Veteran Job Seekers: How To Transition From The Military To The Workforce

By Amanda Postma - Oct. 7, 2020

In This Article

      Finding a job after being in the military is hard.

      From employers worrying about how well you’ll acclimate to the office to your skills not fitting in, it’s hard finding the right job and the right employer.

      As someone who has served the U.S., you shouldn’t have to worry about this.

      In fact, your transition from the military to the workforce should be simple. That’s why we found everything you’ll need in order to make that so.

      Easy Transition

      We looked to Brian Papakie, Hope For The Warriors Career Transition Program Manager, for his experience and knowledge. Brian is a retired Marine Corps veteran who has been working with veterans and their families for 3 years with Hope For The Warriors.

      Tips for an Easy Transition
      • Start Preparing Early. First and foremost if you are still active or reserve and know that you have about a year left, start preparing your transition at the beginning of that final year.
      • Develop a Personal Network. Ensure that you have your own personal network. This is significant as we all know that the people we are close to are likely happy to help. That said, we often take this for granted. They can only help if they know how, so ensure that you reach out, check-in, and let them know what you are looking for.
      • Be Ready for Change. Keep in mind that you've been in an organization that built you from the ground up in recruit training/boot camp. This is for your adaptation to the military culture. As you look for positions outside of the military and within civilian organizations, it is important to remember that your culture is likely to change.
      • Join a Culture, Not Company. Make sure that you're looking at the structure of an organization or company and what type of culture surrounds them and their employees. This is important for the longevity of a new career.
      • Use Social Media to Your Advantage. They should use LinkedIn as their professional networking platform and search for companies in which they have an interest.
      • Search Terms Are Key. They should search for terms like recruiter, HR, hiring, employment and jobs under these company searches.
      • Meet Up. Try to make it a goal to meet one or two new people a week for an informational interview.
      • Rely on Your Personal Contacts. Contact your peers and former co-workers who have been out for a little while. They will gladly offer sound advice and information regarding experiences from their transition.
      • Assess Your Skills. Determine what skills you have and what are your personal strengths. Most veterans are great at adapting to new environments and working under pressure from their experience in the military.
      • Dive into Your Interests. The first job you get as a veteran may not be the same job that you retire with, but nonetheless you should make sure it interests you. You’ll want to find a job that fulfills you and gives you meaning.
      • Do Your Research. There are veteran-friendly companies out there that are looking for you. So once you’ve decided what job you want to apply for, do your research into the companies that have that specific position.
      • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. This is a really important one, especially since you’ve probably been taught to be self-reliant in the military. However tough it might be, asking for help will make the difference in your transition. Whether it’s an organization designed specifically for veterans making the transition or a friend who has already made the transition, reach out.
      • Find a Mentor. As you’ll likely be exploring uncharted territory in your transition into the workforce, it would be helpful for you to find a mentor. This person will be able to provide you with the ins and outs of the industry or position you’re going in to.

      “In the transition classes provided by the military, they highlight the importance of Networking but do not get the platform time to teach what this means or how this is accomplished.”

      “Over the years I’ve tried to provide a method for folks versus just telling them they need to network. I’ll ask them to target organizations that they are interested in working for and use that list of companies to meet and connect with individuals from that field of work,” Brian said.”

      Hope For The Warriors offers lots of opportunities and is a good resource for veterans and their families

      Brian wasn’t the only person we spoke with about transitioning. We also spoke with Stephanie Richmond, the Founder and CEO of Stand Beside Them. She suggests this:

      “As soon as they have an idea of when they are leaving the military, they should begin to create a transition plan. And the best way I know to do that is through the help of a coach.”

      “My advice is to get a qualified, certified and experienced coach who works with people who are in transition. If you have a coach by your side, it's much easier.”

      “It's also a very important part of getting a support system into place. While you may have relatives or friends who are very supportive, they don't have the objective priority of distance that's necessary to be a good coach.”

      Stand Beside Them has over 200 coaches that are available to coach virtually. An added bonus is that a lot of the coaches have served in the military. Plus, you can get up to 12 free sessions.

      Highlight Military Experience in Resume and Cover Letter

      Everyone struggles when it comes to writing a resume and cover letter. It’s true that hiring managers typically only take 5-7 seconds to look at each resume. So you really need to present eye-catching information to hold their attention and make them remember your name.

      It’s a lot of stress. On top of that, you may have to leave out some experiences or skills that you’ve had on your resume for years. That might even mean leaving off certain military experiences if it doesn’t relate to the job or at least explaining specific skills in more detail. Again, we turned to Brian to really break this down.

