Every other Tuesday, you’ll get actionable tips to land your dream job. Subscribe

9 Tips to Help Veterans Find Jobs

Everything You Need to Know to Make the Transition from the Military to the Civilian Sector. Former U.S. Airforce member Maggie O'Leary shares her transition and job-hunting secrets.
9 Tips to Help Veterans Find Jobs

The competition in the job market is tough, and it is even more difficult to find a job for veterans. You have been out of the civilian job market for many years, but you still have to compete with people who have current skills and experience on their resume.

Your competitors have also been in the civilian sector for much longer and have more experience with interviewing, applying for jobs and other critical issues.

However, military professionals also have advantages in the job market — it’s just a matter of knowing where to look and how to present yourself. Really taking the time to prepare yourself for the job search.

1. Get a Real Target in Your Sights

Don’t just start throwing your name in the hat for every position that you see. This is a good way to waste time and energy. Take the time to determine what types of positions you are qualified for and what jobs you are really interested in (see Job Types below).

The Military Times put together a list of the best employers for veterans in 2017. This list can help you get started in determining what you really want. You don’t have to be locked into a career that is exactly you did in the military.

However, some military careers, such as paralegal, medical careers and IT jobs, translate well from the military to the civilian sector. These jobs pay very well for the training and experience you received in the military.

If you really love what you did in the military, you can find a way to make it work for you in the civilian arena. If you aren’t really wild about your military job, you can take a whole new direction as a veteran.

Think about your transferable skills and experience and what industries could use your strengths. The Military Skills Translator is a handy tool that can help you with this process. You may need to complete some training to get you where you want to go, but it can be done.

If you get stuck and aren’t really sure what types of positions would best suit your needs and skills, talk to a career counselor.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and Military OneSource can provide these services free of charge. Most military installations have these individuals on staff as well. A career counselor can help you assess your priorities and explore new directions.

Also, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If there is not a demand or opening for the type of work you really want to do, make you own way. You can go into business for yourself as a freelancer or independent contractor.

2. Don’t Give Up on Uncle Sam

When you are looking for employment, one area that all veterans should explore is the government sector, and especially the federal government. USAJobs is the website to go to for a listing of open positions, and you can apply via the website.

Federal government jobs give substantial preference to veterans and you receive points for your service that give you a boost over other applicants.

These government jobs also provide great benefits, including medical, dental and vision benefits. Plus, you can earn a second retirement easily. Many veterans end up with their military pension as well as a government pension.

The federal government has job openings all over the country. These jobs are not just political or administrative positions. The government has jobs in as many fields as the military, with varying pay grades.

You can work in construction, maintenance, transportation, budgeting, legal and hundreds of other areas.

You receive promotions, pay grade increases and step increases within each pay grade. These jobs also have a lot of job security, which is difficult to come by in many other civilian places of employment.

Beyond Uncle Sam, you can look into your local and state government; check out this directory for links to state and local government websites. These websites provide lists of current job openings, as well as requirements to apply.

Your state’s employment assistance office can also be a great resource when looking for local government jobs. These positions also come with great benefits, as well as the opportunity to retire with a good pension.

One thing to remember, whether you are applying for local, state or federal government jobs is that you have to make sure your resume is very tailored for the position you are applying for. You must also always include supporting documentation to verify your military service so your veteran’s preference claim can be verified.

With these applications, there are no second chances. If anything is missing, the automated system will toss your application out, and no one will ever contact you to tell you why or let you resubmit with the necessary information.

Take the time to thoroughly and thoughtfully complete the application if you want to be considered.

3. Location Is Everything

You aren’t required to move back home once your military service ends. You can move anywhere you want.

USAA released a list of the best places for veterans to find jobs and re-establish themselves once their military service ends. You don’t have to be locked into one location and you aren’t required to move back to your home of record after military service.

One of the great things you learned in your military experience is how to move to new places and adapt and flourish. Use this knowledge to your advantage when you are deciding where to find a job as a veteran.

Weigh the average pay estimates with other aspects of the area, such as cost of living, state of the housing market and crime rates to help you find the best place to look for a job and establish yourself.

4. Prepare Yourself

As you know from your military experience, the proper planning is essential for any endeavor. Don’t just start throwing applications and resumes at job openings and expect the right job to land in your lap.

The military offers resume writing assistance at most installations, as does the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Military OneSource provides advice on resume writing, interview skills and job searching. These services are completely free.

Depending upon your location, the local government may provide an employment assistance office that has counselors on staff that can assist you with resume writing and other tasks.

Take advantage of these and other job search resources; their experts will help you craft a resume that is perfect for the job you are seeking.

Keep in mind that if you are looking for employment in several different sectors, you should have a resume tailored to each specific industry or position that you are looking at.

Note: For a limited time, Big Interview offers free memberships to military veterans who can’t afford the membership fees. Send an email to (vets [at] biginterview.com) and we will hook you up with the best interview preparation tool out there!

5. Speak the Language

Depending on your branch of service, you know what “NCOIC,” “LPO,” “OIC” and even “CC” or “CO” mean. The military was practically built on acronyms, and there is one for everything you do on a daily basis. The civilian world isn’t as acronym happy.

