The Best Jobs for Veterans: A Guide to Careers for Military Vets
In today’s America, the best jobs for veterans are often the ones that utilize some of the skills they developed while serving. And, believe it or not, those types of jobs can be found in almost every industry. After all, former service members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard frequently make outstanding employees because of their transferable skills, disciplined work ethic, and cooperative attitudes. But when it comes to transitioning back into civilian life as a military veteran, jobs can seem elusive, at least in the early stages.
Just know this: Over the long term, America’s military vets tend to have an advantage in the job market over their non-veteran counterparts. Even though the initial transition from military to civilian employment can be difficult, veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces mostly experience lower rates of unemployment over the course of their entire working lives than those in the general population.1
So the jobs are out there. But for a newly discharged veteran, employment in the civilian world is something that is often found only through persistence and extra effort. Think about it: Every year, between 240,000 and 360,000 U.S. servicemen and women leave the military.2 And that’s on top of the millions of other veterans who are already out of the service. (In 2015, America was home to 21.2 million military vets.3)
As a result, it isn’t unusual for young or recently discharged veterans to experience a period of unemployment after leaving the military. Learning how to qualify and compete for civilian jobs can take some time. It’s normal. That’s why, in 2015, about 43 percent of the 495,000 unemployed veterans in America were under the age of 45.3
That doesn’t mean that good veterans jobs only go to older vets. On the contrary, there are frequently a lot of civilian jobs for veterans who are younger or less experienced. But attaining those jobs often requires that you get some additional training or education, which you can often pay for with your military benefits. It also requires that you know how to conduct an effective veteran job search, including how to find companies that hire veterans.
Of course, a lot of veterans simply don’t know what type of career to pursue in the first place. Without the structure of military life, it’s easy to feel lost when confronted with the larger, different world of civilian occupations and expectations. However, allowing yourself the freedom to get acquainted with several possibilities is a good way to start transitioning into your new life. At this stage, your mission is simply to explore without putting too much pressure on yourself.
With those things in mind, check out the following sections:
- Good careers for veterans: 14 military-friendly job categories
- Companies that hire military vets
- How to conduct an effective job search: 11 useful tips for veterans
Good Careers for Veterans: 14 Military-Friendly Job Categories
Some veterans are lucky enough to know exactly what they want to do in their new careers. And some of them even have hard skills that transfer directly into their civilian jobs without any additional training or credentials. But those veterans usually represent the exception, not the rule. In most cases, it takes open-minded exploration to come up with good possibilities for post-military jobs (for vets who served in frontline combat roles especially).
It’s important to remember that veterans generally have a lot of soft skills and professional traits that translate well to a wide range of occupations. But understanding your own particular strengths is an essential aspect of exploring potential careers. You need to keep your current abilities in mind along with other skills that you think you might like to acquire. After all, America is home to plenty of veterans who’ve gone back to school in order to develop new skills that complement the ones they already have.
With those points as a backdrop, consider some of the following civilian jobs for military veterans. (The salary estimates that are cited after each occupation are based on national median wages from 2016.4)
Some of the best jobs for veterans are in this category, especially since a lot of ex-military members are used to working with their hands. Plus, special programs exist to help transitioning service members get quality training and job opportunities in construction and similar industries.
For example, Helmets to Hardhats connects veterans to construction apprenticeships. And the United Association’s Veterans in Piping (VIP) program helps current active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces transition to civilian careers in a variety of piping-related trades.
- Aircraft mechanic—$60,170
- Wind energy technician—$52,260
- Commercial diver—$49,090
- Industrial maintenance technician—$50,040
- HVAC technician—$45,910
- Heavy equipment operator—$45,890
- Diesel mechanic—$45,170
- Auto mechanic—$38,470
- Solar energy technician—$39,240
For some veterans, employment is found within private or public schools. Of course, becoming a teacher generally requires additional education. But a lot of vets have gained the ability to help mentor and train other people during their military careers. And the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) offers a program called Troops to Teachers (TTT) that helps veterans and current military members navigate the process of becoming certified public school teachers.
- High school teacher—$58,030
- Middle school teacher—$56,720
- Elementary school teacher—$55,800
- Kindergarten teacher—$52,620
- Vocational school teacher—$50,660
- Teaching assistant—$25,410
- Early childhood educator—$21,170
A lot of American military vets have received specialized engineering training during their time in the military. So pursuing jobs in this category often makes a great deal of sense. But even if your military career involved something else, the engineering field is worth a close look.
Some of the nation’s most successful aerospace and defense manufacturers like to hire veterans with engineering skills since they’ve had experience around the kinds of military equipment and systems that they produce. And engineering jobs can be found in a compelling range of other sectors as well.
- Electronics engineer—$99,210
- Mechanical engineer—$84,190
- Civil engineer—$83,540
- Electronics or electrical engineering technician—$62,190
- Mechanical engineering technician—$54,480
- Mechanical drafter—$54,480
- Architectural drafter—$51,640
- Civil engineering technician—$49,980
4. Transportation and Logistics
Many people in the military get experience at coordinating the movement of supplies or driving large vehicles. Some of them even get experience at flying aircraft or coordinating military air traffic. As a result, they often succeed at civilian careers like long-haul truck driving, aviation, or logistics and supply chain management.
- Air traffic controller—$122,410
- Airline pilot—$127,820
- Commercial pilot—$77,200
- Commercial tractor-trailer truck driver—$41,340
- Light truck delivery driver—$30,580
This is often one of the best categories of employment for veterans who have experience at helping wounded soldiers or other sick or injured military members. But even if you didn’t receive any special medical training during your time of service, you can still get a relatively fast education in an allied health field and be job-ready within as little as two years or less.
