How to Switch from Military to Civilian Jobs

Transitioning from a military to a civilian career offers new experiences that can be exciting and often lucrative. The unique skills you developed in the military can help you succeed in a whole new environment. However, as with most change, the sudden transition may cause financial stress and worry. Here are tips to help you keep the financial aspects of the job hunt straight in your transition from the military to a civilian job. (For more from this author, see: The Career Benefits of Vocational Training Programs.)

Go the Traditional Route

Military veterans do well at traditional jobs in the civilian world that take advantage of the skills learned while in uniform. Check out the Military to Civilian Occupation Translator to match your military skills and experience to civilian occupations. Cintas, Fluor, Amazon and Wackenhut are four of the many companies who actively seek ex-military employees. Many other firms aim to hire veterans as well. You’ll save time—and money—by starting out with military-friendly companies who welcome veterans.

Take advantage of any job-hunting resources the military might provide to update your resume, write a solid cover letter, track down leads, and network to the fullest extent possible. Keep in mind that a job search can be a full-time job in itself, and that finding a good position can take a long time. The duration of a search is no reflection on your personality or skills; many people job-hunt for several months before they even land an interview. Since you have access to free assistance, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to pay for resume-writing services. Reputable recruiters (also called “headhunters”) are paid by the companies looking for employees, not by you the job-seeker. (For related reading, see: Financial Careers After Military Service.)

Hit the Books

Getting more education in your current field or earning a degree in a new area is a natural and positive way to transition to your new life. The military encourages this choice with financial support. Check out the Post-9/11 GI Bill for more information about assistance you can depend on if you decide to go back to school. The discipline you gained as a member of the military will only enhance your college experience, and the financial assistance you’ve earned will prevent you from incurring high student loan debt. 

Stick to What You Know

Some of the best careers for military veterans involve a return to the same installation, this time as a civilian contractor. For example, if in your military career you were the client of a large defense contractor, you can use your contacts to find a civilian position with that same contractor. You know the business from the military side, so the transition to the contractor side is smoother. The Ladders reports that defense and government contractors are “inherently veteran-friendly … especially for those who’ve held a security clearance. There’s no problem in translating your military experience for them.” Investigate careers for military veterans with commercial companies or the federal and state governments. An added bonus: if you’ve got the experience to land one of these jobs, you’ll probably be earning a great salary. (For related reading, see: Financial Careers After Military Service.)

Create Your Own Job

Veterans often make great entrepreneurs, so opening your own business is a logical career choice. The skills needed to be a business owner are ones you developed during your tenure in the military: tenacity, vision, self-motivation, leadership, integrity and competitiveness, among others. The Small Business Administration has helpful information on how veterans can start their own businesses.

Regardless of where you land post-military, the experiences you gained and the discipline you developed while serving your country will make you a valued employee at the civilian company you end up working for. (For related reading, see: 10 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs.)