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How to Transition from the Military to a Civilian Workforce

February 10, 2023

While transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce may seem wrought with challenges, the change is often a rewarding one. We know that with determination and the right preparation, you have the skill sets and experience to find a fulfilling career.

Every Veteran's reasons for transitioning from a military career vary depending on individual circumstances. More often than not, there may be no particular reason but rather a culmination of several factors that inspire you to move into a civilian career. Besides completing their enlistment or reaching the end of their commission, many transitioning service members choose a new career path due for a variety of reasons. For others, different career fields simply appeal to personal interests or passions that may be better suited for civilian employment.

Whatever your interest in civilian work might be, we can help you ease into the perfect job by sharing some differences between the sectors, specific examples of challenges you might anticipate and practical advice for a successful transition. Be ready to embark on your next career!


Differences Between Military and Civilian Sectors

As you may have guessed, there are several key differences between the military and the civilian sector. Keep in mind that these differences are generalizations, and your individual experience will likely vary. Regardless, being aware of some of these differences beforehand can prepare job seekers for a smoother transition experience. These differences include:


Work Culture and Structure

The military has a clear hierarchical structure and emphasizes discipline and following orders. In the civilian world, more flexibility and autonomy in the work environment is not just common but often expected.


Career Progression

In the military, promotions are often based on time in service and performance evaluations. In civilian jobs, promotions may be given depending on job performance and additional qualifications unique to that industry, company or office.


Schedule and Work-Life Balance

Service members often work long hours, including weekends and holidays, and may be deployed to various locations. Civilian workplaces often follow a more consistent schedule, and many promote better work-life balance.


Employee Benefits

You’re likely familiar with the wide range of benefits, including health care, housing and education assistance, for which military personnel are eligible. Meanwhile, civilian employees may need to pay for some of these benefits or purchase them on their own.


Common Challenges

As with any career switch, you may encounter some common challenges transitioning from a military job. The first few days, weeks or even months of a new job always entail a learning curve while you adjust to a new environment. Here a few examples of common challenges you might encounter when transitioning specifically to a civilian job:


Understanding Civilian Workplace Culture

Especially if starting your first job after active duty, you may need some time to adapt to civilian workplace culture or civilian language in professional settings. The military has a highly specific culture and unique methods for doing things.


Translating Military Skills

Other hurdles you might encounter are more practical like translating military skills to their civilian equivalents. Military jobs often have specific titles and responsibilities that may not have an exact civilian equivalent. At first, it can seem challenging to communicate the skills and experiences you gained in the military to civilian employers in a way that they understand and value.


Practical Tips for a Successful Transition

Now that you know some key differences between the sectors and challenges that might arise, the best thing you can do to prepare for a future success is following some practical advice. Here are a few concrete tips for someone transitioning from the military to a civilian job:


Understand Your Skills and Experience

Take the time to evaluate your skills and experience and how they transfer to the civilian workforce. This will put you in a good place in identifying the types of jobs and industries that align with your background. Focus on transferable soft skills such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving that are highly-sought after by civilian employers.



Reach out to people in your desired industry and let them know you're exploring the transition process. Attend career fairs, networking events and job search workshops. Building relationships and making connections can be key to finding opportunities. Uploading your resume on our website is another excellent way to get your name out to potential employers. 


Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter

Translate your military experience and skills into civilian terms. Highlight relevant experience, any training or certifications, high school or higher education that you have received. For more help with crafting a strong resume, we've compiled some advice for how to stand out in the job process.


Practice Interviewing

Civilian interviews may be different from military interviews. Practice answering common interview questions and prepare examples of how your military experience applies to the job for which you're applying. MVP offers additional tips for how to ace your interview, so check that out, too.

Be Prepared for a Longer Job Search

Since it may take longer to find a job in the civilian workforce, be prepared for the job search process. It also helps to have a back-up plan in case it takes longer than expected.


Look for Veteran-Friendly Employers

Many employers have programs in place to support veterans, so look for companies that have a history of hiring veterans and are dedicated to creating a welcoming and supportive work environment.


Consider Federal Jobs

Federal employment offers Veterans preference points that can increase their chances of getting hired. Another good thing is that they offer many opportunities with excellent benefits and retirement plans.

With these tips in mind, you can feel confident whenever you decide it's the right time to make a civilian transition. Try not to feel discouraged because a career change for anyone can be a difficult time. MVP can always point you in the right direction for resources you need for an easy time transitioning. Remember that friends and family members can offer additional support. You got this!