The Ultimate Guide for Veteran's Job Search

Katy Boyles |
Katy is our Social Media Manager at Snagajob, where she loves talking to hourly workers and employers all day long. Her first hourly job was as a hostess.
Categories: Career Advice

Although civilian jobs for veterans are plentiful right now, looking for jobs can be a stressful experience once you’re discharged or retire from the military. You may have been in the service long enough that you hardly remember what a civilian job search process even looks like. That alone gives rise to a laundry list of understandable questions, such as “How do I write a resume?”; “Which job duties should you include or exclude?”; or “Can I use my security clearance to get a job?”. Below, we’ll walk you through how to get back into the game and excel during your job search process as a veteran. 

Step 1: What to Do Before Creating a Military to Civilian Resume

Before you do anything else in your job search process as a veteran, take some time to craft a resume that reflects the skills and experiences you’ve acquired during your time serving in the military. There are a few things to consider before you start writing your resume, and you may want to jot down some answers to these questions as an outline or resume writing guide.

Consider the following questions that will enhance the effectiveness of your resume:

  • What job (or jobs) did you perform while in the military? Consider and write down all roles you filled following basic training

  • What was your rank when you left the service?

  • What was your reason for leaving the service?

  • What hard skills did you acquire while working in your assigned roles?

  • What soft skills did you acquire while working in your assigned roles?

  • What advantages can you leverage that are unique to working in the military?

  • Do you have a security clearance? What is your clearance level, and is it still active?

  • What are your career goals?

  • Do you have any special education or training that you acquired while in the military? If so, list any certificates or degrees, or write down an explanation of that training

  • Did you receive any special commendations while serving?

Use these questions as a practical guide for the type of information you will summarize for potential employers on your resume. You may even want to go back and re-read what you wrote, then highlight different information that would be the most useful for your resume. Or, have a friend, family member, or career coach read it over and help you identify where your biggest strengths exist. 

Step 2: Create Your Veteran Resume

Before you begin writing your resume, there are a few topics you may want to consider about the veteran job search process:

1.) All job posts should be treated separately. Employers will have a different set of desired skills, personality traits, education requirements, and work experience requirements. Using the same resume won’t work for every job application.

2.) Most employers now use automated systems to pre-screen candidate resumes. That prescreening process will scan for keywords, and most often, those keywords are located in the job description. Create a revised version of your resume that includes important keywords that fit with your skills, educational background, or work history.

3.)Employers don’t spend much time reading a resume. Various studies report different amounts of time, but employers may spend just 6 seconds reading your resume. You increase your chances of getting an interview if you present your selling point as succinctly as impactfully as possible.

With that in mind, your next step is to choose a resume template that works best to get the attention of potential employers as fast as possible. There are two basic types of resumes formats to pick from:

  • Chronological: Focuses on putting your work history and experience in a chronological order

  • Functional: Emphasizes skills and experience higher on the page

A third type, known as a combination resume, is a mixture of both, but it also prioritizes skills and experience overwork and educational history. 

More likely than not, a functional resume format will work best for veterans searching for jobs. Chronological resumes often best for individuals just graduating from an educational program, or for those who have extensive work histories with multiple employers. For a veteran, however, your acquired skills are your biggest asset. Try to use a resume format that puts those front and center to maximize those few seconds hiring managers will give your resume on the first pass. 

Once you’re ready to start writing, we recommend using a reputable resource that offers resume assistance. Military.com is a great example as the website provides a military-to-civilian resume template you can use.

Importantly, make sure you have someone read and edit or comment on your resume. Any resume you submit for a job application should as grammatically spotless as possible. Never assume you can catch every mistake yourself; an extra set of eyes will be invaluable.

Step 3: Research Jobs for Veterans

Researching jobs is one of the most exciting parts of the process. You should begin by deciding what type of industry you want to work in. There are few limits on what type of work a veteran can do. Still, the best job for veterans is one that hedges the skills, experiences, habits, and benefits acquired while serving in the military, as well as any degrees obtained while on active duty. 

Create a list of job websites to use

There are many potential places you can use for your job search. SnagAJob is great if you want to find hourly jobs, for example, while USA Jobs is going to be your best bet for landing a job with the federal government.

Most job search sites have similar search features, and particularly, options that let you categorize your search based on certain criteria. We recommend focusing on aspects that matter most to you about the industry or location. That way, you can refine your search and avoid getting overwhelmed by too many options. You could also go to Google or another search engine and type in a search relevant to your interests, such as “Veteran jobs near me”, “jobs for veterans overseas”. 

Alternatively, if you know there’s a specific company you want to work for, you could make a more targeted search. For example, a search like “Amazon jobs for veterans” would get you to Amazon’s jobs page far faster than trying to get by going to Amazon’s home page. 

Set a weekly or daily application goal

The application process could take days, weeks, or months. The most important factor in all of this will be persistence. Your chances of landing a job are higher if you submit more applications and send in more resumes. With that in mind, pick a number of applications you want to send each day or each week and dedicate yourself to submitting sticking to that number.

Consider submitting at least 3 applications per day, or 21 applications per week. That will help you get to over 100 applications in under a month and a half. The number you do is ultimately up to you and what you feel you’re capable of, but there’s data to back up why you should push forward with a larger number of applications.

