About 200,000 service members leave the military each year. For veterans who aren't ready or don't want to retire yet, the next mission is often the search for a civilian career. Many veterans have years of professional training and real-world experience in information technology and cybersecurity.
The US alone had nearly 500,000 available cybersecurity positions in March 2021. Veterans from all military branches and career fields bring a wealth of skills and attributes to the table. These characteristics include leadership skills, teamwork, integrity, and maintaining composure under pressure.
But veterans face challenges in entering the civilian workforce. Hurdles include networking with civilian job contacts and translating military experience and skills to civilian language and roles.
If you're a veteran, know someone who is, or are in a position to hire people for information technology or cybersecurity jobs, continue reading for guidance on how veterans can connect with civilian IT and cybersecurity opportunities.
How can you prepare for a civilian career?
In short: Start early.
Retirement timeline and prep
Active-duty military members can retire after 20 years. Service members on track for retirement or whose military contract is set to expire can begin the process 24 months ahead of their transition date. One year before transitioning, service members receive a pre-retirement information package. Allow yourself six months to assemble and submit all the required documentation.
The military requires service members to participate in a Transition Assistance Program before leaving active duty. The federal departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Education, and Labor, along with the Small Business Administration and the Office of Personnel Management, cooperate to support the TAP program.
Translate your job title to civilian speak
The Army and Marine Corps call their job titles military occupational specialties (MOS). The Navy and Coast Guard call their job titles ratings, while the Air Force calls them Air Force Specialty Codes. The Space Force uses the Air Force system. Translating these roles and responsibilities into language civilians can understand is key to getting hired.
All six service branches have IT and cybersecurity jobs with civilian equivalents. Several online sources, including the Disabled Veterans National Foundation and Military.com, have apps that allow you to plug in your military job code and see equivalent civilian job roles or job postings. O*NET is another valuable career transition resource. It's sponsored by the Department of Labor and the Employment and Training Administration. The site helps current and former service members understand how their military job skills can be translated into a civilian career.
Once you've identified job opportunities, next comes a task that many veterans find challenging: You need to explain your military job title, experience, and responsibilities in simple, civilian language.
The executive director of American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit organization that provides career counseling for returning veterans and spouses of active duty service members, told The Muse that one way to translate military job experience to a civilian audience is to focus on your professional accomplishments.
Highlighting individual achievements is better than simply listing job titles and duty assignments, which often don't translate easily to a non-military audience. It's also good to highlight transferable skills and rephrase military jargon into simpler terms.
Hiring military veterans? An employer's guide
Employers can connect with job-seeking military veterans by adopting several strategies. Here are some suggestions from employment websites, government organizations, and nonprofits:
Learn the culture
If you're serious about hiring veterans, take some time to learn about the military. The military invests significant resources into training and indoctrinating its members. Service members learn to think, talk, and behave according to their service branch's culture.
When they leave the military, veterans often retain beliefs and behaviors learned in the military, which can make transitioning into a new civilian work culture difficult. A basic understanding of military culture, traditions, and organizational structure will set a good foundation for connecting with veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs has several resources that explain military basics.
Speak military language
Military jobs and culture are usually mission-oriented. One strategy to attract veterans is to write military-friendly job descriptions. To do this, the Department of Labor suggests writing job descriptions that are competency-based rather than experience-based. Other suggestions include highlighting problem-solving, strategic thinking, or leadership aspects of jobs. When reviewing veteran applicant resumes, hiring managers should be trained to know what to look for and how veterans' experiences and attributes may be transferable into the civilian workplace.
Advertise in the right places
Start by researching veteran-oriented employment groups and job boards. Keep your eyes open for veteran-oriented job fairs or events in your region. If you live in a community with a significant military presence, consider introducing yourself to local military community commanders. Military installations are increasingly open to partnering with civilian employers as part of supporting their members' transition out of the military. Encouraging current employees with a military background to help with recruitment can go a long way toward building trust with veteran applicants.
Form a veteran employee resource group
Whether you've already got veterans working in your organization or you're looking to make your first hire, consider starting a veterans group. By making the ERG open to all who want to support veterans hiring initiatives, you'll gain some momentum and create community and collaboration. Similarly, veteran ERGs can be influential in shaping a workplace that is truly military friendly.
Career resources and jobs for veterans
Ready to take the next step? Whether on college campuses or through various veteran service organizations, there are many nonprofit organizations, as well as local and state programs, that can help veterans find meaningful post-military careers. In addition, here are seven organizations that provide career and employment support for current members of the military, veterans, spouses, and those looking to hire veterans:
The VA Employment Center is a federal government resource that offers career and employment assistance for veterans and family members, along with connections to personalized education and career counseling.
The Veterans Employment Toolkit from the VA provides a variety of outside resources for employers, managers or supervisors, and human resource professionals.
Hire Heroes USA works to help military members, veterans, and their spouses find civilian careers and succeed in the civilian workforce. With support from about 20 major companies, the organization maintains a free job board and sponsors virtual job fairs and training events.
Built by veterans for veterans, this digital platform facilitates mentoring and networking opportunities for current service members, people who are leaving the military, and their spouses. The platform allows you to choose your mentors from the ranks of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other successful veterans.
This program provides veterans and their family members with job placement, resume writing assistance, interview preparation, and networking opportunities. The program also focuses on reducing the stigma around combat-related injuries and works to help companies retain veterans.
Sponsored by the US Department of Labor, CareerOneStop features tools and career resources specifically for veterans. The resources include information about employment, training, education, and financial help after military service.
The federal Office of Personnel Management runs this FedsHireVet, which works to increase the number of transitioning military members, veterans, and their family members who are employed in the civil service.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Michael J. Kirchner
Dr. Michael J. Kirchner is an assistant professor of organizational leadership at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he teaches courses in leadership and human resource development. Dr. Kirchner also serves as the campus' veteran resource center director.
Previously, Kirchner oversaw the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Military and Veterans Resource Center, where he guided programming for the campus' 1,500+ military-affiliated student population. Under his leadership (2013-2016), the campus built a nationally recognized "military-college-career" framework focusing on supporting student veteran transitions.
Kirchner earned his Ph.D. in human resource development from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research on career transitions and leadership development has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Human Resource Development Quarterly, Advances in Developing Human Resources, New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, and Industrial and Commercial Training.
Kirchner is also the founder and president of Time for Development LLC, where he provides consulting to organizations on military-friendly programming, human resource development strategy, and training design. He served for a year in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2004-2005 as part of the U.S. Army National Guard.
Kirchner is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.