there’s help, and plenty of it, to guide you on your way.

“There are tons of resources to help make the transition to civilian life easier,” Quinn says. “When veterans identify their passion and potential, they can put their skills and knowledge to use.”

Here’s how to do that:

1. Complete Your Verification of Military Experience & Training (VMET)

For active-duty personnel, Step One involves getting yourself verified.

The Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) summarizes and organizes what you have learned — your skills, knowledge, and experience. Then it suggests civilian-equivalent careers. Don’t dismiss this opportunity. If you’re not in love with your military job, you may be surprised by the job titles for which you’ve been prepared.

For a copy of your VMET, visit milConnect.

2. Take a Self-Assessment

With your completed VMET in your file, add a career assessment to your arsenal. In addition to having measured your strengths and skills, a career assessment will help identify your professional temperament, determining the sort of career you are best suited for.

To perform a self-assessment, simply write down your skills, strengths, interests, and, yes, weaknesses. If you can’t imagine working in an office five days a week, write it down. Don’t want to travel? Make a note.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a tool to make the process a bit more formal. Visit to find out more. Also, your local transition assistance office can help you get a free career assessment.

3. Research Job Market Opportunities

Now that you have a base of skills, interests, experience, strengths and weaknesses, research the career fields and industries that are the best fit.

“You are aiming for positions that allow you to leverage your natural talents and apply the skills that you most enjoy,” says Kimiko Ebata, a New York-based career coach and military transition specialist. “Ideally, this is in a field that interests you and with an opportunity that meets your needs. These personal and professional insights will ultimately lead you to a civilian career that will leave you happier and more successful overall.”

Among the factors you want to consider:

  • Typical requirements for the jobs that interest you.
  • Salary ranges.
  • Projected job growth.
  • Health of the industry, and the company’s place within it.

Published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Outlook Handbook is an invaluable starting place.

4. Write Your Resume

Your resume is the most important document in your job campaign. Draft one that can be modified to specific jobs. For each specific opportunity, tweak your resume to make it focused, targeted and professional.

Here, at last, is the moment you begin to imagine yourself as someone no longer wearing a military uniform. Your resume will, of course, detail your military skills, commitment, discipline and experience, but will do so in a way that allows the person doing the hiring to see you fitting comfortably into the civilian workplace.

Your resume should tingle with action. Cite your accomplishments in ways that highlight your skills. What did you do that produced a positive outcome, improved efficiency and/or safety, or led to positive change?

Avoid military jargon, codes, and shorthand. Believe it or not, FYSA (for your situational awareness) and BLUF (bottom line up front) are not common civilian workplace terms. Part of your successful transition will involve doing your writing and talking in civilian language.

For instance, “my platoon” becomes “my team.”  Also, “subordinate” equals “employee” or “teammate.” And “reconnaissance” equals “analysis.” MilitaryMoney.com offers additional help writing your resume.

5. Start Applying to Jobs

Now, you can begin your job search. Target the industries that appear to offer the best match for your skills, interests, goals and temperament.

If your military job puts you in regular contact with civilians providing support services, feel them out. How would you fit with their organization? Network with former military colleagues who successfully made the transition. The more you make connections, the more you’ll have people working to make your ambitions a reality.

“Cultivate strategic relationships with other veterans or professionals who can help you gain exposure to various career pathways and get connected with the resources and opportunities that will allow you to advance your career goals,” Ebata says. “In the civilian world, you are four times more likely to land a position with a company where you have a connection.”

Job fairs are Networking 101, Bell says, adding, “People help people find jobs.”

Keep your options open. Explore various avenues. You know what they say about having all your eggs in one basket. That job you think you’d be perfect for may have two dozen other candidates thinking exactly the same thing.

Job searches have changed dramatically in recent years, with data-driven websites helping employers and qualified candidates find each other. Explore the resources of LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, and other online job boards to help move your campaign toward success.

6. Use Resources Such As the Transition Assistance Office

Even now, when you’ve done so much, you’re just getting started. The local transition assistance office is ready to help with counseling and a free career assessment. These offices were established for the specific purpose of helping military personnel complete their journey into civilian life, representing a modest token of respect for the service and sacrifice of those who have served their country in uniform.

As you navigate toward a successful transition, your local office is there to answer questions, make suggestions, provide computer access for online job searches, help with interview skills and resume preparation, guide you to employment opportunities, and talk you through times when the going gets a little rough.

