What are the best civilian career fields for veterans? Transitioning out of the military and back into civilian life can be difficult in more ways than one, and there’s no one-size-fits-all career path for those making the jump. But in general, some fields and industries offer more for veterans.
Government jobs are a natural for anyone leaving military service with an honorable discharge. Veterans frequently take advantage of hiring preferences for Civil Service, federal positions, state jobs, and municipal positions.
Government jobs often require screening tests that may feel familiar to anyone who has taken professional military education, distance learning for career progression, or promotion tests. Military members are used to taking exams and physical aptitude tests to advance a career, which can be a big advantage over first-time government test-takers.
Veterans bring experience and military discipline to the table, and government hiring processes tend to favor people with military “hard skills” and “soft skills” alike. Your exact military experience may not directly translate with some government work, but the fact that you successfully completed your military service commitment speaks volumes to the employer.
Some career paths can be very similar to what you did in the service. Consider those who have moved out of forward-deployed military duty in combat zones and go on to become defense contractors, members of Homeland Security, or employees of aerospace industries that have ties with the government. Other positions, like working for the Veterans Administration, may have different day-to-day operations, but your military experience and ability to relate to your peers is invaluable.
An important factor to consider when remaining in the government sector, is retirement. Working for the federal government in a civilian capacity contributes to your time in service and therefore increases your retirement benefits. If you need a break from working for the government and pursue a completely different career path, remember that you can always take a position later with the government. Your benefits will restart accruing even after a many-year gap.
Finding Government Jobs
There are three basic resources you can use to get started hunting for a government job. One is a Federal search tool called USAJobs that can help you find open positions at the federal level. Your state Department of Veterans Affairs may feature government jobs at both the VA and state/local level depending on how extensively the official site is maintained.
Preparing a federal resume prior to discharge is very helpful if transitioning to another government role is your goal. If you do not already have a government resume, there are many online tools and it never hurts to reach out to your military friends and colleagues.
You can also find local job-hunting resources via the usual places such as LinkedIn, Monster.com, etc. When searching for these types of jobs, it helps to try both general and specific terms. “State medical jobs” or “Federal medical jobs in Provo, Utah” are fairly broad, but a search for “Freelance X-ray technician positions in Baltimore VA clinics” may yield interesting results.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) and National Chamber of Commerce have created many resources from online search tools to Veteran employment offices that are free and enormously helpful. The DOL, SBA, and VA employment services include staff members that will help with your resume, job search, and interview preparation.
The tech industry is vast and constantly evolving, covering everything from IT and intelligence gathering to aerospace, renewable energy, and much more. The United States Department of Labor published a report in 2016 estimating job growth in the tech sector-speculating that more than half a million new tech jobs will be added between the time of the report to 2026.
Depending on a veterans’ military experiences, jobs in tech may be easier to come by. Those who spent time in uniform doing IT work, computer security, setting up long-haul communications, or developing technical infrastructure may already have qualifications and training civilian employers need. With the cybersecurity sector of the DoD growing, service members are either learning additional skills to perform their daily job or are cross-rating. The newest branch of the Armed Forces, Space Force, is almost entirely made up of tech-heavy positions.
Others may find their specialized military experience can translate to a new career by taking additional training, refresher courses, or by getting involved in new developments in the industry. When you have your ETS date, check to see if you have records of your certifications and trainings that will be relevant to a civilian tech position. Your on-base employment office may have connections to help you translate some of these certifications or civilian programs that will pay for new credentials that equal your DoD version.
Those who did IT work in a classified environment may find their old security clearance is an advantage when being considered by a civilian employer. Your old clearance may not “travel” to your new job depending on circumstances, but it’s easier to hire someone with an existing clearance (a “known quantity”, if you like) and experience in such tightly controlled circumstances.
In some cases, your security clearance will transfer, but clearances have an expiration. To take advantage of the time you have left on your DoD clearance, start arranging interview before you ETS. Having several interviews lined up with a prepared resume and references makes the transition process that much smoother.
Finding Tech Jobs
Tech jobs are available at the usual government hiring sites such as USAJOBS and state/local agencies, but you can also find job ads via online trade magazines, LinkedIn, etc. If you are taking continuing education or getting new tech certifications as a civilian job seeker, be sure to take advantage of any career services offered by your institution of higher learning. You may also find help via career days at local universities and Meetup-style after work mixers in your local area.
Some veterans prefer to stay within the federal system where tech jobs are available for everything from IT to aircraft maintenance. If you are interested in these jobs, do a search for Federal Schedule jobs in your area of specialty or planned specialty. If you are planning on staying in the vicinity of your current base, ask you base employment office if they know any employers who are hiring or if there are upcoming hiring fairs. Many Guard and Reserve units will host periodic job fairs as well.
The health care field is expected to add more than two million jobs by 2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are so many military medical career fields that it only makes sense that a large number of veterans will enter the civilian health care industry between now and then. Some positions like dental techs have been turned into civilian positions on bases and therefore the service member has already retrained. As frustrating as that process may have been, take advantage of having multiple certifications and on-the-job experience when applying for jobs after the Service.
Health care, like IT, may require veterans to get updated certifications or enter into continuing education programs to further their expertise. Additional schooling can also be a gateway to job opportunities via internships, job placement services offered by medical schools or programs, etc. Volunteering can also be a great way to network and explore different healthcare career options when you get out. Check out Team Rubicon and Doctors Without Borders for some meaningful efforts you can be a part of and meet fellow veterans with similar interests.
