Job Search Tips Every Military Veteran Should Know

Job Search Tips Every Military Veteran Should Know

As  a labor economist, my job is to generate insights that help job seekers find their next great opportunity, and employers find their next great hire. But I am also a drilling reservist in the U.S. Navy Reserve. That means I spend one-tenth of my time on a military base maintaining helicopters alongside active duty sailors. Some of that time is spent around military service members who are just months away from separating from the military or retiring. Here are the most common job search questions they ask me, and the top tips every military veteran or soon-to-be veteran should know.

Q: Where should I look for work?

A: The answer is the same for veterans and non-veterans—use the leading job sites 

Military bases frequently host career fairs and hiring events. And the Transition Assistance Program provides valuable information and training to service members to prepare them for civilian life. You should take advantage of these programs.

But don’t limit yourself to the options they suggest. The best way to find a job these days is to use the top-rated job search sites: ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, and Indeed. Search all the jobs from across the web on ZipRecruiter and Indeed, and use your network to find a job on LinkedIn.

A major benefit of ZipRecruiter is that our powerful technology does much of the hard work for you. We present you to employers, so they can proactively reach out to you. And we prompt you to apply to new jobs for which you’d be a great match to make sure you never pass up a great opportunity.

Just like it’s OK for you to use both Uber and Lyft, or both Visa and American Express, it is a good idea to use all three job search sites. There isn’t perfect overlap across them—and once you’ve prepared your resume for one site, it’s not that hard to create a profile on another.

If you use veteran-specific or industry-specific job boards, that’s great. But don’t forget to use “the big three” in addition. Cover your bases!

Q: What should I do if I don’t have any work experience?

A: Your military experience counts as work experience! Learn how to describe it in ways civilian employers can understand. 

Service members often tell me they’re worried about the job search because they “have no work experience.” And then I learn that they have been active-duty service members for 12 years, supervised dozens of junior personnel, earned numerous military awards, and used their military education benefits to complete multiple professional certifications. That counts. All of it!

So don’t sell yourself short or somehow think military experience isn’t relevant in the civilian world. Instead, learn how to talk about your military experience and skills in ways civilian employers will understand. This tool can help you translate your professional military training into job skills civilian employers want. Several online Military Skills Translators do so for a wider range of military skills. Be sure to describe even your more technical skills using the terms civilian employers commonly use in job postings, not military jargon.

Q: What kinds of industries should I explore?

A: There are industries that tend to be popular with service members. But don’t let yourself be typecast. Military skills and experience are relevant across the economy. 

Veterans often struggle to appreciate how broadly applicable their skills and experience are in the civilian workplace. Too often, they believe that jobs at defense contractors or in security are their only options, and see artificially stovepiped career paths ahead of them.

Don’t let anyone put you in a box. Veterans are underrepresented in industries like healthcare, education, and finance, despite the large number of organizations committed to hiring veterans. T

It’s good to know which industries tend to hire large numbers of veterans (see the table below). Veterans do tend to get civilian jobs in occupations related to their military experience—and they tend to earn slightly more in those occupations than nonveterans. But don’t restrict your job search to those occupations.

Veterans are overrepresented in the following occupations and industries:

  • Protective services
    • Transportation security screeners
    • Police/sheriff’s patrol officers
    • Detectives/criminal investigators
  • Installation/maintenance/repair
    • Avionics technicians
    • Aircraft mechanics/service technicians
    • Radio/telecommunications equipment installation
  • Transportation
    • Air traffic controllers/airfield operations
    • Aircraft pilots/flight engineers
    • Sailors/marine oilers
  • Architecture/engineering
    • Engineering technicians
    • Marine engineers/naval architecture
    • Aerospace engineers
  • Computer/mathematics
    • Information security analysts
    • Computer network architects
    • Operations research analysts
  • Production
    • Power plant operations/distributors
    • Engine/other machine assembly
    • Stationary engineers/boiler ops


Source: David Schulker, “The Recent Occupation and Industry Employment Patterns of American Veterans,” Armed Forces and Society, 2017, Vol. 43(4), 695-710. (source)

Q: How much should I expect to earn?

A: US Labor Occupational Handbook salary information to find out what typical salary ranges are across the country for the job you want. Don’t let your military basic pay serve as an “anchor.” 

Veterans also often struggle to know what they should reasonably expect to earn in a civilian job. Compared with civilians, they have historically accepted lower wages in their first post-military job. Perhaps that’s because their military basic pay serves as an unconscious anchor. (Anchoring describes our tendency to give too much weight to the first number we hear or think of, even if it’s not really relevant to the issue at hand.)

Because much of military compensation is deferred or nonmonetary, service members may underestimate its value. Many service members underestimate the costs of housing, healthcare, and other expenses which the military provides, but which civilians typically pay for out of pocket. Veterans may also underestimate how susceptible to economic and business shocks employment outside the military can be. Civilian salaries typically compensate workers for some of that risk.

In other words, your military basic pay is really not the relevant benchmark. Find out the total value of your military compensation using an online tool like the Defense Department’s regular military compensation calculator. You’ll see there is a big difference between your basic pay and the total value of your compensation. For example, a single E-6 sailor with 10 years of military service living in San Diego might be earning annual basic pay of $45,237.60, but receiving a total compensation package valued at $85,051.83. Your opening offer in a salary negotiation should be informed by your total military compensation and civilian industry standards, not by irrelevant anchors.

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