Helping Vets Transition to Civilian Work

By Alexandra Levit

In a recent Prudential Financial and IAVA survey published on Military.com1, two-thirds of veterans said they faced a difficult transition to civilian life, partly because they speak a different language than the business leaders hiring them.

Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that we aren’t doing a good enough job of training people leaving the military to look for work. “It’s less a matter of veterans overestimating their skills than it is miscalculating how their experience translates to nonmilitary jobs and how well business leaders comprehend what veterans can offer,” he commented.

Because of these disconnects, a veteran who managed a few dozen people in the military might only be considered for an entry-level, individual contributor role in a private-sector organization, and significant achievements might be overlooked because they occurred in a military rather than a business setting.

Preparing New Vets for Transition

A few years ago, as a workplace and career author and consultant, I worked with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Defense to overhaul the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP)2. This mandatory five- to seven-day program educates departing troops on job skills, vet benefits, and personal finances. The course explains the expectations, behavioral styles, cultural norms, and “lingo” associated with civilian employment and helps veterans adjust to a less rigid routine with increased individual competition.

Perhaps most importantly, it guides veterans in effectively translating skills acquired in the military – which often include strategic thinking, scenario planning, critical thinking, problem-solving, coaching, self-discipline, time management, attention to detail, teamwork, interpersonal communication, and adaptability – to civilian jobs in which these exact attributes are needed.

Understanding Differences and Benefits

Despite programs like TAP, some hiring managers may not comprehend how to leverage the unique strengths of veteran hires.  For example, some civilian managers have no idea what a certain military rank means in terms of skill. A sergeant, for instance, brings leadership experience to the table that a private does not, and military hires, with their expertise in leading and participating on teams, can infuse private-sector organizations with a spirit of collaboration. By the same token, hiring managers must be aware of and sensitive to military challenges like trauma or injury so they can fully appreciate the resilience these hires have demonstrated.

Hiring manager education is not the only hurdle. Although many organizations have prioritized veteran recruitment, they make a critical mistake in expecting military hires to have the same needs – or be attracted by the same things – as civilian hires. For example, what about veterans who are looking for more structured work environments? Even as the general population may be demanding greater flexwork, work environments with stable hierarchies might be a greater draw for military hires.

Implementing the Right Training

One way organizations can more effectively recruit, manage, and retain military hires is by implementing training programs that target both supervisors and veterans themselves. As a consultant to HR organizations, I’ve found that by providing guidance on sourcing, onboarding, and performance management, it’s possible for this type of training to:

  • Lower acquisition costs, improve time to productivity, and increase retention
  • Narrow cultural gulfs and prompt open communication between hiring managers and new veteran employees
  • Encourage managers to structure performance in terms familiar to veterans, setting clear mission objectives and standard evaluations
  • Assist supervisors in preparing veterans to embark on career paths that will add value to the organization and maximize their contribution to the bottom line

One such training initiative is DeVryWORKS’ Green Zone program3, which was developed combining input from military veterans, DeVry University academic expertise, and Fortune 500 corporate education partners. Programs like Green Zone are designed to help organizations improve veteran hiring and retention outcomes, and also to help close skills gaps by infusing organizations with attributes that are well-honed in the military but may be less prevalent in civilian employment circles.

In developing your military recruitment and training initiatives, you might consider building relationships with organizations like IAVA (such as the National Association of American Veterans, the American Legion, the Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans Support Organization, and USO) that make it their mission to assist vets in leading healthy, happy, and productive lives.


For information regarding Veteran Benefits, Grants and Career Resources, visit DeVry University's Veteran Career Center.


1 Turner, D, 2016, Vets Facing Difficult Transition to Civilian Jobs, accessed on the Internet at (visited June 1, 2018)

2 US Department of Veterans Affairs, 2018, Transition Assistance, accessed on the Internet at (visited June 1, 2018)

3 DeVryWORKS, 2018,, DeVryWORKS Green Zone, accessed on the Internet at (visited June 1, 2018)


About the Author

Alexandra Levit is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.