      • Is your resume “demilitarized”? Unless you are applying for a government position or contractor that supports the government or military you really need to remove/translate the military jargon and acronyms in your work history.
      • Find a Military Job Translator. There are some good military job translators out there and we have one that's especially unique within Hope For The Warriors that also applies to the skills acquired from the rank attained during your military service.
      • Look for Free Help. I would additionally say, do not pay to have your resume completed for you. There are several organizations out there including ours that will support veterans and their families and provide these services for free.
      • Add it to Your Summary. If you are highlighting your military experience on a resume this can be done in several different ways. You can make note of it in your summary by highlighting your military occupation and the time that you served.
      • Highlight Professional Skills. You can also highlight your military experience in the professional skills profile which you can bullet format and list each skill you have attained.
      • Include Military Background as Experience. You can provide it as part of your work history experience with each position or duty station you have served. You can also highlight it as accomplishments and include awards, honors and volunteer work.

      Chief Veteran Advocate Evan Guzman of AliroVets provided some interesting insight to writing a resume.

      “Consider your resume as your new uniform. The patches and medals you earned and adorned will no longer be applicable in the civilian job market. It will no longer speak to your stature.”

      “Your experience will all be laid out on a sheet of paper and in your own words. Keep in mind that your military experience is relevant in the private sector even though the private sector does not clearly see it.”

      “There are approximately over 85% of military occupations that have a direct civilian counterpart in private industry. Your mission is to unveil your skills and capabilities into civilian speech.”

      “But let’s face it; it is easier to wear your resume than write it. Don’t worry too much, though. You will figure it out just like you did when you first joined the military and got your first assignment.”

      Evan came up with a list of questions that you should ask yourself when writing your resume.

      • Does your resume start with a clear summary of your skills and qualifications?
      • Did you list what you were accountable for as opposed to what you’ve done?
      • Are you clearly illustrating your technical or business acumen?
      • Don’t simply list what you did. But convey how you did it and how good you were at it.
      • Did you make improvements?
      • Did you increase efficiency or spot glitches?
      • Did you save time and money?
      • Were you better than your peers in the same role?

      Stephanie suggests highlighting your military experience right off the bat.

      “I am all for highlighting it wherever you can. Veterans always underestimate the power of having that.”

      “A lot of them put it at the bottom or don't even mention it. I would say in a resume, at the very beginning, where you put your objective or goal, write: "experienced/seasoned military veteran looking for a position.”

      “I also would put it in a cover letter. A lot of companies are very veteran-friendly. In fact, the computers that sort the job applications for some companies will put your application right up front (if you have military experience).”

      Speaking of cover letters, that’s a great place for you to highlight your military career. Here are some tips for how to write a really strong one.

      Writing a Cover Letter Tips
      • Leave Out the Military Jargon. The hiring manager should be able to easily understand what exactly you did in your military career. In other words, keep it simple. makes this step really easy with its free skills translator.
      • Hype Up Your Skills. The skills that you learned during your military career are transferable. From leadership to problem-solving, make sure you’re highlighting your skills.
      • Don’t Be Afraid to Brag. Did you win an award or receive an honor during your military career? Write about it in your cover letter! The hiring manager is looking for the best of the best. Your achievements will contribute to that.

      If you haven’t checked out our Cover Letter Tips for 2020 yet, you really should. It’s a really great resource for writing a cover letter.

      The Interview

      You may notice that a lot of the tips we’ve provided include leaving out military jargon. And that applies to the interview as well.

      There are some great resources out there that will help you translate your military experience so that potential employers can understand.

      For example, has a free skills translator so all you have to do is insert in a skill and it’ll translate it for you.

      You want the interview to go well, and translating your job experience is only part of the fun. Here are some other tips to help you nail that interview.

      • Understand How Your Skills Apply. Once you’ve translated your skills, you need to understand how they apply to this position. And you need to be able to articulate that to the interviewer.
      • Maybe Don’t Show Up in Uniform. For the first time in what feels like forever, you probably shouldn’t show up in your uniform. You’ll want to dress to impress so do a little research before you show up to the interview. Some companies may prefer casual attire while others will want you dressed to the nines.
      • Highlight Your Military Experience. Aside from making your military experience relatable, make sure you’re highlighting the experience you gained during your time. If you reached a specific goal, explain the situation that took place.
      • Showcase Your Dedication. The military career you just completed did not come without some level of dedication. Make sure you translate how much of an asset that makes you to each company you interview with. Employers will hire those who are dedicated to making sure goals are met.

      Employment Resources for Veterans

      There are a lot of resources out there designed to help with the transition from the military to the workforce, including mentors and employee referral programs.

      We compiled a great resource for veterans that is designed to help you understand your rights while also helping you find the right employer.

      In addition to our comprehensive resource, here are some others you might want to check out.