With health care, the option to apply for work in the military medical system is one of the first choices a soon-to-be-civilian is confronted with. Talk to a human resources officer or personnel manager at a military hospital or clinic long before you file military retirement or separation paperwork to learn how hiring procedures work.
You can use federal civil service job search tools (USAJobs), hunt for General Schedule jobs in health care, or try searching the Department of Veterans Affairs job board. It is also worth looking into the Active and Inactive Reserves. You can continue to make rank and improve your retirement level of pay. If you decide you want to stay in the health care field, using your active-duty qualifications in the Guard or Reserve while you explore education or other career options when not drilling can really help with the decision process.
Health Care Jobs, Overlapping Skill Sets, and Career Choice Issues
Health care and IT work often overlap, especially for work involving the storage and retrieval of medical records, hospital computer security, billing and coding, and more. Some in IT find themselves in the health care industry doing work similar to their military occupations, others may come from a non-tech background and get the required certifications to begin a new career in the hybrid IT/health industry.
In these times, some growth industries may complicate veteran job-seeker choices. The alternative energy sector offers plenty of work for qualified veterans with a technical background, and a similar wave began in health care when states began to legalize medical marijuana.
This controversial addition to your health care employment options may or may not be right for a veteran leaving the service. Job seekers will have to weigh the implications of finding work in the medical cannabis industry given its uncertain future under federal law but also how such work appears on the veteran’s resume. For now, medical cannabis regulations vary by state and where you relocate after your ETS will open or limit opportunities in this career path. If you will only temporarily be in a state where medical cannabis is legal, consider the potential stigma if you are pursuing a more traditional health care position in the future.
Will a future employer look favorably on such experience or not? The industry is too new to speculate on how things might go in the future, but those are important topics to consider when picking your post-military career path.
Skilled Trade Jobs For Veterans
Veterans who worked in skilled trade jobs for the military find themselves in a unique position-their military careers qualify them for skilled trade jobs in the civilian sector, but these job seekers may be required to add certifications or continuing education in order to be hire-worthy as civilian employees.
Military duty may not require the same certifications (or any, depending on the career field and the nature of the training done in those fields) and it may be difficult to determine what’s expected until one begins filling out job applications and taking interviews.
But military skilled trade occupations such as airframe maintenance, civil engineering, construction, long-haul communications, even plumbing and HVAC have plenty of demand in the private sector and depending on a veteran’s experiences and career, the opportunities for consulting and advising work may be as worthy of consideration as the actual jobs themselves. The following are a few examples of skilled trade employment options to consider:
- Long or short haul trucking: For many of these positions you need a CDL or Class C license. If you did not receive one while serving, there are many state and federal programs that will pay, partially or in-full, for you to be issued a license or test out without taking a full course. There are many companies hiring and paying competitively for qualified drivers.
- Green Energy: Jobs from installing solar panels to working with wind turbines and alternative water treatment plants are all great options for skilled trade veterans. State-run energy companies often recruit veterans or VA/DOL employment services will have leads to open positions in this sector.
- Construction and Plumbing: If you were working on repair, building, and disaster recovery jobs in the service, your experience can be invaluable in the civilian sector. How you present your experience on your resume is important. Highlight any leadership roles, certifications, and the diversity of your skills. If you were a Seabee and have a security clearance along with a strong skillset, this can open up both civilian and government employment opportunities.
Final Notes on Preparing for Your Civilian Career
Some may come to the civilian sector completely ready to begin skilled trade work, others may need to update their certifications or training, and still, others may need to consider apprenticeships and OJT.
The U.S. Department of Labor has a variety of resources for people who need apprenticeships and on-the-job training. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has programs for those who need career assistance in finding opportunities in skilled trades and other careers via the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.
If you are using VRE, keep in mind that eligibility for this program is often connected to a disability status or service-connected injury. Additionally, VRE counselors have a lot of say in the technical jobs the program will pay for. For instance, if you were a Corpsman and want to be an X-Ray tech, the process will be straightforward. If you want to be a pottery instructor, you will probably not be successful in getting the program to cover your path.
Each field has its own requirements, and it’s good to research them prior to leaving the military for work as a civilian. If you are an officer, there are many networking programs for both before you exit the service and as a civilian. The corporate sector from banking to supply chain to companies with significant government contracts actively recruit former military officers.
If you are using resources like LinkedIn, Indeed, or in-person networking events, there is work that needs to be done on your part in order to maximize results. For LinkedIn increasing your connections is key to opening opportunities. Their job portal has significantly evolved and searches via location, keyword, or company are all possible.
For sites like Indeed, you enter items from your resume but do not necessarily upload your entire resume. Selecting keywords and being thoughtful about what skills and positions you highlight is very helpful. Finally, having letters of recommendation from NCOs and officers you served under is very helpful for both government and civilian opportunities as well as some academic paths. Securing these docs BEFORE getting out is definitely easier than chasing down duty stations.
Some prefer to use the GI Bill to help them prepare for a new career outside the military, and some prefer to start using those GI Bill benefits before they leave the service. Military Benefits has many articles on how to maximize your DoD and VA education benefits.
It’s possible to prepare for a career that has nothing to do with your previous military job while still on active duty. In such cases it’s a very good idea to talk to both a college admissions counselor, college veterans office, and a career advisor or subject matter expert in the career you seek to learn what the most current requirements and certifications might be in your chosen field.
Tia Christopher is a proud US Navy Veteran. Christopher’s writing has focused on explaining military benefits in plain language and helping fellow service members transition from the military. Christopher was recognized in 2013 by the White House as a Woman Veteran Champion of Change.