- Dental hygienist—$72,910
- Diagnostic medical sonographer—$69,650
- Registered nurse—$68,450
- Occupational therapy assistant—$59,010
- Respiratory therapist—$58,670
- Radiologic technologist—$57,450
- Physical therapist assistant—$56,610
- Cardiovascular technologist—$55,570
- Surgical technologist—$45,160
- Licensed practical or vocational nurse—$44,090
- Medical lab technician—$38,950
- Dental assistant—$36,940
- Emergency medical technician—$32,670
6. Telecommunications and Information Technology
America’s military is heavily reliant on advanced computer systems and communications technologies. That’s why a lot of ex-military personnel gravitate toward careers in this category. They often expand their existing skill sets and get to enjoy being part of the continuing evolution of technology while contributing new solutions to fascinating challenges.
- Software developer—$100,080 for applications; $106,860 for systems
- Cybersecurity specialist—$92,600
- Database administrator—$84,940
- Computer programmer—$79,840
- Network administrator—$79,700
- Computer support technician—$62,670
- Telecom technician—$52,590
7. Finance and Business Management
The military is well known for producing leaders who know how to develop strategies, adapt to changing circumstances, and coordinate and motivate people with varying skill sets. So it’s no surprise that occupations related to financial, business, or project management are among the best jobs for prior military members who’ve had leadership roles.
- Marketing manager—$131,180
- Human resources manager—$106,910
- General/operations manager—$99,310
- Financial advisor—$90,530
- Accountant or auditor—$68,150
- Property manager—$57,040
- Hotel manager—$51,840
8. Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
As far as ex-military jobs go, this sector often provides one of the most natural fits. Veterans frequently have a strong desire to keep serving their communities in a capacity that feels exciting or even a little dangerous. Many occupations in this category allow veterans to continue feeling like the good guys while helping to hold criminals accountable or keeping people safe from harm.
- Criminal investigator—$78,120
- Police officer—$59,680
- Parole or probation officer—$50,160
- Private investigator—$48,190
- Corrections officer—$42,820
- Security guard—$25,770
9. Outdoor Jobs
Veterans who’ve been in combat sometimes don’t want to work indoors or within confined spaces. In fact, many veterans with mental conditions like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) find it helpful to work outside where they have access to fresh air and don’t have to be pinned in by walls. Thankfully, golf courses, marinas, and other outdoor settings are places where it’s possible to find enjoyable employment.
10. Animal Care
Like outdoor jobs, animal care occupations are often good for veterans who have PTSD or other mental health challenges. They can provide a calming influence and help minimize the amount of time spent with other people, which is sometimes an emotional trigger for combat veterans.
11. Federal Government Jobs
It can be hard to beat federal government jobs. For veterans, especially, this route frequently offers the opportunity to start a career that comes with outstanding benefits. And veterans can often attain those jobs through special hiring processes that aren’t available to the general public.
By understanding how veterans’ preference works, you may be able to gain an advantage over other civilians when applying for jobs in federal agencies. You won’t be guaranteed a job, but applying under special hiring authorities for veterans can greatly increase your chances of landing a great position in the public sector.
America’s federal government has a long track record of hiring military veterans. After all, a lot of veterans already have government security clearances. And they frequently have essential skills that are needed by all kinds of federal agencies.
It’s easy to explore the various possibilities at a site such as USAJOBS. Some of the most compelling positions are related to areas as diverse as homeland security, social work, nursing, engineering, and substance-abuse counseling. But the possibilities extend to nearly every type of profession, including administrative and technical positions.
Salaries within the federal government vary widely and depend on your location and pay grade. Most federal civilian employees earn pay based on the General Schedule (GS), which is made up of 15 grades. Each grade is made up of 10 steps. You can increase your pay by moving up to higher grades or steps. As of 2016, federal pay ranges from $18,343 per year for those at step one of the GS-1 grade to $133,444 per year for those at step 10 of the GS-15 grade.5
12. Overseas Jobs
Many former servicemen and women choose to pursue new careers in countries other than the United States. In fact, if you want to work for the government, it’s possible to find a lot of federal jobs for veterans in other nations since many American agencies have operations overseas.
Private security is one of the best jobs for veterans who miss the action and excitement of military missions and want to work overseas. The federal government hires private military contractors to help provide security for certain facilities and transport operations. Pay varies, but many people in this line of work earn six-figure salaries while under contract.
Some veterans choose to take advantage of their proven leadership skills by going into business for themselves. They often have a high tolerance for taking risks, which makes them good entrepreneurs. Plus, it isn’t always necessary to start from scratch. All kinds of franchise opportunities exist, which means that it’s possible to benefit from a brand and business model that is already successful. And thanks to the International Franchise Association’s Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative (VetFran), you can find opportunities in which franchisors offer significant discounts on their franchise fees or other expenses to former members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
14. Jobs for Disabled Veterans
Veterans who have service-connected disabilities can often take advantage of the federal government’s special hiring authorities and training programs for disabled vets. In fact, over one-third of America’s employed veterans who have a service-connected disability work in the public sector (compared to about one-fifth of non-disabled veterans).3
In addition, some companies make an effort to offer career opportunities to disabled veterans in all kinds of fields. By exploring the wide variety of jobs for people with disabilities, you might discover one that you’ve never considered before.
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