A job fair participant meets with an employer

Life After Service: Exploring Career Options After the Military

After completing military service, many veterans are challenged with finding meaningful, rewarding employment. Some veterans may know what industry or profession they want to pursue. Others may even have secured employment before leaving the military. However, many veterans may have questions about their careers after the military and what types of jobs may be available to them.

Some career-related issues are unique to veterans. Even veterans who gain meaningful employment after the military can have trouble adjusting to a standard 9-to-5 schedule. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, notes that military personnel often do not leave a task or duty until completed. Veterans can face challenges adapting to a work schedule that allows them to leave their duties, “regardless of whether the ‘mission’ is complete or not.” The VA also notes that many veterans may have never searched for civilian employment and not know how to develop a resume or interview for a job. While these tasks are standard procedures for civilians, veterans may enter new territory when job hunting. Marketplace reports that veterans may often find themselves in positions that they are “not prepared for, or jobs they don’t see a future in.”

Various tools, resources, and programs can assist veterans in their post-military career transition. These resources include specific job and skill training programs for veterans, online portals for finding jobs, and information and assistance for veterans who want to start their businesses.

Veteran Job Training

Employers seeking to fill certain positions often look for candidates with specific skills and abilities. Veterans can develop these through job training programs in the military and civilian life.

Through GI Bill® programs, the VA offers benefits for job training, apprenticeships, and education for veterans. (GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More information about education benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.) Veterans who qualify for the GI Bill® can receive benefits to participate in job training for positions like plumber, hotel manager, and firefighter, according to the VA. The availability and specific types of benefits can vary by the job training program.

CareerOneStop and the U.S. Department of Labor's Apprentice.gov site also provide information regarding apprenticeships and job training for veterans. Some training, apprenticeships, or hiring programs designed for veterans are offered directly by companies such as UPS, Intel, and The Home Depot. Training and skills received during apprenticeships may vary from general skills applicable to a range of careers such as office administration, or veteran job training relevant to a specific position such as plumbing or carpentry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative also offers various fellowship programs that can provide veterans with in-demand career skills.

Beyond apprenticeships, additional education may benefit veterans when pursuing post-military employment.  Degrees can help veterans qualify for higher-paying and more competitive jobs within certain career fields. The GI Bill®️ provides benefits for veterans taking courses at higher education institutions. These benefits can apply to multiple degrees. For example, a veteran can use GI Bill® benefits to pay for a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate degree. Specific GI Bill® benefits can vary by veteran depending on factors such as time of service.

Veteran Job Fairs

Among the best resources available to veterans pursuing a career are job fairs. At these events, veterans can meet with representatives of companies seeking new employees. They also can network with other job seekers and professionals, and apply for open positions at different organizations. Veterans who own their businesses can attend these types of career events to network with peers and find potential clients.

The Disabled American Veterans organization offers a list of job fairs and recruiting events across the country. The VA also provides information about job fairs. Veterans interested in a specific job fair should review the requirements for even participation such as preregistration, attendance, fees, travel and accommodations.

Individuals considering attending veteran job fairs should follow these tips:

  • Prepare copies of a resume that summarizes accomplishments to potential employers.
  • Dress in professional attire to make a strong first impression.
  • Print business cards for distribution to new contacts.

Veteran Job Placement Agencies

In addition to career fairs, job placement agencies serve as helpful resources to assist veterans in their employment search. Job placement agencies are often retained by companies and organizations to find individuals with certain professional skills and experience to fill positions. For example, an accounting firm that needs an entry-level bookkeeper may work with a job placement agency. That job placement agency may screen, interview, and submit candidates for the role at that accounting firm.

Veteran job placement agencies associated with military, government, and civilian organizations can help veterans to find meaningful careers. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) helps prospective employers find and hire qualified veterans across the country. Specific government organizations looking to hire veterans can use the services of RecruitMilitary to find qualified former military members. This organization provides information on how entities like government agencies can find and hire veterans through career fairs and an online candidate database. Veterans and employers also can use staffing firms to locate and fill short-term, seasonal, and contract positions according to Military.com.

Different benefits are associated with each job placement agency or service. Veterans may have a better chance of obtaining work through a staffing or recruitment agency than simply applying to a position. However, job placement agencies only may provide a specific rate or duration of work for veterans; former military members can potentially earn a higher salary or secure more permanent/full-time work by applying for positions on their own.

Veteran Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship, self-employment, and small business ownership are meaningful career paths for many veterans. Veterans often gain various in-demand professional skills during their time in service, which is  transferrable to startup businesses. For example, a veteran who worked with computers and technology while in the service can start a business to provide information technology services.

For veteran entrepreneurs, the U.S. Small Business Administration provides information and resources regarding funding, training programs, and contracting opportunities, as well as 10 steps that individuals should complete to start a business. These steps include formulating a business plan, picking a business structure (corporation, sole proprietorship), and obtaining state and federal tax identification numbers. The VA’s Veteran Entrepreneur Portal offers resources regarding business startups, funding, and obtaining government contracts.

