What are the best civilian career fields for veterans? Transitioning out of the military and back into civilian life can be difficult in more ways than one, and there’s no one-size-fits-all career path for those making the jump. But in general, some fields and industries offer more for veterans.
Government jobs are a natural for anyone leaving military service with an honorable discharge. Veterans frequently take advantage of hiring preferences for Civil Service, state jobs, and municipal positions.
Government jobs often require screening tests that may feel familiar to anyone who has taken professional military education, distance learning for career progression, or promotion tests. Military members are used to taking exams to advance a career, which can be a big advantage over first-time government test-takers.
The veteran brings experience and military discipline to the table, and government hiring processes tend to favor people with military “hard skills” and “soft skills” alike. Your exact military experience may not directly translate with some government work, but the fact that you successfully completed your military service commitment speaks volumes to the employer.
Consider those who have moved out of forward-deployed military duty in combat zones and go on to become defense contractors or employees of aerospace industries that have ties with the government.
Finding Government Jobs
There are three basic resources you can use to get started hunting for a government job-one is a Federal search tool called USAJobs that can help you find open positions at the federal level. Your state Department of Veterans Affairs may feature government jobs at both the VA and state/local level depending on how extensively the official site is maintained.
You can also find local job hunting resources via the usual places such as LinkedIn, Monster.com, etc. When searching for these types of jobs, it helps to try both general and specific terms. “State medical jobs” or “Federal medical jobs in Provo, Utah” are fairly broad, but a search for “Freelance X-ray technician positions in Baltimore VA clinics” may yield interesting results.
Another way to locate government jobs is by searching the official sites of government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs (which has a section specifically for VA job openings).
How wide-open is the technology field for vets? Five out of eight jobs listed in a Monster.com article, Eight High-Paying Jobs For Veterans, were tech-related.
It’s not surprising, really, the tech industry is a very large one, covering everything from IT and intelligence gathering to aerospace, renewable energy, and much more. The United States Department of Labor published a report in 2016 estimating job growth in the tech sector-speculating that more than half a million new tech jobs will be added between the time of the report to 2026.
The problem with telling soon-to-be-civilian employees to “look in the tech sector for jobs” is naturally related to the veteran’s military career, the vastness of the industry, and the desired specialty. How can a military member decide which aspect of the industry to approach?
Depending on a veterans’ military experiences, jobs in tech may be easier to come by. Those who spent time in uniform doing IT work, computer security, setting up long-haul communications, or developing technical infrastructure may already have qualifications and training civilian employers need.
Others may find their specialized military experience can translate to a new career by taking additional training, refresher courses, or by getting involved in new developments in the industry. Those who did IT work in a classified environment may find their old security clearance is an advantage when being considered by a civilian employer.
Your old clearance may not “travel” to your new job depending on circumstances, but it’s easier to hire someone with an existing clearance (a “known quantity”, if you like) and experience in such tightly controlled circumstances.
Finding Tech Jobs
Tech jobs are available at the usual government hiring sites such as USAJobs and state/local agencies, but you can also find job ads via online trade magazines, LinkedIn, etc. If you are taking continuing education or getting new tech certifications as a civilian job seeker, be sure to take advantage of any career services offered by your institution of higher learning. You may also find help via career days at local universities and Meetup-style after work mixers in your local area.
Some don’t want to work for a civilian company but prefer to stay within the federal system-federal tech jobs are available for everything from IT to aircraft maintenance. If you are interested in these jobs, do a search for Federal Schedule jobs in your area of specialty or planned specialty.
The health care field is expected to add more than two million jobs between now and 2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are so many military medical career fields that it only makes sense that a large number of veterans will enter the civilian health care industry between now and then.
Health care, like IT, may require veterans to get updated certifications or enter into continuing education programs to further their expertise. Additional schooling can also be a gateway to job opportunities via internships, job placement services offered by medical schools or programs, etc.
With health care, the option to apply for work in the military medical system is one of the first choices a soon-to-be-civilian is confronted with. Talk to a human resources officer or personnel manager at a military hospital or clinic long before you file military retirement or separation paperwork to learn how hiring procedures work.
You can use federal civil service job search tools (USAJobs), hunt for General Schedule jobs in health care, or try searching the Department of Veterans Affairs job board.
Health Care Jobs, Overlapping Skill Sets, and Career Choice Issues
Health care and IT work often overlap, especially for work involving the storage and retrieval of medical records, hospital computer security, billing and coding, and much more. Some in IT find themselves in the health care industry doing work similar to their military occupations, others may come from a non-tech background and get the required certifications to begin a new career in the hybrid IT/health industry.
In these times, some growth industries may complicate veteran job-seeker choices. The alternative energy sector offers plenty of work for qualified veterans with a technical background, and a similar wave began in health care when states began to legalize medical marijuana.
This controversial addition to your health care employment options may or may not be right for a veteran leaving the service. Job seekers will have to weigh the implications of finding work in the medical cannabis industry given its uncertain future under federal law but also how such work appears on the veteran’s resume.
Will a future employer look favorably on such experience or not? The industry is too new to speculate on how things might go in the future, but those are important topics to consider when picking your post-military career path.
Skilled Trade Jobs For Veterans
Veterans who worked in skilled trade jobs for the military find themselves in a unique position-their military careers qualify them for skilled trade jobs in the civilian sector, but these job seekers may be required to add certifications or continuing education in order to be hire-worthy as civilian employees. Military duty may not require the same certifications (or any, depending on the career field and the nature of the training done in those fields) and it may be difficult to determine what’s expected until one begins filling out job applications and taking interviews.
But military skilled trade occupations such as airframe maintenance, civil engineering, construction, long-haul communications, even plumbing and HVAC have plenty of demand in the private sector and depending on a veteran’s experiences and career, the opportunities for consulting and advising work may be as worthy of consideration as the actual jobs themselves.
Preparing For A Civilian Career As A Skilled Trade Worker
Some may come to the civilian sector completely ready to begin skilled trade work, others may need to update their certifications or training, and still, others may need to consider apprenticeships and OJT.
The U.S. Department of Labor has a variety of resources for people who need apprenticeships and on-the-job training. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has programs for those who need career assistance in finding opportunities in skilled trades and other careers via the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.
Each trade has its own requirements, and it’s good to research them prior to leaving the military for work as a civilian.
Some prefer to use the GI Bill to help them prepare for a new career outside the military-and some prefer to start using those GI Bill benefits before they leave the service.
It’s possible to prepare for a career that has nothing to do with your previous military job while still on active duty. In such cases it’s a very good idea to talk to both a college admissions counselor and a career advisor or subject matter expert in the career you seek to learn what the most current requirements and certifications might be in your chosen field.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News