For example, according to Lehigh University:

  • There’s an average of 100 other applicants per job posting

  • Of those, 75 will have their resumes screened out by either a hiring manager or automated software, leaving just 25 potential candidates

  • Only 4 to 6 applicants will get invited for an interview

  • Typically, one 1 applicant will get an offer for each job post. And around 80% of those that get an offer accept it

Assuming you complete the application and send in your resume, you have a 75% chance of getting rejected during the application phase, and between a rather minimal 16% to 25% chance of getting the job once you do get an interview. 

You may be skilled, experienced, and talented, but so are many other people. The job application process is a competition as much as it is a numbers game. The more applications you submit, the greater your chance of success will be. And given only 1 out of 100 applicants will ultimately get the job, on average, you should try to submit as many applications as possible and avoid stretching out the process by submitting too few. 

Nevertheless, you can give yourself a leg up over the competition by following the advice in Step 4 just below.

Step 4: Revise Your Resume for Each Job Application

Let the data we mentioned about rejected resumes stick with you. Employers will scan submitted resumes for the keywords they put in the job post. If your resume lacks those keywords, it has a higher chance of getting rejected. Revising your resume for each application to target those keywords improves your chances of getting past the initial screening.

You will usually find the keywords under the “desired skills” or “qualifications” sections. Employers often list their desired hard and soft skills in fairly plain language.

  • Hard skills are any technical skills you’ve acquired, such as programming languages or electrical systems knowledge

  • Soft skills are personality-related traits that are important for a work environment, such as being organized, showing integrity, and being timely

Your military occupation is the best source of technical/hard skills you’ve acquired, and these should make it to your resume where relevant for the job. Conversely, the soft skills you’ve acquired will almost always be relevant for any employer, and most veterans have a similar set of soft skills that are acquired as part of the military training process. For example, integrity, teamwork, planning, and flexibility are all skills that would be valuable in jobs for veterans who want to work in their desired civilian industry. 

Step 5: Write a Cover Letter if Necessary

Cover letters can be complicated to write, and the biggest sticking point will be how to write a cover letter that doesn’t just repeat what you put in your resume. You may want to create a cover letter for every job, although some job posts may specifically state that you should not or need not include one. Unless otherwise indicated, consider writing a cover letter, but keep it short, impactful, and highly focused on the job advertised in the job post, and the company that’s hiring. 

As you write your cover letter, consider the following tips:

  1. Research the company, including what it does, who its leaders are, its company culture and value statements, and more about the job role that is being advertised

  2. Focus the content of your letter on your future or potential value to the business

  3. Open with a strong statement about your interest and value in the company and avoid summarizing your resume

  4. Exhibit enthusiasm for the job role for which you are applying

  5. Have a friend, family member, or professional editor review your cover letter

Don’t worry about the cover letter being a distraction to your resume. If you make it past the initial screening process, the hiring manager will give your resume a more thorough examination and will set aside time to review your cover letter. You give yourself an advantage over the remaining applicants at that point who do not have cover letters that help the hiring manager decide whether an interview is worth their time. 

Step 6: Respond to Interview Requests Immediately

Respond to interview requests promptly. Preferably, you should not let an interview request or even an email communication from an employer sit in your inbox for more than 24 hours. Respond within 12 hours or less, if you can. 

Communications from hiring managers may come through phone calls, emails, or even text messages. Check all of your potential contact sources in the morning and in the evening. 

Additionally, make sure you check the spam folder in your email. If you’re using Gmail, check your Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums tabs as well as your Primary Inbox. There’s a chance that Gmail will filter email communications from hiring managers to folders outside of the Primary Inbox due to how Google classifies some email senders. This is a common occurrence for emails generated by websites that use an internal messaging system where messages are forward to email accounts. 

Step 7: Prepare for the Interview

For most applicants, the job interview will be the last step of the process. You may feel tremendous anxiety leading up to the interview; that’s perfectly normal! Most anxiety can be reduced by taking a few preparatory steps leading up to the interview.

  • Practice answering some of the most common interview questions

  • Prepare questions for your interviewer (but avoid asking certain questions, such as “When will I get a raise?”)

  • Review your resume in anticipation of questions about what’s on it

  • Review your cover letter in anticipation of questions about what’s on it

  • Eat a full meal, get a full night’s rest, put hydrocortisone on your bug bites; e.g., eliminate anything that could distract you during the interview

If you’re headed into a phone or video interview, we recommend going to a secluded location where there won’t be any distractions from outside noises or objects passing by your camera. For in-person interviews, plan to show up ahead of time. Give yourself a minimum of a 15-minute buffer and plan around the potential for traffic backups. It’s always better to show up to the interview early than late. Showing up early will also give the interview a much better impression of your habits and eagerness for getting the job. 

Step 8: Interview Follow-up

Finally, once you’ve interviewed for a job, send the potential employer a follow-up thank-you note or email. Employers will likely have multiple interviews in one day, and you can continue to be top-of-mind during the selection process by sending a follow-up. 

The follow-up email should be short but can address any questions that came up in the interview that you weren’t able to answer. If you had multiple interviewers, send each individual a thank-you follow-up email or message. 

Send your follow-up within 24 hours of your interview. The longer you wait to send the follow-up, the more likely it is that other applicants will send one. Failing to send one may also be an indication to the employer that you weren’t interested. 

(Note: If an employer sends you a follow-up email or message, that’s often a good sign. Should you get a follow-up from the employer, you don’t need to send follow-ups separately. Just reply to the employer’s post-interview communication the same way you would have otherwise.)

With any luck, you’ll have one or more job offers after all of your hard work. Exciting and fulfilling jobs for veterans like you are out there. Finding them will require time and effort, but as a veteran, that’s probably something you’re more than equipped to handle.