As a career option for veterans, starting a business is often difficult and time-consuming. Plus, not all businesses succeed. Former military members can take inspiration from fellow veterans who started their thriving businesses. Business Insider notes that veterans founded companies such as RE/MAX, FedEx, and Walmart.

Small Business Grants for Veterans

Obtaining startup capital is challenging for any business venture. Veterans, however, can benefit from small business grants and loans intended for them.

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides a range of guaranteed loans for those starting a small business that is at least 51% owned by veterans. The amount of these loans can range from below $150,000 to up to $5 million and can vary on interest rates. One type of loan is the SBA Express loan, which provides an accelerated turnaround time for applicants.

The VA also offers a list of resources regarding funding and other pertinent small business topics. Through the VA’s website, veterans who own small businesses can access information regarding government contracts for certain types of businesses.

In addition to loans and contracts, grants are often available to veterans starting businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers information regarding small business grants that could apply to veteran entrepreneurs. Information regarding eligibility and application requirements for specific programs are available on the organization’s website.

USA Grant Applications also provides a list of grants and resources to veterans who own small businesses. These options include funding from an angel investment group, franchising opportunities, and resources for startup, expansion, and venture capital.

When pursuing any type of funding, a veteran should carefully balance business needs and the ability to manage debt. For example, even if a veteran does qualify for a large loan to start a business, a smaller amount may be more feasible when considering repayment obligations.

These different funding options each have their specific deadlines and requirements. Veterans pursuing small business grants from specific organizations or initiatives should carefully consider what is needed to complete an application and obtain funding.

Additional Post-Military Career Resources

Many resources can help veterans to start their businesses or obtain meaningful employment. Regardless of how veterans start or pursue their careers after the military, they may face personal difficulties transitioning to civilian life after their time in the military. Various resources are available to veterans to help them to overcome these struggles, obtain meaningful careers, and lead rewarding lives.

The National Veterans Foundation provides information on a range of resources such as crisis hotlines, disability compensation, health insurance claims and questions, and housing and homelessness. A common affliction faced by many veterans during and after their time in service is post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This condition can be a detriment to a veteran’s health and potentially impact the ability to obtain employment or start a business. The VA offers extensive resources regarding treatment and support for this condition.

Veterans also may face more general struggles in adjusting to civilian life after the military. For example, a veteran accustomed to the military lifestyle of following direct orders and abiding by a strict schedule may have difficulties adjusting to new freedom and flexibilities in civilian life. Rebootcamp offers helpful tips for veterans on preparing for and readjusting to civilian life such as establishing strong social and professional networks, learning to talk about their time in the military, and knowing that it is OK to question supervisors and other authority figures.

Every veteran’s situation is different, and so may the struggles of transitioning to civilian life. A veteran may never have applied or signed a lease on an apartment and not understand the process. CNBC notes that veterans may find it beneficial to ask questions and find mentors who can help them overcome certain struggles.

Making the Transition

Veterans may encounter challenges in finding employment after military service. Those never holding a civilian job are often unaware of how to search for jobs and write a resume, or may not know how to successfully translate their military experience that is appealing to potential employers.

Various resources can help veterans launch their careers after the military. These can include job training programs, job fairs, and career placement agencies. These resources can help veterans develop in-demand skills, locate new career opportunities, and connect with professionals who want a veteran’s experience.

For veterans interested in pursuing self-employment, resources such as small business grants and loans can help lift their companies off the ground. Tools also are available to help veterans navigate through the complex processes of obtaining tax status and choosing a business type.

One common thread among veterans entering the civilian workforce is the benefit of developing new skills through advanced education. Norwich University’s online master’s programs can equip veterans with the skills needed to progress in today’s competitive employment landscape.

Recommended Readings

Comprehensive Guide to Veteran Scholarships: Grants, Benefits, Family Endowments & More
What Is Military Leadership? Learn More About This Career Path
A Look into the Future of Project Management


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For military veterans, finding a job is one thing — staying in it is another, Marketplace
On-the-job training and apprenticeships, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Enter An Apprenticeship, CareerOneStop
Hire Veterans, Apprentice.gov
Future You Knows How To Rise, UPS
Intel and Military Veterans, Intel
Make Another Strong Career Move, The Home Depot
Companies with Veterans Hiring Programs, MilitaryBenefits
Fellowship Programs, Hiring Our Heroes
Education and Training, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Institutions of Higher Learning Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
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Veterans’ Employment & Training Service, U.S. Department of Labor
Recruit Military
Should You Work with a Veteran Staffing or Recruitment Agency?, Military.com
9 incredibly successful companies founded by military veterans, Business Insider
SBA Veterans Advantage Guaranteed Loans, U.S. Small Business Administration
SBA Express, U.S. Small Business Administration
Get support for your Veteran-Owned Small Business, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Grants programs and eligibility, U.S. Small Business Administration
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Veteran Resources, National Veterans Foundation
PTSD: National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Civilian Life 101: Here’s what you need to know before you take off that uniform, Military Times
3 ways military veterans can successfully transition into the civilian workforce, CNBC