How to use your military experience for a new career

The unique skills that you learned while on active-duty are sought after in the civilian workplace Photo credit University of Maryland Global Campus

By Dr. Nicole DeRamus, UMGC Assistant Vice President, Veterans Programs

You may have more career options after leaving the military than you think.

With years of experience serving in the military and, as a veteran myself, I know how much former service members bring to the table, and I’ve seen the different career paths they have taken. Veterans have a lot of options, and it’s important to consider them all.

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Here’s some advice for putting your military experience to work, as well as first-hand advice and experiences from students who attended the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) as veterans.

Transform Your Military Role into a Civilian Career  

If you want to continue the career path you started in the military, you can most likely find a civilian job where you can apply those skills.

One example is U.S. Air Force veteran Paul Chilcote. He joined the Air Force in 2009 as a fighter aircraft crew chief, where his interests in computers and electronics helped him quickly learn the complex electrical systems that enable aircrafts to fly. Chilcote later seized an opportunity to retrain as a cyber warfare operator. In 2013, his passion for computers and networking prompted him to enroll in a cybersecurity program at the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). When he separated from the Air Force in 2020, he began a civilian job as a penetration tester for Cyber Point International, a Maryland-based Department of Defense contractor.

Cybersecurity is not the only career that allows veterans to directly apply the skills they learned in the military. Many other fields provide the opportunity to turn a military role into a civilian one, including:

IT Management: A veteran who has worked with military computer systems may be interested in working in an organization’s IT department.

Logistics: Many servicemembers gain experience with day-to-day logistics, which prepares them for careers working with supply chains. In a globalized world, shipping companies, warehouses, and retailers offer many positions.

Healthcare: Healthcare is a natural path for any veteran who trained as a medic or nurse. The healthcare field also has positions for veterans who served in non-medical roles,  such as  operational management and logistics, which are in high demand throughout healthcare.

Government Contracting: From building roads to fighter jets, contractors across the United States  work closely with government agencies. Many of these contractors specifically seek out veterans because of their unique understanding of how government  and government procurement  work.

Public Administration:  With positions in government offices, private companies, and nonprofits, public administrators implement government policy. It’s a career well suited  for  veterans who were in charge of administering policy and working with the government bureaucracy.

Use the Soft Skills You’ve Learned to Start a New Career  

If you want to pursue a different career path than what you followed in the military, the unique skills that you learned while on active-duty are sought after in the civilian workplace. Elaine Harris, a 20-year Air Force Security Forces veteran, initially thought she wanted to stay in the law enforcement arena. However, she decided instead to earn an MBA and a graduate certificate in Leadership and Management to help her son—also a UMGC student—start his own business.

“Twenty-five years had passed since I had attended any college, and I didn’t have a lot of traditional education,” Harris says. “So choosing a school that recognized the skills I had gained, and could maximize credit for my nontraditional learning was key.”

Employers seek out people like Harris who can:

Be Adaptable: While changing roles and locations in the military, you learned to adapt and adjust at a moment’s notice.

Think Critically: The complex, real-world problems you had to handle in the military built your critical thinking skills.

Work Independently: The ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently on your own in the military is a skill that most industries value immensely.

Be Team Players: You worked across departments, organizations, and the globe. Your ability to work and succeed on a team is just as valuable to employers as your ability to work independently.

UMGC’s Dedication to Veterans  

To further your career, you may want or need to pursue additional education. While you can use military education benefits such as Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits at numerous educational institutions, not all universities are the same. At UMGC, we provide many benefits and support services for veterans, such as:

Turning Military Experience into Credits:  UMGC offers credit for the skills you acquired in the service and education completed at military service schools.

Helping You Maximize Your Housing Allowance: Knowing which chapter benefits apply to you and the best way to apply them is critical.

Offering Career-Relevant Programs and Courses: Different career fields and jobs require different levels of education. UMGC has a range of options, including certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees, that can help prepare you to succeed in a career.

Find this and more helpful articles in UMGC’s new blog.