7 Steps for Transitioning From Military to Civilian Employment

veteran reads with a young child
Category: Military Support

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

One of the main goals for nearly every veteran transitioning to civilian life is starting a new career. In a Pew Research Center study, 95% of veteran respondents sought employment after serving in the military.

The transition from military to civilian life can be hard. In the same Pew Research Center study, 26% of veteran respondents found shifting to civilian life to be very difficult or somewhat difficult; that percentage jumped to 48% for veterans who served after 9/11.

Even after military personnel find a job in the civilian job market, they may not find a good fit right away. In a study by VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, 43% of veteran respondents remained in their first civilian job for 12 months or less; more than 80% were in their first civilian job for less than two years.

Thankfully, veterans have access to plenty of resources to help them navigate their post-military careers. In this article, we’ve compiled an overview of tips and guidance for veterans looking to find the right job after transitioning to civilian life.

Transitioning From the Military to the Civilian Workforce

It may be beneficial to start laying your foundation for a successful transition as early as two years before you retire from the military. It can be a long, drawn-out process, but many veterans have been on this path before you.

Here are seven steps we’ve identified to help veterans successfully transition to the civilian workforce:

  1. Find all the military transition resources available to you. The Transition Assistance Program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs is a good place to start, but there are other options too. State and local government agencies, your school, and even your personal and professional relationships can be good sources for information and guidance. For more details about finding all of the right resources for you, read Military Transition Resources for Entering the Civilian Workforce.
  2. Take a self assessment. Setting aside time to write down your skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses will help you stay on track and only pursue career fields and organizations that will be a good match. You may also want to complete an assessment like the CareerScope tool offered by the VA. For more info about self assessments, read Career Assessments for Veterans.
  3. Find the right education option for you. Depending on the career you’re interested in, you may need to go back to school to finish a degree or start a new one. It’s a good idea to consider common degree programs for veterans, but keep an open mind too. Once you start one program, you may realize that a different program fits your career goals better. No matter what academic program you choose, attending a military-friendly school will help put you in a position to succeed. For more details, read Military-Friendly Colleges: How to Pick the Right One.
  4. Research the job market and identify career fields. Knowing more about a given industry – including the typical requirements for a job, the salary ranges, the projected job growth and more – will be helpful when the time comes to start your formal job search. The Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good place to start your research, and these details may help you narrow down your options. For more information, read Civilian Careers for Military Veterans.
  5. Prepare your professional correspondence. Working ahead on your resume – and fine-tuning the wording you plan to use in cover letters – will be a good use of your time. Make sure you translate your written materials into civilian language, as many hiring officials won’t be familiar with military jargon.
  6. Start your job search. How you apply for positions will likely depend heavily on your industry, but common ways to apply for jobs include websites like Indeed and online job boards for professional associations. Government careers are popular with veterans, so USAJOBS is another online job site to keep in mind; veterans may also want to bookmark the Department of Defense section on USAJOBS. For more information, read Job Search Resources for Veterans: What to Know.
  7. Find the right fit for your first job. When you’re going through the interview process, consider your offers carefully. Think back to your self-assessment. How well does the offer match your career aspirations? Also, remember that salary and benefits may be negotiable.


At Columbia Southern University, many of our students are veterans transitioning from military to civilian employment. Of our total student population of more than 29,000, approximately 40% are active-duty, veterans, or military spouses and dependents. Our dedicated military support staff is comprised of current and former military members who understand your unique needs and connect you with our flexible online education options.

If you’re thinking about going back to school, strong career services programs and military student resources may be deciding factors when deciding which school is right for you. Learn more about our Career Services Department and Veterans Center.

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