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Veterans’ Guide to Careers After the Military College Resources & Programs That Can Help

After transitioning out of the military, many veterans choose to start on their path to a college degree or continue the post-secondary education they began before enlisting. For some, their military skills directly lead to a degree. For others, they’ll need to decide on a new path that best matches their interests and the skills they gained while on active duty. This guide will help veterans translate their military experience to a career, find the right degree and land a civilian job.

Meet the Expert & Writer

Ron Kness Retired Supervisor of Military Personnel Services

College Resources for Veterans

There are many resources available on college campuses to help undecided students figure out a career path, many of which are specific to veterans. Students can visit veterans’ resource centers where they can network with other veterans and group counseling centers that help with finding benefits and a degree path. Many schools also offer career fairs where students can mingle with veteran-friendly employers looking to hire.

VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC)

The VSOC is a Department of Veterans Affairs program designed to help veterans (and dependents) transition to college life. Each school that is part of the VSOC program has a counselor on campus that can help with benefits counseling, including help finding and securing the right VA benefits. They also provide assistance in finding a degree that leads to a viable career in the civilian work force.

The program started as a pilot program in 2009 at the University of South Florida and has now grown to include 94 sites across the United States. The VA provides a list of schools currently in the program.

Transfer Course Equivalency Search

Although this is a program of Suny Oneonta College, it can be accessed by anyone and will give a veteran a good idea of the military training that could be credited towards a degree.

Veterans Resource Centers

Not all schools are part of the VSOC program. However, many of those that aren’t have their own Veterans Resource Centers. Their centers are staffed with a Veterans Resource Coordinator that can assist service members or veterans from all branches, including Reservists and National Guard personnel (along with their spouses and dependent children of the service-connected disabled). Once such school is the Community College of Philadelphia.

Student Veterans of America (SVA)

SVA has several programs veterans can use, including Google Resume Workshops. Veterans attend a workshop hosted by Goggle volunteers that will critique written resumes. They then get to meet hiring officials from companies and attend a panel discussion. The VMock SMART Career Platform is an online tool that evaluates a submitted resume to provide instant feedback and suggestions on how it can be made more powerful.

School spotlight

Most schools really want to help veterans. However, some go the extra mile to support students who served. Here are three such schools:

While this Minnesota school is small, they have a large veteran resource center. The staff, many of whom are veterans themselves, offer a one-stop shop where they help:

  • Smooth out the application process

  • Assist with filling out the FAFSA

  • Apply for Federal Tuition Assistance and request their military transcripts

  • Search out additional state and federal benefits applicable to the individual student

  • Advise and assist with registering for classes

They also provide a Military-to-College Checklist with a step-by-step list of what a veteran must do when applying to the school. However, it’s general enough that any veteran can use it as a guideline for entrance to other schools.

Choosing a Degree After the Military

Figuring out and selecting a degree path after getting out of the military can be difficult. Two common questions veterans ask themselves when thinking about going to college are:

  • “Do I want to stay in the same line of work that I did in the military?” or

  • “Do I want to do something entirely different?”

In some cases, the question answers itself. For example, for those in the Combat Arms Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), such as Infantryman, there aren’t many civilian jobs that directly apply the same skills. In most cases, they’ll have to choose another career field and transfer what credits they can.

But for others not in combat arms, they may very well want to stick with their former military professions, especially if it was something they enjoyed doing. Positions in areas like health care, computer networking and engineering transfer very well into degree plans. Plus, the student can usually receive more credits that can transfer and apply towards a degree than if he or she switched to a new field of study.

This can also save GI Bill entitlement because the student ends up having to take fewer classes. The entitlement saved could then be used toward an advanced degree.

However, if the decision is to do something different, there are many majors to choose from. And often, using a skills translator to see what career fields match up with their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) code can help them narrow down the options.

Translating military skills to civilian jobs

Below is a table of four selected jobs from each of the five military branches that compares each job to its civilian counterpart and the degree that would be required to get that job.

