Transitioning from military service to civilian life can be tough for many reasons, but finding a new career should not be one of them. The U.S. military is one of the most effective training facilities in the world, teaching highly technical skills to hundreds of thousands of people each year, along with personal discipline and a host of leadership skills that can be invaluable in any civilian field.
According to the Department of Labor, about 21.2 million veterans lived in the U.S. at the end of 2014 — a figure equal to about 9 percent of the potential workforce, so effectively translating the skills that they learned in the military into the civilian workforce is an important issue for the American economy as a whole.
Unfortunately, problems with the transition do exist for many.
A Pew Research Center study found officers and veterans with college degrees tend to have an easier time transitioning to civilian life than others. But the overall unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 ran as high as 14.9 percent in 2015, almost triple the national unemployment rate. About 200,000 military personnel transition into the civilian workforce every year. If you are one of them or are about to become one of them, it’s best to keep a couple of key points in mind.
Things to Keep in Mind When Pursuing a Civilian Career
First, you are not alone. Because so many military personnel wheel their skills from the military to civilian life every year, many major employers recognize the value that military service has likely added to your work ethic, your ability to work with others and your ability to function in stressful circumstances, whether you were an infantryman or a highly specialized aeronautics electronics technician.
Second, you need to do a skills assessment and get an idea of where your skills can be used in civilian life. Military job titles do not dovetail neatly with many civilian jobs, so just listing your military occupation or occupations on your resume may not give a prospective employer a complete picture of what you can do. More importantly, you may not have a clear idea yourself of where your military skills sets might work the best in civilian settings to give you the career you want, with the pay you deserve.
Military Job Translator
To help you, we have compiled some examples of civilian jobs that commonly draw from people who have achieved success in certain military occupations. We’ve broken our examples into a number of categories, including the top high-paying fields for military veterans and a number of general specialty fields.
You can use our list to get you started. Then you can plug in your own Military Occupation Code into the U.S. Labor Department’s online Military to Civilian Occupation Translator to find civilian job options that might utilize your specific background. And you can use the department’s online Skills Profiler to see how your itemized list of proficiencies might adapt to civilian life.
Keep in mind throughout your search that undergoing a short civilian training program can sometimes flesh out your military skill sets, making you even more valuable in the employment marketplace. Vista College offers training programs in five areas — healthcare, business, technology, legal, and trades — that could help you reach your goals.
Top Paying Military-Heavy Fields
Military training can give you a distinct advantage in some fields. According to CNN Money, these jobs were among the the highest-paying titles with a high proportion of military graduates, as of 2015:
- Chief Information Officer. This executive-level role oversees a company’s IT department. The modern military is heavily reliant on communications infrastructures that are vastly technical and complex. Military backgrounds in cyber warfare operations, network operations, electronics intelligence and surveillance, or communications and information can be invaluable in landing a job in this area. Vista College’s Information Technology programs can also provide a boost.
- Senior Program Manager. Not surprisingly, given their leadership backgrounds, former military officers represent heavily in this profession, which puts you in charge of specific projects. Military backgrounds that fit well here include operations commanders and support commanders, along with a host of technical functions, including tactical aircraft maintenance helpers, knowledge management craftsmen, command master chiefs, and other commissioned and non-commissioned officer roles.
- Vice President, Technology. The military often invents or at least uses the latest technologies before everyone else sees it. Information systems and cyber systems specialists can be particularly adaptable to the role of supervising a company’s technology development.
- Chief Information Security Officer. Protecting communications and other critical data from hostile forces is a core skill in many military applications, and skills developed for military security purposes are increasingly in demand in the corporate world. Cyber warfare technicians and computer network analysts are well-suited to the role.
Technology roles generally contain the heaviest concentration of military veterans, but there’s much more to maintaining a military force than machines. Military training in routine and emergency health care roles is invaluable for a transition into the growing civilian healthcare industry.
This, too, is an area where we can help to either flesh out specific military training or help you transition to a different but similar role in the industry. Options might include:
- Technicians. Operators of radiologic equipment, including X-ray machines and CAT scanners, are well-paid and highly trained. Military job roles that can transition easily into this field include orthopedic specialists, aeronautics physiology technicians, and medical service craftsmen.
- Healthcare Social Workers. This position is prevalent in medical centers and government agencies of various types. Military titles that can adapt well here include behavioral health specialists and chaplain assistants.
- Medical Records and Health Information Technicians. Maintaining medical records in a secure, searchable, and shareable format is a skill in increasing demand. Aerospace medical service apprentices and journeymen, health services management technicians of all types, and patient administration specialists can be well suited to these roles.
- Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians. This field can include everything from technicians who analyze patients’ urine samples for signs of infection to technicians in university research settings. Medical laboratory specialists, urology technicians, and histopathology technicians are among the many adaptable military designations.
- Medical Appliance Technicians. These highly skilled technicians build, fit, or maintain medical devices ranging from braces and replacement limbs to surgically implanted joints. Military roles that are highly adaptable to this include orthotic technicians, orthopedic therapy specialists, and orthopedic specialists.
- Medical Assistants. Trained assistants are employed in a variety of medical offices and other settings. Some military designations that adapt well include health care specialists, patient administration specialists, and Navy hospital workers.
If the military were a corporation, it would rival the most complex and lushly expensive businesses on the planet. As in corporate life, running the operation requires skills in human resources, logistics, financial management, technical administration, and much more.