When you apply for a job, most hiring managers have no idea what these terms mean or the amount of responsibility they convey. Spell out acronyms, and if possible, explain your job in terms that are easy for everyone to understand.

Instead of “NCOIC” or “LPO,” try using something like “the enlisted manager for XYZ project,” and list the number of personnel you supervised. Instead of “CC” or “CO,” use the word “Commander” and explain your unit’s mission.

This conveys the responsibility that you had at your job and lets the hiring manager know that you were trusted by your leadership to handle the supervision and training of others.

Don’t forget to list your additional military duties if they apply to the job you are going for. If you are certified in that duty, especially if it’s a certification given by a civilian agency, this is even better. These certifications show the employer that you know your job.

Certifications can even take a financial burden off the shoulders of a potential employer by reducing the amount of training they will have to provide to you if you are hired.

This will help you stand tall above the competition and land the job. Always ensure you have documentation on hand to provide to substantiate your claim.

6. Get the Interview

Once you’ve decided what you want to do and where you want to do it at, it’s time to start applying for jobs. If you fill out an application provided by the employer, make sure you take your time and don’t rush through the process. Fill out each field thoroughly with accurate information.

If you decide to write your own resume, make sure it’s top-notch. Have an expert look it over and help you ensure that it is focused on the skills that are necessary for the particular job you are applying for.

Again, this is where it is helpful to have several resumes on hand that you can tailor to each job you are submitting your name for.

7. Interview Tips

Once you apply for jobs, you are going to be called for interviews. There are a few major mistakes that many veterans make during the interview process.

First, invest in a new suit, complete with new shoes and tie. This is applicable to male and female veterans.

You can find an affordable suit at any department store, and don’t forget to shop clearance sales for even better deals. Don’t mix and match items of your military uniform.

It may be tempting to throw on that pair of patent leather low-quarters with your suit, but this will make you stand out, and not necessarily in a good way.

You should also be polite and professional, but don’t go overboard on the military bearing. Feel free to offer a professional smile and a handshake, but don’t stand at attention or parade rest at an interview.

While this type of bearing is commendable in a military situation, it can intimidate a hiring manager or make them feel like you would not be easy to work with in routine situations.

Try to relax at the interview, but don’t get as relaxed as you would at an informal get together. You don’t have to sit at attention and end each phrase with “sir” or “ma’am.” Again, be professional, but not stiff or intimidating.

Another thing to remember is to always be truthful. Don’t embellish your service or your accomplishments, or list things on your resume that aren’t correct.

With the internet and the expanding amount of records that are online, it’s easy to verify your service record with a quick phone call or click of a mouse.

And remember that less than 1% of the population of the United States ever even joins the military. Less than 25% of Americans even meet the qualifications to serve.

Your service, no matter what you did, is honorable and people are proud of you no matter what job you did or what rank you held.

NOTE: This entire Big Interview blog is devoted to job search and interviewing, so make sure to check out the 3 Main Tutorials:

  1. Answers to the Top Interview Questions
  2. How to Get an Interview
  3. Creating Really Strong Resumes

8. Advice for Guard and Reserve Members and Veterans

Guard and Reserve members have an even tougher job search challenge, especially if you just came from active-duty or full-time Guard/Reserve duty. You have to convince potential employers to hire you, even though you may be deployed or activated for a wartime contingency or natural disaster.

While employers can never deny you a job based on your military status, they can choose to hire someone else without providing a reason.

Make sure that you emphasize the amazing training that you get from your career as a Guard and Reserve member, and let them know that these skills translate into free training that will help you in your duties at your civilian job.

Some employers pass up Guard and Reserve applicants because they are unsure of the time commitment that your military service entails. Clear communication can go a long way to help you land the job in this situation.

9. Don’t Panic

This is one thing that isn’t really touched on in transition classes when you leave the military to embark on a civilian career.

Don’t panic and take the first job that comes along because you aren’t sure you will find another. Take your time and make the right choice.

Also, it is best to start planning before you leave the military, but if this wasn’t possible for you, don’t worry. You still have time to find the right job.

Just make sure you utilize all the resources that are available to you. Whether it is your local military installation or National Guard Armory, the Department of Veterans Affairs or even Military OneSource, there are many places that are eager to assist you reach your goals after your military service ends.

When you are making your transition from the military to the civilian sector, it is also important to be prepared financially.

Make sure you have some money in savings in the event that you can’t find a suitable job right away. This emergency fund will also help if you plan to go into business for yourself.

Don’t get discouraged if the perfect job doesn’t fall right into your lap. You started out at the bottom when you joined the military and had to work your way up, and you’ll experience the same when you enter the civilian job market.

Your military experience will give you a leg up on the competition in many cases, but won’t guarantee you a top position right out of the gate.

If you have thoughts or advice, please leave them in the comments section below.

BONUS: On a lighter note, here’s R. Lee Ermey (of Full Metal Jacket fame) talking about how (with a little creativity) he got his job with Stanley Kubrick.

Main Photo Credit: Dunechaser

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

Turn interviews into offers

Get our Chief Coach’s best job-seeking and interviewing tips in your inbox every other week.

Share this article