Infantryman 11B

Captures, repels and destroys enemy forces

Civilian Equivalent: Training and Development Managers

Related Degree: Human Resources

Military Police Officer 31A

Leads subordinate soldiers in the protection of lives and property on military bases

Civilian Equivalent: First line supervisor of police and detectives

Related Degree: Criminal Justice or Law Enforcement

Cyber Operations Specialist 17C

Targets offensive operations against enemy and hostile adversaries to protect data and computer networks

Civilian Equivalent: Computer Information Systems Manager

Related Degree: Information Systems Science

Combat Medic 68W

Provides emergency medical treatment on the battlefield supplies

Civilian Equivalent: Registered Nurse

Related Degree: Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN)

Seabee Construction Worker

Performs various types of construction work on runways, harbors and buildings

Civilian Equivalent: Project Engineer

Related Degree: Civil Engineering

Electronic Technician

Maintains, adjusts and repairs electronic equipment

Civilian Equivalent: Computer and Information System Managers

Related Degree: Computer Science or Information Management

Surface Warfare Officer

Coordinates various shipboard activities

Civilian Equivalent: Management Analyst

Related Degree: Business Management w/Certified Management Consultant designation

Logistic specialist

Orders, inventories, stocks and issues supplies

Civilian Equivalent: Logistics Manager

Related Degree: Supply Chain Management

Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Specialist

Employs firefighting equipment to rescue victims involved in aircraft crashes

Civilian Equivalent: Emergency Management Director

Related Degree: Emergency Management or Public Administration

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician

Locates and renders safe unexploded ordnance

Civilian Equivalent: Criminal Investigator

Related Degree: Law Enforcement or Criminal Justice

Personnel Clerk

Performs personnel and administrative duties using manual and automated information systems

Civilian Equivalent: Office Manager

Related Degree: Business Administration

Recruiter

Locates and processes applicants into the Marine Corp

Civilian Equivalent: Career Counselor

Related Degree: School Counseling and appropriate license or certification

Aviation Maintenance Technician

Inspects, services, repairs and maintains all aircraft systems

Civilian Equivalent: Aircraft Pilot

Related Degree: Aviation

Boatswain’s Mate

Performs deck maintenance, operates deck equipment and navigates small boats

Civilian Equivalent: Ship Engineer

Related Degree: Merchant Marine w/either Merchant Mariner Credential or Transportation Worker Identification Credential

Marine Science Technician

Conducts port, harbor and marina inspections to ensure compliance with federal and other applicable regulations and laws

Civilian Equivalent: Environmental Engineer

Related Degree: Environmental Engineering Technology

Public Affairs Specialist

Writes news and feature articles, shoots still and video imagery, maintains websites and increases public awareness of Coast Guard issues

Civilian Equivalent: Public Relations Specialist

Related Degree: Public Relations, Journalism or Mass Communications

Spotlight: Companies who hire vets

There are over two hundred companies listed at Veteran Jobs Mission who hire veterans. However, some companies have more mature programs for veterans than others. Here are three of the leaders in the industry:

BAE is veteran-driven. Their goal for 2018 is to hire 100 veterans per month. At BAE, they pride themselves on assisting wounded warriors with transitioning into their civilian workforce. Their program provides a path to career progression and growth by providing:

  • Strategic placement within the disabled veteran’s abilities

  • A mentorship program

  • Transition assistance for the veteran and family

  • Leadership development for career growth and promotion

Career Resources

Job Placement Programs for Veterans

Once out of the military, through school and ready to start a career, finding a job is usually the first priority. But if they’ve been injured or are disabled, it can make the process even more frustrating and difficult. Fortunately, there are numerous organizations that stand ready to help get veterans into a job within their abilities. Here are some of the more popular job placement programs veterans are using today.

If looking to get into the construction industry, this job search board could be your ticket to success. Search by trade within your city or state. Or, if you know the company you would like to work for, use the Advanced Search. You can also upload your resume.

Tips for Landing a Civilian Job

While many skills and traits are valued in both military and civilian jobs, it can sometimes be difficult for veterans to package their experience in a way that’s accessible to civilian recruiters. But with a few tweaks, veterans can master a civilian resume and job interview.

How to write a civilian resume

For civilians, writing an effective resume can be challenging because it’s a different style of writing than most people are used to using. For veterans, however, military terminology can make it difficult to express job titles, skills and training in language a hiring manager or recruiter can understand.

