Military veterans returning from the Middle East are facing the same tough job market as civilian high school and college graduates. Most military members are not foot soldiers on the front lines; they work in support organizations that provide equipment, supplies, communications, intelligence and other functions necessary to an effective fighting force.

With a 2011 budget of about $700 billion to manage, the Department of Defense has a huge stake in financial analysis, budgeting, auditing, accounting, negotiating and program management. The financial skills learned in the military are directly transferable to many civilian positions around the world.

TUTORIAL: Financial Careers

Financial positions in the military cover a wide variety of activities at various levels of the command structure:

  • Analyze and track resource deployments, usage and statistics
  • Payroll accounting and distribution
  • Compare projected to actual financial performance
  • Prepare financial reports and accounting records
  • Maintain and enforce policies for disbursement of government funds
  • Brief and advise commanders on financial results
  • Evaluate and negotiate contractor proposals for base procurements
  • Conduct training in financial analysis, management and control
  • Provide unit credit counseling
  • Preparing budgets and forecasts for units and bases
  • Technical and software specialists for financial control systems

Members of the military receive excellent training in their job specialty. They are also well-rounded, because they usually don't remain in the same job for more than a few years. When they transfer into a new job, they'll receive more training to be fully qualified in that position.

In addition to their training, veterans offer prospective employers a strong sense of discipline, focus, resourcefulness and attention to detail. Their experience in the military instills a work ethic that makes them reliable and cool under pressure. The variety of positions they've held allows them to adapt smoothly to changing conditions and maximize their overall efficiency.

Military officers have at least a bachelor's degree and many have masters and doctorates. Some officers are graduates of one of the service academies where they receive a top-notch education and commission as a second lieutenant. The academies are: Army (West Point, NY); Navy (Annapolis, MD); Air Force (Colorado Springs, CO); Coast Guard (New London, CT); Merchant Marine (Kings Point, NY). (Want to earn your undergraduate degree? Graduate? Check out The Benefits Of An Accelerated Bachelor's/Master's Degree.)

Enlisted personnel and noncommissioned officers may or may not have a college degree. However, many of them have advanced technical training in a variety of fields, based on the diversity of duty assignments during their careers.

Veterans are excellent candidates for civilian careers in finance, accounting, banking, business, auditing, sales, program management, communications and financial services. One option is to enter the civil service and work in a federal agency such as the Department of Defense, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS). All government agencies have a need for business and finance expertise, including state and local governments.

In the private sector, banks are a good entry point because they offer starting positions with potential for advancement. These include tellers, loan officers, ATM clerks, lease specialists, credit assistants and customer service representatives. Promising employees are provided training for more advanced positions such as branch manager, operations manager, loan manager, portfolio manager, financial counselor, international banking, investment banking and corporate management.

Private companies also value veterans who have skills that are directly transferable to their industry. For example, an officer who worked in a program office that procured military aircraft would be sought after by the aerospace companies that make those aircraft. While there are some restrictions on going to work for a company that you recently dealt with as an officer, most of those restrictions apply to senior officers who were in decision-making positions.

Finance professionals are needed in hospitals, universities, retail merchants, manufacturers, small businesses and service industries. Larger companies usually have a controller, treasurer, corporate tax and internal audit function, all of which require a support staff.

The Bottom line
Having a military background is a plus when looking for a job. The right experience can substitute for a degree if you can demonstrate how your knowledge and expertise can help an employer. The breadth of that experience often exceeds that of civilian counterparts and many veterans have excelled in multiple career tracks. Some companies have strong internal networks of former military at all levels, that actively recruit veterans.

There are many organizations that provide job assistance to veterans, as well, both inside and outside the government. They can demilitarize a resume so that it highlights experience in language that civilian employers can easily understand. These support groups were very limited after past wars, which made the transition to civilian life an even bigger challenge. (For a related reading on the military and the markets, read War's Influence On Wall Street.)