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by Vault Careers | November 11, 2011


They fought overseas in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, defending the principles of freedom America was founded on.  And while many Americans have shown their appreciation for these heroes, especially on holidays like Veterans’ Day, the job market has not been as kind. 

Veterans have found it a lot harder than their fellow countrymen when it comes to finding jobs upon their return to the states.  While America currently faces a 9% unemployment rate, the jobless rate for veterans who have served since 9/11/2001 is a startling 12.1%, according to a recent article in USA Today. 

The overall picture looks a little better when you add older veterans to the mix – a 7.7% unemployment rate, which is a lot better than the national average.  However, take a closer look at those numbers.  Veterans 20 to 24 years of age have a 29.1% jobless rate.  The unemployment picture is likely to get worse as over 1 million troops are expected to re-enter civilian life over the next five years.  What can these soldiers do?  Here are some tips for leaving the military and getting back into the job market: 

Assess Your Strengths

Before you sit down to write a resume, the first thing you need is to understand how the talents, skills, and abilities from your military career relate to business and industry. And there will be plenty: military personnel develop traits beneficial to commercial enterprises because they are held to high standards of performance and operations. 

Military personnel make excellent leaders, once given a specific task: they are decisive, resourceful, and tremendous team players; and they perform well under pressure.

Explain Yourself

Civilian employers are not always familiar with military lingo, which can give veterans a serious disadvantage in the job seeking process—especially if you have to get your resume past an automated screener that's only set up to catch common corporate jargon.

While typical jobs in the military and corporate worlds may have very different titles, many of the underlying skill-sets are similar. Bridging the divide between your experiences and those employers are looking for may well be as simple as taking the time to browse some job ads and absorb the kind of language you find there. The major challenge is in correlating different assignments to private sector roles, including financial planning and analysis, operations management, purchasing, human resource management, systems administration, and administrative support.

Additionally, those in the civilian world often have little idea of where in the hierarchy a military rank falls—everything below General or Admiral is pretty much a mystery! As such, you may find yourself being offered positions that carry significantly less responsibility than you're used to. You can counter that by including specific examples in your resume ("managed a workgroup of 25," or "controlled a $7 million budget"). Sometimes, however, you just have to take whatever is open; the good news there is that your skills and experience should help you to stand out, meaning promotions should follow. 

And so will the money.  According to the USA Today article, the median income for male veterans in 2010 was $35,725, compared with $30,822 for male non-veterans. Female veterans had a median income of $30,540, compared with $20,634 for female non-veterans.

Dealing with Image Problems

Let's face it: there are certain pre-existing notions about the military that will be difficult to counter. Like the interviewers who are convinced that transitioning candidates are good at following orders from above, but not much else. Or those who think vets are unlikely to care about profits because they're used to operating in an environment where costs don't matter.

Unfortunately, there's little you can do about those perceptions until you get to the interview stage: at that point you'll have the opportunity to talk about your ability to work on your own initiative or identify cost-savings.

The Education Question

How does a degree from the USAF Academy stack up against one from a typical four-year college? If you can't articulate an answer, the chances are the typical employer won't be able to either. Again, this is something that you may just have to bide our time on and work on explaining if and when you get an opportunity at the interview stage. Resume real estate is generally precious enough that you don't want to attempt a full account of your educational experience on there, but if you did something that is likely to have a bearing in you day to day job functionality, then by all means mention it.

Narrow the Odds

Most of the problems listed above come down to a single factor: a disconnect between the military and civilian worlds. However, there are some companies out there that are dedicated to hiring veterans and know exactly what value to place on someone's military service. Finding out what companies those are is a great place to start your post-military career search.

Firms like Microsoft, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton and Wal-Mart are all examples of firms that are known for their military-friendly hiring practices. By doing your research before you apply, you can make informed decisions about company culture, typical salary ranges, and even find insider advice on what it takes to get hired there. The bottom line: you can significantly improve your chances of being hired by knowing the playing field.


According to a ranking of 379 metro areas by and USAA, a financial service provider to military personnel, Oklahoma City is the best place for military retirees to find work, followed by Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin; Philadelphia; Raleigh, North Carolina Omaha; and Manchester, New Hampshire. 

Get Help

There are programs out there that help connect veterans to jobs.  The New Jersey chapter of Helmets to Hardhats is one such example.  The Military to Civilian Crosswalk for Accelerated Employment Opportunities Project in Utah is another.  Let Google be your friend and find such a program in your area. 

Further Reading: USA Today - Veterans Face Tough Job Market

--Posted by Phil Stott and Jon Minners


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