Veterans’ Guide to Job Hunting in the Civilian Market

This article was originally published on moneygeek.

This guide will provide veterans with essential insights to help you navigate the transition to the civilian job market and land a meaningful career.

Transitioning to the civilian job market after a military career is a common step for many veterans. As you search for a civilian job, you may have questions about translating military skills on a resume, finding job opportunities for veterans and mastering interviews in an unfamiliar job market. This guide will answer those questions and share some veteran success stories to help you transition to your next meaningful and fulfilling career.

Documents You’ll Need for a Job Search

Starting your job search begins with preparation, and a key part of that is having all the necessary documents ready to showcase your skills, experiences and accomplishments to potential employers. Here are the essential documents you should have prepared:

DocumentWhat It IsWhy It MattersHow to Prepare
Certifications or LicensesThese are documents that verify you’ve completed certain training programs or possess specific skills, whether obtained during military service or through additional training.Certifications or licenses give you an edge in the job market by demonstrating your expertise and commitment to professional development. For veterans, they also serve as proof of specialized military training relevant to civilian roles.Gather any certifications or licenses you’ve earned during or after military service. Include relevant ones on your resume and be prepared to discuss them in an interview.
Cover LetterA cover letter accompanies your resume and allows you to express your interest in the job while connecting your military skills and experiences to the job requirements.A cover letter lets you go beyond your resume’s bullet points, highlighting how your military background aligns with the position.Write a professional cover letter that showcases your military skills and experiences while expressing genuine interest in the job. Proofread carefully before sending.
DD-214Your DD-214 is the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, verifying your military service and discharge nature.This document is often necessary for accessing veteran benefits, and employers may request it to confirm your military service and training.Keep a readily available copy of your DD-214. If lost, request a new one from the National Archives.
ReferencesReferences are people who can vouch for your skills, character and work ethic, such as former military colleagues or civilian supervisors.Strong references can enhance your application, showcasing your abilities in both military and civilian contexts.Select individuals familiar with your work and who can speak positively about your skills and experiences. Inform them when applying for jobs to be prepared for potential inquiries.
ResumeA resume summarizes your skills, experiences and accomplishments, providing a means for veterans to translate military experience into civilian terms.Your resume is often the first impression for employers, highlighting your qualifications and how your military skills can benefit civilian employers.List your military experiences, education and skills, translating military jargon into civilian language. Tailor your resume for each job application, emphasizing the most relevant skills and experiences.
TranscriptsTranscripts are official records of your educational history, detailing the courses taken and grades received.Transcripts demonstrate ongoing learning, professional development and the acquisition of new skills or knowledge during or after military service.Request official transcripts from the schools you’ve attended. Some employers may require official copies, while others may accept unofficial ones.


Maintaining your job search documents is a continuous process. Update your resume and cover letter as you gain new skills, experiences or complete new training. Safely storing your documents is equally important. Consider using secure cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox, which allow you to access your documents from anywhere. Always keep backup copies of documents — especially your DD-214, which you’ll need to access veteran benefits.

Preparing for the Job Search

Before you start sending out applications, taking a few strategic steps can significantly improve your chances of success. To gear up your job application, begin by researching jobs that align with your military skills and crafting a civilian-friendly resume with tailored cover letters for each application. Here are some steps you may consider when preparing for the job hunt:

1. Browse the Civilian Job Market

The civilian job market can be quite different from the military environment. It’s important to understand these differences and how they can impact your job search. For instance, civilian jobs often require a different set of skills and qualifications and the hiring process can be more competitive.

2. Craft a Civilian-Friendly Resume

Your resume is often the first impression you make on a potential employer, so it’s important to make it count. Create a resume that effectively communicates your skills and experiences to civilian employers. This includes highlighting transferable skills and tailoring your resume to each job you apply for.

3. Write Tailored Cover Letters

A cover letter is your chance to express your interest in a job and explain why you’re a good fit. It’s important to write a new cover letter for each job application. Your cover letter should complement your resume, providing additional details about your skills and experiences and explaining how you could contribute to the company.

4. Collect References

Having a list of references who can vouch for the quality of your work is an important part of the job application process. Choose references who know you well and can speak positively about your work. Always inform your references that you will be listing them and that they may be contacted by prospective employers.

Nailing the Civilian Resume for Veterans

Your resume can help you present your skills in a way that resonates with potential employers. To help you craft a compelling civilian resume, consider the following tips:

1. Understanding Job Descriptions

Familiarize yourself with civilian job descriptions, which may use different terminology than you’re accustomed to in the military. Take the time to understand the requirements and responsibilities of the job, and look for keywords and phrases that align with your skills and experiences.

2. Translating Military Skills Into Civilian Terms

Start by identifying the transferable skills you gained in the military, such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving. Then, find ways to present these skills in a way that appeals to civilian employers. For example, instead of saying you “commanded a team of soldiers,” you might say you “led a team of professionals in high-pressure situations.”

3. Highlighting Transferable Skills

Emphasize transferable skills — abilities that can be applied across various jobs and industries. These may include leadership, problem-solving, communication or teamwork. Provide examples of how you’ve utilized these skills in your military career.

4. Formatting Your Resume

Ensure your resume is well-formatted for easy readability and a positive impression. Use a professional font, include clear section headings and keep your content concise. Bullet points can be useful for listing skills and experiences.

5. Writing a Powerful Objective or Summary

Craft a concise and tailored objective or summary at the top of your resume. This statement should communicate your career goals and highlight why you’re an ideal fit for the specific job you’re applying to.

6. Including Relevant Certifications and Training

Don’t forget to include any relevant certifications or training you’ve completed during your military career. This could encompass technical training, leadership courses or specialized skills such as first aid or project management.

