Employment & Military ServiceUpdated: March 29, 2021
What should service members should know about employment and their military service? Picking career options, translating your military experience into civilian equivalents, and working a resume for a civilian market are all important aspects of making the jump from life in uniform to a career outside the United States military.
All those about to retire or separate from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps should start by taking full advantage of transition assistance programs offered by their branch of the military.
These may be offered at scheduled times during the year at bases with heavy PCS seasons, or they may be provided on a more individual basis depending on demand. Transition assistance includes help with resumes, advice on your earliest moves in your post-military life, information about available benefits and resources and much more.
A November 2017 report issued by the Government Accountability Office shows 85% of active-duty service members are listed as having attended transition assistance programs before separation from the military, only 15% of transitioning enlisted members and a mere 9% of officers actually took advantage of these sessions. Don’t make the same mistakes a larger number of transitioning troops make by skipping such assistance.
Always take full advantage of any transition help your branch of service will provide, you never know where it might lead you.
Career Path Options
There is obviously no one-size-fits-all career pathway for those leaving military service. Some career fields and military occupational specialties don’t translate as easily to the civilian world as others, which is why it is a very good idea to network with others in your field who have left or are planning to leave military service in search of a job in a similar capacity “on the outside.”
It’s hard to specify for an individual career field what may be out there waiting, but there are some general resources you can use to figure out your career path options. One excellent resource is the government’s own hiring website, USAJobs.gov, which lists federal job openings across a wide range of career fields.
Searching this website can help you get an idea of what federal employment opportunities await you after serving; you may (or may not) find some jobs translate more or less directly from military service to federal employment; others may require some on-the-job training or certification requirements you can anticipate before you get out.
There are state-level equivalent job boards, too – if you are more interested in applying for a state job rather than a federal position, do a Google search for “state job hiring board” and the name of your state and explore from there.
City-level employment works in much the same way – the official site of the city you plan to start your civilian career in will have job listings that cover seasonal work, part-time, temp jobs and full-time city positions.
The Common Denominator For Federal, State, and City Job Listings You Should Know
Most typical government jobs at any level offer some kind of hiring advantage for veterans in the form of bonus points on hiring exams, added consideration, or priority placement.
But you should know that most, if not all of these require documentation to support the preference applied. Disabled veterans may be eligible to more consideration than other vets; supporting documentation is required in most cases including discharge paperwork, VA award letters, etc.
Don’t assume you won’t need your DD Form 214 or equivalent discharge paperwork, VA award letters, and other documents. Chances are they will be required especially if you need to claim hiring preference.
Attend Job Fairs
If you are looking for non-government jobs, job fairs are among the best places to see and be seen in the job market. It’s one thing to send a resume to a potential employer. It’s quite another to meet them in person, see if there is chemistry between you and the company’s representatives, and learn more about a potential job than just the job ad.
Finding a job fair can be as simple as doing an internet search for “job fairs” in your city, but doing a more specific search that is veteran-specific may also help. There is a growing interest in online job fairs, but you should research these carefully and compare their options to the in-person versions.
What career path options do military members have aside from government jobs? Much depends on the time spent in military service, the number of career fields the service member has experience in, and other variables. Many veterans have considered and pursued the following options:
- Becoming an entrepreneur
- Consultant work
- Freelance or contractor work
- Working at private Veteran Service Organizations
- Skilled labor
- Contract employment for overseas companies
- Veteran liaison work (schools, human resources departments, etc)
- Temp agency / placement agency work (especially for technical and creative skills)
Search Job Boards
Job boards such as Monster.com, Indeed, LinkedIn and others can be tricky to navigate and often it pays to NOT apply directly via these third-party sites but through a potential employer’s own employment gateway instead, but you can get a lead on good jobs by using military-related keywords to search for those who may be hiring with a specific need for your military background.
Remember that the older a job listing is on these boards, the more likely it is to be filled already by the time you view it, but it never hurts to submit a resume within the advertised application period.
Military Experience Translation
The timeless question about making the transition from military to civilian jobs goes more or less like this: “How can I take my highly specialized military skills and apply them to a civilian job market?” Published reports say more than half of all veterans consider this one of the toughest things about moving into civilian life.
The first thing to do is to assess your skill sets in a non-military context. If you ever worked as a supervisor, even for a single soldier, sailor, airman, or marine, you have management experience. If you have ever planned a retirement, promotion party, or military dining-in, or other functions, you have experience as an event planner. It some cases it really is that simple. In others, a bit more thinking time may be required.
For example, how does an Air Force missileer-a military officer who sits in a closed room with nuclear launch keys and codes and responsible for taking the call to launch a nuclear weapon should the need arise-list such a duty on their resume in a way that makes sense to a non-military employer?
The key is to break down the duties and find civilian equivalents. The nuclear silo job makes these people responsible for millions of dollars of highly classified hardware and software; that’s a responsibility worth money on the outside. There are security clearances issued to these workers, and this can be worth more, too, though security clearances don’t “travel” and the level of clearance you had in uniform may not be the same one you work with at different job.
Separating the experience from military life means looking at what all jobs have in common-they require supervisors and subordinates, they require certain people skills and technical training. To get the most out of your skill sets, you need to know how what you did in uniform matches up with other jobs with or without those skills. Start there, and then review your specific skills to get a better idea how you will approach the resume, the job interview, and working your first post-military job.
The most important thing you should pay attention to when initially working on your resume? Eliminating military jargon from your writing. Those outside your military experience don’t know what COMSEC is, they don’t understand the difference between a TDY and a PCS, and no resume should contain military acronyms such as BUPERS, “indoc”, FTX, etc.
It is a very good idea to write your resume and show it to a friend or relative with no military experience and ask if they understand what you have written, whether there are any acronyms or jargon creeping into the writing, etc. This is a very good way to screen your resume for problem areas that might come up when a potential employer looks at your work history.
Another important area is making sure you are current on the latest preferred resume format and information requirements. These may vary by career field; some jobs hire in such a way that listing non-career specific job experience on a resume can be detrimental.
For example, if you are applying for a teaching position, your time spent as an entry-level cook would not look right on the resume. Weed out the irrelevant information and keep the details that apply directly to the employer’s needs, especially if you have management experience and need to apply for a job where you are expected to use that experience.
You can get resume help from local Veteran Service Organizations, the VA official site, veteran-friendly colleges, and many other resources including military transition assistance programs. Look into all of the above long before you out process.
Resources And Benefits
At the state level, veterans will find many career-related resources at the state government’s official site. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, which is a state agency rather than a regional office of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. All states have such an agency, which may or may not be known as a Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Bureau of Veterans’ Affairs, Division of, etc.
These sites typically offer veterans job advice, resume help, and in many cases programs that put veterans and small business owners together as well as information about veteran preference hiring policies for that state’s municipal level jobs and beyond.
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs offers an entire section of the VA official site dedicated to employment services.These services include helping disabled veterans, giving career counseling and job advice to vets, learning how to apply for federal jobs, apprenticeships, and much more.
You can also explore career options with local campuses and universities, especially state-funded colleges that have programs especially for veterans. Don’t neglect the college’s own job boards, internal hiring announcements, and student job opportunities. There may be plenty of help for those considering a new academic career as well as new employment opportunities in such places.
And finally, it’s always smart to reach out to your nearest chapter of a trusted Veteran Service Organization such as the USO, DAV, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc. to see if there are veteran-specific job fairs, job counseling, resume writing help, or other types of programs sponsored or supported by those agencies.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News