Taking Advantage of Military Service in a Civilian Career

By John Hayes, Member of MCDA; and Melody Jennings Kruzic, MCDA Board Member

Veterans returning from military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing unforeseen challenges in finding meaningful civilian employment at home. According to a recent Veterans Affairs study, 18 percent of veterans returning from these conflicts are unemployed. One quarter of those who are employed make less than $21,840 per year.

Further complicating the matter is the lack of transition resources provided by the service branches, individual units and the Veterans Administration. In addition, civilian employers’ lack of understanding of military culture and terminology adds another barrier for unprepared veterans.

The situation is not hopeless, however. Veterans do have resources at their disposal, if they know how to use them. It is up to veterans, as it is every job seeker, to take ownership of their career and job search. In fact, veterans have the benefit of documented military success and a wide range of experiences that can help make their career transition smoother. Here is some information to assist veterans with their career exploration and job search.

Going in a new direction

For many returning veterans, the first step is the most difficult. Rather than using their separation from service as an opportunity to pursue a new career path, most choose employment in the government sector or jobs in protective services, essentially continuing the trajectory of their military career. While this is not always a bad idea, it may mean missing out on the fulfillment of a career that aligns better with their interests and values.

Veterans should consider what aspects of their military service and vocation were desirable and those that were less than satisfying. This will influence the rest of the career exploration and job search process. In addition, veterans should take advantage of resources such as personality, skills or values assessments.

It is also important for veterans to network with their peers who have already successfully made the transition into a civilian career, as well as with non-veterans who are currently in the career field to which the individual aspires. Job shadowing and volunteering can be an important tool for success because it allows the veteran the opportunity to see what a particular job is really like.

Capitalizing on military experience

There are a number of skills translation services and resources that promise veterans the ability to rewrite their military careers in civilian terms. However, these translators might wind up pigeonholing vets by only showing them how to continue their military vocation in the civilian world. Those who are looking to move beyond their military experience must get creative.

Veterans should identify a prospective career field or position and then tailor their r