      • Veterans Employment Center. This resource connects those who are transitioning to career opportunities in public and private sectors.
      • U.S. Department of Defense. As one of the largest veteran employers, the DOD is a great place to start when considering a life outside of the military.
      • U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The OPM provides lots of useful information about federal employment through it’s Feds Hire Vets initiative.
      • America's Heroes at Work. This is a great resource for employers wanting to hire veterans as it provides a toolkit for recruitment and hiring initiatives.
      • Veterans' Employment and Training Service. This service provides veterans the resources and knowledge necessary to find meaningful careers.
      • Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment for Veterans. Through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans are able to find access to vocational rehab and employment services with this resource..
      • CareerOneStop. Career One Stop provides valuable resources for finding and keeping a job.
      • Helmets to Hardhats. The nonprofit program connects veterans with employers in the construction industry and offers free apprenticeship programs.
      • Hire Our Heroes. This resource offers assistance with resume writing, connecting with employers and social media training.
      • Job Opportunities for Disabled American Veterans. Otherwise known as JOFDAV, veterans come to this resource for access to over 40,000 jobs.
      • Recruit Military. The Veteran-owned and operated firm hosts veteran career fairs and assists employers with veteran recruiting services.
      • Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families. The University’s veteran resource provides support, employment opportunities and transition help for veterans and their families.
      • Veterati. The digital mentorship platform is designed specifically for veterans and their families who are going through the transition from military to the workforce.
      • The site provides news, benefit info and employment resources for veterans and their families.

      Hiring a Veteran

      Hiring a veteran can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it can also be rewarding. And your team might just be stronger because of it. Here’s Brian’s insight:

      “From an employer's perspective, there can be several benefits to hiring from the veteran community. Veterans often have a variety of talents and a multitude of diverse skill sets. From the start, they are trained to be leaders and to focus on accomplishing the mission.”

      “Many veterans have obtained or may still hold security clearances and have been through extensive background checks. Continuous training is provided to maintain high standards, integrity and safety.”

      Stephanie also had lots of good things to say about hiring veterans.

      “There are a lot of people out there that are consultants to companies on how to acquire a military veteran workforce. Look for one of those. Or follow the lead from others. Call the military recruiters and find out how those companies did it.”

      “Hiring a military veteran is a very smart thing to do. They're very focused and mission-orientated. They will stay until the mission is a success. They are loyal and love having an objective and purpose. Their values are extremely good.”

      “I highly recommend hiring a veteran, developing a veteran workforce. That would be good for them as well because then they have friends who have served as well. So don't just hire one and call it a day. Have several and you'll be happy you did.”

      Here are some great reasons why you should hire a veteran (or two!):
      • Teamwork. Veterans are great at working in teams and understand how important teamwork is in reaching an overarching goal. They are trained to think about how they can improve and support the team that they are on.
      • Goal-Oriented. Veterans are used to assessing a problem and tackling it. If things do not work, they go back and find ways to change and improve things until they get the results they need. They do not give up easily.
      • Leadership. Veterans are incredible leaders. They learn how to be a leader through higher-ranking officers and with hard work and training, they rise in ranks. They are constantly taking the initiative and bring this important attribute to the workplace.
      • Perform well under pressure. Veterans can work well and complete tasks effectively and quickly when they are in stressful situations. They are good at staying calm and getting the job at hand done. They know how to make quick decisions in environments that are constantly changing, which translates well into the fast-paced and ever-changing work environment with tight deadlines.
      • Tax credit. There are multiple tax credits available when you hire Veterans. Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides employers with tax credits up to $5,600 for hiring unemployed veterans, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit provides credits up to $9,600 for veterans with service-related disabilities.
      • Save money. Through the Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) and the Special Employer Incentive (SEI) programs, employers save money simply by hiring veterans.
        1. The (NPWE) program provides employers with qualified Veterans who are vetted by the VA and allows eligible Veterans to get hands-on work experience. Employers do not pay these Veteran since the VA provides them with a monthly subsistence allowance. To find out more information, you can contact an employment coordinator at 202-461-9600. You can also set up a free NPWE program by following this list of steps outlined by the VA. NPWE participants do not count towards your number of full-time employees.
        2. The SEI program is an initiative from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program. If you join this program, you can get reimbursed for up to 50% of a Veteran’s salary and get the cost of instruction and loss production due to that training covered. For more information, visit your local VA regional office and speak to a representative or call 800-827-1000.

      Now that you’re committed to hiring a veteran workforce, you should know how to get started. Luckily enough, Evan provided some pointers that will help you become military ready.

      • First, you should have a specific landing page to drive and track veteran traffic towards before investing in job boards and social media outreach.
      • If you know of employees that are Veterans, include them in the early planning stages to gain valuable insights by directly soliciting feedback from your target audience.
      • Reach out and engage with the various free employment programs such as, Marine for Life, Soldier for Life, Hiring our Heroes, and the Military Spouse Employer Partnerships to begin building your network of sourcing channels.
      • Encourage your Veteran employees to refer others especially if you have an employee referral program.
      • Start a Veterans Resource Group to help with recruiting, onboarding and any outreach efforts being developed.

      Now, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start hiring your veteran workforce!