Ask about attending a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshop. Armed forces members within 180 days of separation or retirement can access TAP’s three-day workshop that covers career exploration, job-search strategies, and effective presentations of resumes, cover letters and interviews.

7. Manage Your Online Reputation

Now is an excellent time to look at your online profile, especially on social media. Posts that might have looked like harmless fun among your close-knit family within the armed forces may not seem so harmless to potential employers.

Because an unkempt or unprofessional online presence could hinder your chances of landing the perfect job, scour your social media history before a potential employer looks you up – which all employers will do.

Enlist a civilian friend or family member to perform a review. Get things buttoned up, but be selective; wiping out your complete history is as much of a red flag as leaving up heat-of-the-moment posts.

While you’re at it, make social media work for you.

“Take the time to connect with like-minded professionals on social platforms in targeted industries on LinkedIn to network and learn more about a field of work,” says Quinn. “Not only does this help immerse yourself in the industry, but it can also lead to potential employment opportunities.”

Establish a professional email address specifically for the purpose of communicating during your career search. Add a professional headshot for use where appropriate, such as your brand-new (or significantly updated) LinkedIn profile.

8. Go to Job Fairs

Job fairs are sort of like speed-dating for jobseekers. Participants meet potential employers (many of whom will be authorized to hire on the spot), distribute resumes, network and interview. Arrive looking appropriately dressed and with your interview skills sharp.

Prepare as though you were going to a single job interview. Ebata recommends knowing your story and what you have to offer.

“It is important that you’re able to succinctly showcase your military experiences – deployments, leadership, technical expertise – in civilian terms,” she says, “connecting them with the value that you could bring to a prospective employer. This will take some practice.”

Two excellent sources of job-fair schedules: Online searches and the local transition office. Know which companies and, if possible, which of their representatives will be on hand; researching the companies so you can ask specific questions will help break the ice as well as make you memorable to the interviewers.

9. Go Federal

Just because you’re giving up your uniform, it doesn’t mean Uncle Sam doesn’t still want you — or that the feeling isn’t mutual. Explore your options working as a civilian in the federal government.

Landing a job with a federal agency “is a long and competitive process,” says Annette Harris, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based Army veteran and financial coach. “If you have time to wait for a federal job, the compensation and benefits are far better than most civilian jobs.”

As a veteran, you could have a head start on civilian candidates applying for the same job. Posts that require a security clearance could be easier to get for veterans; additionally, you may have a familiar sense of your surroundings in terms of structure, information, communications, and the agency’s calendar.

You may build a Fed-ready resume at USAJOBS. Dive deeper into what’s involved at FedsHireVets.

10. Look for Organizations That Help Find Veterans Jobs

You’re about to discover there is no shortage of organizations that exist to help veterans find satisfying civilian careers. This is yet another salute to those who voluntarily devoted their time, resources, and commitment to the defense of our country. Explore each of these opportunities with pride.

  • Soldier for Life
  • Marine for Life
  • Military Officers Association of America
  • Non Commissioned Officers Association
  • United Service Organizations
  • S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Hiring Our Heroes” Initiative
  • Google Veterans & Military Families Resources
  • HireMilitary
  • Travis Manion Foundation/VA Institute on Character
  • BunkerLabs, for insight into starting and growing your own business

Go find that civilian career that will reward you as well as those for whom, and with whom, you work.

About The Author

Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson focuses on writing about debt solutions for consumers struggling to make ends meet. His background includes time as a columnist for newspapers in Washington D.C., Tampa and Sacramento, Calif., where he reported and commented on everything from city and state budgets to the marketing of local businesses and how the business of professional sports impacts a city. Along the way, he has racked up state and national awards for writing, editing and design. Tom’s blogging on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.

Sources:

  1. N.A. (2020, November 24) 7 Steps for Transitioning From Military to Civilian Employment. Retrieved from https://www.columbiasouthern.edu/blog/blog-articles/2020/november/transitioning-from-military-to-civilian-employment/
  2. N.A. (2020, December 4) 12 Ways to Land That Civilian Job. Retrieved from https://www.militaryonesource.mil/military-life-cycle/separation-transition/employment-education/12-ways-to-land-that-civilian-job/
  3. Fox, M. And Horch, A.J. (2019, July 26) 3 ways military veterans can successfully transition into the civilian workforce. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/25/how-veterans-can-successfully-transition-into-the-civilian-workforce.html