We can help you hone specific skills into a more general business administration degree, which might assist you in competing at higher levels in the workforce, but many military roles are adaptable to civilian business positions, such as:
- Human Resources. People are the heart of any organization. Recruiting them, keeping their employment rules in order and their records organized is the job of a human resources department. Military specialties that work well here include recruiters, personnel craftsmen, personnel services specialists, and career information program advisors.
- Supply Chain Administrators. People in this field are responsible for making sure the right materials and other resources get to the right places at the right times so a company can accomplish its work. Since the military is composed of millions of almost constantly moving parts and personnel, the field is a natural for transportation technicians, warrant officers of various kinds, quartermasters, and logistics specialists.
- Secretaries and Administrative Assistants. These are jacks of all trades who handle communications, scheduling, transportation, logistics, and other duties for executive staff. Enlisted aides, knowledge management helpers, personnel specialists, and yeoman are specialists who are often adaptable to this.
- Database Administrators. Data and the ability to interpret it is king in the modern corporate world, and the various military specialists who parse complex data for military operations are highly adaptable to the data administration role. Human intelligence collectors, geospatial engineers, cryptologic technicians, and, yes, database administrators are among the specialties who might want to look into this field.
Legal and Regulatory Careers
Like any large human organization, the military requires courts, lawyers, and professionals who can interpret complicated regulations of all kinds in order to function. We offer degree programs in paralegal work and criminal justice, which could help you boost your career credentials, and many military specialties can be expanded into regulatory roles that go well beyond the courts as well, such as:
- Legal Secretaries. This field requires an amalgam of administrative skills mixed with a basic familiarity with the law. Specialties that translate well to this role include law office clerks and yeomen.
- Paralegals. These technical assistants perform a variety of roles for fully trained lawyers, including file management, legal research, and document drafting. Military roles that are adaptable to the civilian world include paralegal craftsmen, legal specialists, legal administrators, and military justice management officers.
- Compliance Managers. A compliance manager enforces programs and rules that are meant to ensure a company’s ethical integrity is intact and it is in compliance with any regulations that govern it. Knowledge management specialists of all grades can do well in this field.
- Construction and Building Inspectors. These trained professionals investigate construction projects and existing buildings for code compliance and other regulations. Military fields that might feed into this career can include construction engineering technicians, construction officers, Seabee technical security specialists, and hull maintenance technicians.
- Equal Opportunity Representatives and Officers. This position is charged with ensuring the company’s hiring, promotion, and management practices are in keeping with equal opportunity laws and internal policies. Direct military equivalents might include an EO advisor in the Navy or an equal opportunity superintendent in the Air Force.
Careers in the Trades
The military trains its own personnel to perform many specific roles that, in the civilian world, might be performed by a plumber, an electrician, a construction supervisor, or any of a number of different trades.
You might find your military experience lends itself more to one trade over another, but it needs to be adapted to encompass civilian equipment or obtain civilian licenses. We offer a number of trade programs designed to fully adapt your skills to a civilian occupation, including training in construction management, construction technology, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, industrial maintenance, electrical technology, and trades management. You can use those skills in:
- Construction Management. This position is a natural for several engineering roles at the commissioned officer level, including a facilities/contract construction management engineer in the Army and a public works planning officer in the Navy. But skills learned in several enlisted roles are adaptable as well, including bridge technician, engineering aid, and builder.
- Construction Trade Supervisors. Any military role that trained you to supervise crews of workers can be adapted to this civilian position, including heavy repair superintendents, construction engineering supervisors, and combat engineering sergeants.
- Sheet Metal Workers. More than 140,000 people are employed in this trade, mostly in construction, in factories, or in the heating, ventilation, and cooling industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A number of military roles can be adapted to this set of civilian positions, including Navy steelworkers, Coast Guard shipfitters, and Air Force aircraft structural repairers.
- Plumbers.Everyone knows what a residential plumber does, but not everyone thinks of the multiple positions that can use the same or similar skills.Plumbers, pipefitters, or steamfitters work in multiple industrial applications — any place where liquids or gases need to be transported by pipes under pressure. Around 425,000 people work in the field nationwide at a median salary of more than $52,000 a year, according to the BLS. Some military occupations easily adapted here include plumbers, utilities workers, hull maintenance technicians, and water support technicians.
- Electricians. This is another field that goes well beyond residential electrical systems. Electricians are employed in almost all industrial fields, and employment in the field is expected to grow about 14 percent by 2024, according to the BLS — much faster than most. Cable systems installers, power generation equipment repairers, aircraft electricians, and mobile utilities support equipment technicians are among the military specialists who might want to consider a career in this field.
The keys to a successful military-to-civilian career transition are similar to the keys to any job search.
It’s crucial, first off, to ask yourself what you enjoy doing. That should lead you shortly to a list of careers you might want to pursue.
Once you have done that, it is important to do a realistic assessment of your skills and get any additional training you may need, either while you are still in the military or shortly after you leave. Once your skills are accounted for, it’s important to translate them in a way prospective employers can appreciate. Hire a professional resume writer, if necessary, to make sure you are presented in the most positive and complete light.
In addition to providing the training you may need, Vista College offers help with your job search through our Career Services Department, including help with resume and interview preparation.
Whether you get help from us or through any of a number of career advisory services available to veterans, it’s a good idea to receive assistance with your job search from someone. Another pair of eyes and an outside perspective may help you uncover valuable gems in your military experience you didn’t realize you had and find the best way to sell them to those who can truly launch you in your new life and your new career.