Learning to translate military terms into their civilian equivalent can make it much easier to land a job. For example, if you were an Army E-6 Staff Sergeant, 11B Infantryman (which means nothing to a civilian), say that you “supervised and led a team of 9 decorated soldiers, often in high pressure demanding situations.” That makes it easier for a recruiter to understand. It also illustrates core values that are valuable in any career, such as:

  • Team leadership

  • Ability to work with minimal supervision

  • Attention to detail

  • Ability to work under stress and think on your feet

Below are two sample abbreviated resumes of an Army officer. Note the military jargon in the Work History and Awards sections of the first resume. The second one contains the same basic information, but it has been “civilianized” so it makes sense to a civilian hiring official reviewing the resume.

Military

Jonny Doe

123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345

H: 123.456.7890 | C: 123.678.7560 |jonny.doe@yahoo.com

CAREER SUMMARY

Twenty-year career in Intelligence, Force Management and Personnel Deployment for the United States Army. Exceptionally strong strategic planning, analytical and organizational leadership skills.

SKILLS
  • Leadership

  • Management

  • Organization

  • Planning

WORK HISTORY

United States Army

Intelligence Officer, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, GA July 2010 – Present

Responsible for the planning and operations of the military intelligence battalion consisting of 429 soldiers in 29 Military Occupation Specialties and four companies; Assisted in the management of SIGINT and HUMANT assets during all tactical operations; assisted in missions, insertions, extractions and communications for all deployed detachments. Served as the primary systems integrator for the battalion coordinating force modernization ussies and updated the battalion’s leadership on new equipment fielding and related issues.

EDUCATION | LEADERSHIP | TRAINING | JOB RELATED

BA, Social Sciences, Georgia State University

MBA, Business Management, Penn State University

MS, National Security Strategy, War College, Trenton, NJ

AWARDS

ARCOM, MSM

Civilian

Jonny Doe

123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345

H: 123.456.7890 | C: 123.678.7560 |jonny.doe@yahoo.com

CAREER SUMMARY

Twenty-year career in Intelligence, Force Management and Personnel Deployment for the United States Army. Exceptionally strong strategic planning, analytical and organizational leadership skills.

SKILLS
  • Leadership

  • Management

  • Organization

  • Planning

WORK HISTORY

United States Army

Intelligence Officer, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, GA July 2010 – Present

Responsible for the planning and operations of a division with 429 members in 29 different job categories spread over four sections within the division. Assisted in the management of information gained through electronic monitoring and interpersonal contact with the local populace. Assisted in planning and execution of projects that sent teams out and ensured their safe return, while maintaining constant contact with them via radio communications and GPS tracking. Served as the project manager for the division coordinating the procurement and issuing of upgraded equipment.

EDUCATION | LEADERSHIP | TRAINING | JOB RELATED

BA, Social Sciences, Georgia State University

MBA, Business Management, Penn State University

MS, National Security Strategy, War College, Trenton, NJ

AWARDS

Received an Army Commendation Medal for exceptional leadership during a month-long training exercise at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA.

Awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding contribution for the planning and successful completion of the anti-terrorist training conducted over a two-week period.

Interview do’s and don’ts

Do’s
  • Dress in civilian attire appropriate for the interview. This usually means a business suit, but when in doubt, ask the company’s HR department.

  • Include military accomplishments (in civilian terms) when appropriate.

  • Perform mock interviews with a friend to focus on translating military jargon and terms into civilian language.

  • Describe how your military accomplishments relate to the job you are seeking.

  • Highlight soft skills that employers value like team leading, attention to detail, loyalty, decision-making, thinking on your feet, meeting deadlines, interpreting written documents (think Operation Orders), etc.

Don’ts
  • Wear a military uniform.

  • Use military jargon, such as acronyms, job titles and terms.

  • Answer questions with just a yes or no. Instead, expand your answer to showcase your military-learned talents and skills in that area, if possible.

  • Answer questions the interviewer cannot legally ask, such as your disability status. Instead, refocus the question. For example, if asked if you have any disabilities, answer by saying something like “If you’re asking if I can do all specific duties of the position, the answer is yes.”

  • Answer questions about your discharge status. Interviewers can’t legally ask about this.

  • Answer questions about frequency of deployment, drill time, etc., if serving in the Reserves.