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Public Service Careers & Degrees for Veterans

Learn why public service careers fit well with military service, discover which careers and degrees make sense for veterans to pursue, and get answers and resources for your transition to a civilian job.

A man and woman in military uniforms holding a young girl wearing a pink shirt.

Veteran unemployment rates fell to 3.0% in late 2019, demonstrating the value employers place on working with those who served their country. But what does it take to transition out of the armed forces and into the civilian workforce successfully? Public service careers could be a natural fit for the skills acquired in the military while also allowing you to continue serving the public in new ways.

If you like the idea of pursuing a public service career but don’t know where to start, this guide is for you. We provide concrete and actionable information in a step-by-step format. Use this guide to learn how to translate military skills to civilian jobs, how to pay for any required education or training programs, and where to find the jobs that combine existing experience with future professional goals.

Why Public Service for Veterans?

When in active service, military members spend their days serving the public interest. That some veterans would want to continue in this vein in a civilian setting makes perfect sense. Reasons why this career transition often provides a great next step:

1

Preference for veterans in governmental hiring

Within the federal government and some state and local governments, veterans receive hiring preference above other non-military candidates. North Carolina provides an example of state-level mandatory preference rules, but check with your state government to learn more about options near you.

2

Continued excitement in everyday work

While not every public service job involves the types of maneuvers done by members of the military, those who still crave a thirst for adventure and intrigue can find work with intelligence and law enforcement agencies or outdoor positions that may remind them of their former jobs.

3

Better retirement pensions

If working for the federal government, employees can join the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). The program offers a basic benefit plan, social security, and the Thrift Savings Plan to help people prepare for retirement. These benefits are often more robust than those offered in the private sector.

4

Preparation for governing

Operating as a member of the armed forces calls on individuals to develop skills in delegation, clear communication, leadership, and working with others. It also requires them to maximize resources and find ways of making things happen despite the odds. These skills pair perfectly with roles focused on legislation and governing.

5

Ability to keep giving back

Joining the military represents a selfless act of putting the greater good above individual interests. For some veterans, this passion continues long after they are out of uniform. Public service jobs help them continue fulfilling their desires as a civilian.

Steps for a Military-to-Public Service Transition

If you want to transition from the military to public service but aren’t sure where to begin, we offer steps below on how to match your skills to existing roles. We also highlight ideas on how to get the education and training required to learn new skills.

1

Identify Your skills

Members of the armed forces moving back into civilian life often sell themselves short when talking about the skills they gained in the service and how those translate to the job market. The reality is that skills gained in the military can be leveraged successfully in many jobs, but sometimes it takes some strategizing to identify how these serve new professional opportunities. Some skills you probably gained in the military to keep in mind when applying for jobs include:

Discipline

The military is known for instilling a keen sense of discipline in service members. While this skill does not often show up on resumes, other words and phrases you can use to describe this include consistency, self-management, commitment to seeing a project through, and the ability to focus on tasks at hand.

Steadiness

Being a service member means functioning in sometimes high-stress environments while still getting the job done. Employers value steady, unflappable employees who can think critically regardless of what’s happening around them.

Communication

Whether speaking to those in your chain of command or writing a briefing for dissemination to a wider audience, military members possess precise and succinct communication skills that perfectly compliment many jobs in the public service sector. They also possess a keen sense of hierarchical structures and how to communicate with both superiors and those they manage.

Teamwork

No person is an island in the military and service members must work effectively with people of myriad backgrounds to be successful.

Integrity

Each branch of the military maintains a strict moral code that calls on members to operate in good faith and behave professionally at all times. Employers value professionals they can trust to represent the organization well.

Skill Identifying Resources for Veterans

7 Military Skills Vets Can Use in Securing a Job: Vista College provides a list of additional skills to highlight when writing your first resume.

Military Skills Translator: You can use this tool to search specific military job titles and learn which skills match well to civilian job requirements.

Veteran and Military Transition Center: CareerOneStop offers this one-stop page to help veterans find info on financial support, training, and employment.

2

Identify Your Interests

In the military, you’re often told what to do rather than asked what you want to do. While this system works for the armed forces, it’s okay – and recommended – to assess your interests before entering the job market. This exercise can help align your interests and passions with a role that will benefit from your excitement about the work. A few tips for doing this include:

Read up on jobs

Take time to read career profiles, compare several different jobs, and look at roles that are projected to be in demand over the coming years. Make note of the ones that pique your interest.

Identify career goals

Some people identify a high salary as their biggest need while others want to feel creatively fulfilled. Think about what you want out of a job and rank those in order of importance.

Take an assessment

Plenty of self-assessment tools and quizzes exist to help you learn how your interests, personality type, and working habits align to various roles.

Think about additional training/education

Consider whether you are interested in and/or willing to re-train (if necessary) for a job matched to your interests.

Chat with others

Ask a few people who know you well what type of job they see you in. They may be able to provide insight or ideas around jobs that fit your personality and interests.

Interest Identifying Resources for Veterans

Interest Assessment: Use this tool provided by CareerOneStop to self-assess your professional interests and get recommendations on potential careers.