7. Review and Edit

Prior to submission, thoroughly review your resume for errors or inconsistencies. Consider seeking input from a trusted friend or mentor who can provide valuable feedback and catch any mistakes you might have missed.

Resume Dos and Don’ts: A Comparison

There are a few common mistakes veterans make when crafting a civilian resume. To help you avoid these pitfalls and create a compelling resume, we’ll compare a poorly crafted resume and a well-crafted resume. This comparison will highlight common mistakes and demonstrate how to correct them.


Let’s start by examining a resume that falls short. Although this resume includes the candidate’s military experience, it fails to effectively communicate the value of that experience in terms that a civilian employer can easily understand and appreciate.


123 Main St, Anytown, USA

OBJECTIVE: Looking for a job

EXPERIENCE11B Infantryman, U.S. Army, 2015-2020

  • Carried out reconnaissance missions
  • Deployed, neutralized and retrieved both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines
  • Used night vision equipment to operate, mount/dismount, calibrate and target


  • High School Diploma, Anytown High School, 2015


Vague Objective. The objective statement “Looking for a job” is too vague. It doesn’t provide any information about the type of job the candidate is seeking or why they would be a good fit.

Use of Military Jargon. The experience section is filled with military jargon and technical terms that civilian employers may not understand. It’s important to translate these into civilian-friendly language.

Lack of Transferable Skills. The resume doesn’t highlight any transferable skills. While the candidate’s military experience is impressive, it’s not clear how these skills and experiences would benefit a civilian employer.

Example: Resume “Do”

Now, let’s take a look at a much-improved version of the same candidate’s resume. This example effectively translates the candidate’s military experience into civilian terms, clearly showcasing the transferable skills and experiences that make the candidate a strong fit for a civilian job.


123 Main St, Anytown, USA LinkedIn:

OBJECTIVE: Seeking a challenging role in security management where I can utilize my leadership skills and extensive experience in strategic planning and risk assessment.


Security Team Leader, U.S. Army, 2015-2020

  • Led a team of 10 personnel in high-pressure situations, ensuring safety and completing objectives with a 100% success rate.
  • Conducted risk assessments and developed strategic plans for various operations.
  • Trained in the use and maintenance of various security equipment and technology.


  • High School Diploma, Anytown High School, 2015
  • Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)


  • Leadership and team management
  • Strategic planning
  • Risk assessment
  • Security equipment and technology


Clear Objective. The objective statement clearly outlines the candidate’s career goals and how they can contribute to a potential employer

Civilian-Friendly Language. The experience section has been translated into civilian-friendly language. It’s clear what the candidate’s role was and how their skills can be applied in a civilian context.

Highlighted Transferable Skills. The resume clearly highlights transferable skills such as leadership, strategic planning and risk assessment. These skills are valuable in a variety of civilian jobs.

Relevant Certifications. The candidate has included a relevant certification, which shows a commitment to their career and provides evidence of their skills.

Where to Find Job Opportunities for Veterans

Once you’ve put together your resume, you’re ready to find and apply for jobs. There are numerous job search platforms designed specifically for veterans. Below are some sources and tools to help you find the job opportunities that will fit you best.

  • Create a LinkedIn ProfileBegin by setting up a profile on LinkedIn. Add your resume, a recent picture and a brief description of yourself. Connect with everyone you know and look for networking opportunities. Potential employers may also reach out to you, as they can see your background and resume details on your LinkedIn profile page.
  • Leverage FacebookDon’t overlook Facebook as a job search tool. Post a request to your personal network, providing some basic details about the type of job you’re looking for. You might be surprised by the opportunities that come your way.
  • Search for Jobs on Military Resources or Job PortalsUtilize military resources such as Military.comHire VeteransRecruitMilitaryHire Heroes USA or G.I. Jobs to search top veteran jobs. These sites are great resources that provide free job search assistance to U.S. military members, veterans and their spouses.

Once you have a few leads and have applied for the jobs that fit the career path you are looking for, it’s time to prepare for the interview.

Acing the Job Interview for Veterans

Job interviews are a pivotal step in any job search journey. As a veteran, this is your golden opportunity to articulate the unique abilities and skills you developed in the military in a civilian context and leave a strong impression on potential employers. Here are tips and strategies to help nail your interview:

1. Research the Company

Before your interview, take the time to research the company. Understand its mission, values and culture. This will help you answer interview questions more effectively and show your interest and initiative.

2. Prepare for Common Interview Questions

While every interview is different, there are some common questions that you can expect. Practice your responses to these questions, focusing on how your military experience has prepared you for the role.

3. Showcase Your Soft Skills

Veterans possess many soft skills that are highly valued in the civilian workforce, such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving. Be sure to highlight these skills during your interview.

4. Discuss Salary Expectations

Be prepared to discuss salary expectations. Ensure you know the going rate for that position to be able to negotiate well. GlassdoorComparably and other sites can help gauge the typical salary ranges for that exact position. You should be honest about your expectations but also be flexible.

5. Ask Questions

At the end of the interview, you’ll likely be given the opportunity to ask questions. This is your chance to show your interest in the role and the company. Prepare some thoughtful questions in advance.

6. Follow Up After the Interview

After the interview, send a thank you note to the interviewer. This is not only a polite gesture but also a way to reaffirm your interest in the role.

7. Dress Appropriately

First impressions matter, and your outfit plays a part in that. Ensure you have an outfit suitable for the position you have applied for. This means a business-level outfit, typically a pair of slacks or skirt, a button-down collared shirt and dress shoes. A tie and/or blazer may be appropriate in more formal settings as well.


By Alice Song
Alice Song Career Advisor