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.
Last Updated: 04/06/2020
Meet the Expert
Ron Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years with the Minnesota Army National Guard. For three years, Mr. Kness served as the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division Command Sergeant Major, traveling to operational theaters, active duty and National Guard posts, and military medical facilities to help soldiers and their families. Mr. Kness also served on the Senior Leadership Team that developed and implemented Minnesota’s “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” program. He holds a BA in Business Administration from Metropolitan State University, Saint Paul, MN, and is a graduate of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy located in El Paso, TX.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get Education and Training
Education may last from just a few months to several years, depending on the career.
Veterans often have lots of questions about what it takes to get hired and how they can find a meaningful job after leaving the armed forces. We provide answers to some of the most common questions below.