Your Career Path, Finding the Right Job: Military One Source offers several actionable tools for identifying professional interests after service.

3

Choose Your Public Service Career Path

Veterans can select from many meaningful public service career paths based on unique interests and career goals. Some individuals may want to continue in a path similar to the work they did in the military while others may look for a fresh start. Staying active and/or working outdoors may appeal to many new veterans, while others feel drawn towards a more traditional office position.

Recognizing that the job search can feel overwhelming without some direction, the following section takes a look at some of the most popular industries for armed service members transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workforce.

Cyber Security

Cybersecurity experts protect electronic data from infiltration by those who would seek to use the information in nefarious ways. Cybersecurity is a growing field as more processes are conducted online. Veterans may find this field particularly interesting as it builds upon their desire to protect others from danger and harm while also harnessing the latest technologies and skills in detecting threats. One common title in this field is information security analyst, with median 2018 pay hitting $98,350. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects roles will grow by 32% between 2018 and 2028.

Education & Teaching

Educating future generations requires teachers who believe in the power of investing in others and helping them reach their potential. Veterans experienced this first-hand in the military and often want to give back in similar ways. Kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school teachers earned median salaries ranging from $57,980 to $60,320 in 2018 while postsecondary faculty earned $78,470 during the same timeframe. Options exist in both public and private school settings at every academic level.

Public Health

As demonstrated with the recent outbreak of COVID-19, public health crises can affect people and places the world over. Qualified public health professionals help educate the public, look for cures, and provide trustworthy information about the severity of a situation. Common job titles in this field include health educator/community health worker and epidemiologist. The former earned average salaries of $46,080 in 2018 while the latter brought home $69,660 during the same time period. Plan to earn a bachelor’s degree to work in the education arena and at least a master’s to work in research.

Social Work

Social work as a discipline focuses on helping individuals cope with personal difficulties as they arise. Social workers provide support in areas of mental health, counseling, schools, community development, and private practice, among other settings. These professionals earned average salaries of $49,470 in 2018 and roles are projected to grow by 11% between 2018 and 2028. Entry-level social workers possess bachelor’s degrees while those who want to work in clinical settings must hold a master’s degree at minimum.

Fire Science

Recent fires in California, Australia, and the Amazon Rainforest have underscored the importance of employing qualified fire science professionals to put out wildfires and implement programs designed to minimize and control outbreaks. Firefighters earned median annual salaries of $49,620 in 2018 while fire inspectors earned $60,200 during the same time period. These professionals need at least a high school diploma and must complete firefighter training before beginning their work. Both roles are set to grow in the coming years.

Forestry

Without trees, our world would look very different. Aside from losing access to the countless products made out of trees, our state parks and public green spaces would be far less interesting. Forestry professionals work to improve forestation quality, manage responsible forest growth and use, and conserve meaningful outdoor sites. They may work for corporations, nonprofits, or in government positions. Forest and conservation workers earned $27,460 in 2018. This position requires a high school diploma. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree can qualify for positions as conservation scientists and foresters. Median annual salaries in 2018 for this position topped $61,340.

Homeland Security

With an overarching goal of protecting America from the threats it faces, homeland security can be a great fit for veterans who miss having their finger on the pulse of our nation’s safety. Whether working for a private organization or for a local, state, or federal government agency, a myriad of roles exist. Police officers work to protect local communities and earned a median salary of $63,380 in 2018. Emergency management directors develop preparedness plans for responding to emergency situations. They earned median annual salaries of $74,420 in 2018. These professionals must possess a bachelor’s degree; police officers need at least a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

Career Choice Resources for Veterans

Feds Hire Vets: Run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, this helpful website supports veteran job seekers trying to find a career matched to their skills and interests.

Veteran Employment Center: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a tool designed to match veterans to meaningful career paths.

4

Get Education and Training

Education may last from just a few months to several years, depending on the career.

Paying for Your Education

Several options exist to help veterans pay for their educations without breaking the bank. The GI Bill helps cover tuition, fees, and school supplies, with amounts depending on length of service. Those with at least three years can use the Post 9/11 GI Bill and receive full benefits when attending a public school. Individuals interested in attending a private institution or a public school outside their state of residence may apply where available for the Yellow Ribbon Program to cover costs outside GI Bill funding.

Aside from awards specific to veterans, many types of public service funding exist for those who decide to give back to their communities. The federal government offers the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for individuals who made 120 qualifying payments over a 10-year period while working in public service. Several other student loan forgiveness opportunities exist for individuals working in specific high-need fields and/or locations that support public good, such as teachers and nurses.

In addition to these services, veterans should look into state and local government programs for both public service careers and veterans. They should also ask if any funding opportunities exist at their chosen college or university.

Carving out Time in Your Schedule for Learning

1 Consider online education programs

Rather than driving to class multiple times per week, online public service degree and training programs allow you to learn from any location with an internet connection. These programs often provide flexibility in terms of when you watch lectures and complete assignments as well.