Tips for Moving from Military to Civilian Work

Moving from Military to Civilian Work

NegosentroShifting professional gears is difficult enough, but transitioning from military to civilian life is a whole other story. If you’ve recently retired from active duty and are having a tough time adjusting to life without the routines of military life, not to worry – it’s very common. On top of that, job hunting can seem like an impossible task. Don’t sell yourself short though! The experience you gained from working in the military can certainly translate to civilian work.

Working in the military offers up a chance to learn some seriously valuable life skills that can be transferred across many other careers. Technical skills are great to have, but don’t overlook the importance of soft skills, as these are the abilities that employers look for when trying to find someone who can fit well into the role and with the other employees on the job. They are also the skills that will help you keep your new job. 

Skills like teamwork and communication are vital to practically every role. Anyone in the military knows teamwork is taught on day one. You have to support your team no matter what, not to mention also live with them for long periods of time. Communication skills are crucial here in the military as well, and there’s no doubt it’s a skill you’ve grown and mastered during your service. 

Similarly, effectively collaborating and communicating with your team is highly valued in any office or job site and employers are always on the lookout for someone who has fine-tuned these particular skills. 

Another sought after skill is the ability to problem solve, and its sister skill adaptability. Military vets know that not everything goes according to plan, and sometimes plans fall through or need to change at the last minute. Figuring out how to adapt and overcome is necessary in both military and civilian careers. 

Now that you have realized your potential hireability, it’s time to find a job that suits your skills. Here are the top career paths for those who have worked in the military.


The procedures and routines of military life are similar to a lot of government roles, so these kinds of jobs are easy to transfer into, especially if you had security clearance while serving. Veterans who still have clearance are highly sought after individuals, so be sure to indicate that you are “clearable” on your resume. 

Federal jobs also come with a lot of perks, like healthcare and retirement benefits. The tricky part is navigating the hiring process, which is usually much different than jobs in other sectors. Make use of the connections you made while in the military and network, because there’s a good chance someone you know either works in government or knows someone who does. Once you have a contact, try and set up an informational interview with them to find out what opportunities are available and how to make yourself a better candidate for them. This will help you immensely, and it’s a bonus if that contact can help get your resume to the top of the pile.

Finally, keep your job search targeted. It may be tempting to apply for any and every government job you see, but this can leave you frustrated if none of them pan out. Hone in on specific roles you think you could excel at rather than mass applying to everything because it’s available. It may be helpful to speak to a career counselor to figure out exactly which skills you have and match them with specific roles in the government sector to make this process a bit easier. 

Construction or equipment operator

A lot of construction companies actively seek out those from a military background to employ because of the obvious transferable skills, work ethic, and knowledge. Managerial positions are a great idea as well, which play well with communication and organizational skills, as well as the discipline required. 

Military vets are especially sought after if you have experience or certification operating heavy machinery or other large equipment. If you have not gotten that certification, it’s fairly easy and quick to take a course and get it. 

Construction workers are also in high demand. There is an estimated need for about 2.5 million additional construction workers for 2020 and 2021, so if you have the skills, there are plenty of vacancies that need to be filled in the coming years. 

Cyber security

A good number of veterans leave the military with information and communication technology skills, so why not put that to good use? Jobs in the technology field are becoming increasingly in demand and fast, with a shortage of skilled workers as well. The soft skills needed for this kind of work overlap with the soft skills learned while on military duty: attention to detail, respect of authority, willingness to follow orders and procedures, and discretion. It’s also a fairly straightforward field, so even if you didn’t work in a tech position in the military, you can work your way up in a civilian role. 

Personal trainer

Most people value their fitness and want to get in shape, but at the same time, a lot of people are not sure where to begin at the gym, hiring a personal trainer seems like an easy decision. They truly are worth their weight in gold when it comes to knowledge and expertise. 

For those in the military, being in shape is a requirement and definitely part of the culture. Physical training is part of everyday life while in the service since your level of fitness could literally be the difference between life and death. In civilian life, military boot camp drills, training classes, and obstacle course races have all become mainstream, and are now popular ways to get fit. Talk about transfer of knowledge! 

Another reason to get into personal training or fitness is the ability to work for yourself, set your own hours, and to an extent, choose your own clients. Vets leave the service with all the right skills to go into business for themselves – tactical, communications, information technology, and medical skills – so this is a good natural transfer of expertise. 

Skilled trades

Career paths that require a skilled trade are almost always in demand. Consider becoming an electrician, plumber, or heating or air conditioning specialist, since these fields are always relevant and usually have vacancies available. The emphasis on the general public is to get a four-year degree rather than go into trade school and graduate with a skilled trade job. Technical training in the military is part of the position, so why not utilize your training and acquired skills to pursue a trade?  

It’s beneficial to do some research and find out which of your skills would translate well into which trades. Also consider your interests, since you don’t want to end up doing a job you aren’t actually keen on. As an added benefit, trades workers usually get good salaries, since it is a skilled position.

Public safety

Sectors like law enforcement, fire fighting, and emergency medical services have overlapping skill sets as military professionals. The ability to remain calm but think quickly and problem solve in stressful situations is imperative to these types of positions. Plus, the ability to help those in need is intrinsic to the types of people who serve in the military. If your mission is to assist people, and you are adaptable, dedicated, and focused, a career in public service may be the right move for you. 

While some jobs don’t require formal education, it’s worth noting that some of these careers do require relevant education or specific certification. For some careers, like public safety, for example, a diploma or certificate is required. This should not deter you. In today’s modern and globally connected world, it’s easy to upgrade your education. There are plenty of options outside of a traditional classroom setting that requires you to be in on campus full or part-time. That schedule may not work for everyone, especially if you’re used to military scheduling. 

Alternative study schedules and learning options are great for ex-military folks. Online courses are one great option if you want to complete a course or even get a full degree. Using the same example of public safety courses, there are many schools that offer programs in this field where you can get your safety degree online from anywhere in the world. 

Another option is to get an apprenticeship that rewards you with certification at the end of your tenure. There are two parts to an apprenticeship: the in-class portion and the on-the-job portion. If you’re concerned about the in-class part of the course, never fear – it only takes up about 20% of the whole apprenticeship. The rest is spent on the job, which is usually paid as well, so you’re earning money while you learn your new trade. 

Transitioning from military life to civilian life definitely takes some adjustment, but finding the right job for your already defined skillset can make it seem a lot less daunting. Keep your eyes peeled and your mind open and you will have the perfect position in no time. 

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