Recruiting America’s Finest

How recruiting military veterans can connect employers with a diverse and high-quality talent pool ready to take on challenging jobs in a tight labor market

Findings from ZipRecruiter’s monthly Job Seeker Confidence Surveys1:  

  • Veteran job seekers are more confident in their ability to find their preferred jobs, and in current labor market conditions 
  • With their experience working in tough and inflexible environments, veteran job seekers are more likely to be ready for challenging jobs 
  • Veterans are more likely to want jobs offering more hours than their current or recent jobs

“Employers value dependability, integrity, and being a team player more than ever. Our economy has an amazing resource in the form of 8 million veterans of working age who have proven track records of exemplifying these valuable traits. Making an effort to recruit from this valuable pool of talent is a smart move for most employers.” – Ian Siegel, ZipRecruiter Cofounder and CEO

Why Employers Increasingly Want to Recruit Veterans 

Veterans make up just 5.5% of the U.S. labor force, but recruiters are increasingly discovering that they are a highly attractive source of quality candidates—especially in the current labor market. 

Outside the defense industry and protective services, veterans are a relatively untapped pool of talent, with much to offer. Firstly, veterans bring a diverse set of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the workplace. The enlisted corps today is more racially diverse than the resident U.S. population, and many veterans bring international experience—an advantage in an increasingly integrated global economy. 

Secondly, veterans are a selective group, since the military chooses higher-ability candidates who perform well in aptitude and fitness tests, invests heavily in their training, and requires good conduct and discipline throughout their service. The military also requires teamwork, leadership, dependability, adaptability to changing circumstances, ability to solve complex problems, and proficiency working with cutting-edge technology. 

Nonetheless, veterans are often overlooked by civilian employers for their non-traditional backgrounds. But that has changed in recent years in the midst of an acute shortage of qualified candidates that has prompted employers to reevaluate their job requirements and expand their recruiting efforts. The share of job postings that explicitly call on veterans or people with military experience to apply has risen from 9% in 2016 to 20% in 2022, according to ZipRecruiter job posting data. 

Job Seeker Sentiment Among Veterans

What veteran job seekers feel and want

ZipRecruiter’s monthly Job Seeker Confidence Survey provides a window into what job seekers are looking for and what they are experiencing in the current job market. It also allows us to compare different groups of job seekers, such as veterans and nonveterans. The findings can help employers tailor their recruitment programs accordingly. 

Our survey finds that veterans are looking for jobs across a wide range of industries, but with their preferences differing substantially from those of nonveterans. Veterans are more likely to want jobs in government, manufacturing, transportation, and construction, and less likely to want jobs in retail, than nonveteran job seekers, for example. 

With their experience of working on military installations and traveling for work, veterans are less likely to say they prefer remote jobs than nonveterans are (51%, compared to 64% of nonveterans). Veterans are also more open to taking stressful jobs, with only 18% of veterans saying that they want to find a job that “is not stressful,” compared with 39% of nonveteran job seekers. With experience working long and sometimes unpredictable hours, they’re also less likely to need a job that lets them control their schedule (17% versus 26%). Additionally, veterans are more likely than nonveterans to have quit their last jobs because they want to work more hours, or to be dissatisfied with their current jobs because they want to work more hours.

Employed veterans are more likely to believe they are highly valued by their current employers, with 65% saying they expect that their employer will ask them to stay and counter an outside offer if they resign, compared with 48% of nonveterans. 

Given their higher willingness to perform stressful in-person jobs with less flexible schedules—the kinds of jobs that are hardest to fill—veteran job seekers have generally been slightly more confident this year than nonveterans in their ability to land their preferred jobs quickly, and more optimistic about the current employment situation. They also face fewer barriers to employment and are generally hoping for earlier start dates in their new jobs (within 3.5 weeks versus 4.5 weeks for nonveterans). 

Among job seekers who are not currently working, the main reason veterans cite for not working is that they retired at some point (44% of non-employed veterans say so, compared with 11% of non-employed nonveterans)—not that they face more serious barriers to working, like an inability to find work, or transportation difficulties. Many veteran “retirees” are in their late thirties and early forties, and eager to start second careers. The barriers veterans do anticipate have more to do with employer perceptions than with personal difficulties, notably employers thinking that they lack “the right kind” of work experience (24% versus 20% of nonveterans), or that they are too old (26% versus 20%). 

After serving in the military, Christopher worked a string of minimum wage jobs. He was struggling to establish a new career in the civilian workforce.

“I really liked that ZipRecruiter was asking me if I was a veteran because they understand that there are certain skill sets that veterans have to offer that maybe civilians don’t. After I uploaded my resume on ZipRecruiter, the first contact I got was within a week, and immediately on the phone [they were] like, ‘look, we love that you’re a Marine, we love servicemen’ and then I was offered a job with a signing bonus.” – Christopher San Juan, HVAC Technician

The Veteran Job Seeker Landscape in the U.S. 

The veteran population and unemployment

According to the U.S. Labor Department, there are 18.5 million veterans, which means they make up about 7% of the adult population. Unemployment and labor force participation rates are generally the same for veterans and demographically similar nonveterans, except among younger veterans who tend to have elevated unemployment rates. High unemployment rates among younger veterans directly following separation from the military are largely driven by the difficulties that transitioning veterans often experience in the job search process. 

Since the pandemic, however, that has changed, with unemployment rates lower for both younger and older veterans than nonveterans. In 2021, for example, the unemployment rate for veterans averaged just 4.4%, well below the 5.3% rate for nonveterans. Among younger veterans aged 18 to 24, the unemployment rate was 8.7%, also below that for nonveterans of the same age (9.5%). 

Veteran occupations, industries, and earnings

Generally, veterans tend to find civilian jobs in occupations that are closely related to their military experience—and they tend to earn slightly more in those occupations than nonveterans do. 

The table below lists the top occupations or industries where veterans are overrepresented relative to nonveterans, and the top three sub-areas in each with the highest percentage of veterans.  

Veterans are overrepresented in the following occupations:And industries:
Protective services
Transportation security screeners
Police/sheriff’s patrol officers
Detectives/criminal investigators

Public administration
National security and international affairs
Justice, public order, and safety
Other general government or support roles

Avionics technicians
Aircraft mechanics/service technicians
Radio/telecommunications equipment installation
Transportation and warehousing
Postal service
Air transportation
Services incidental to transportation
Air traffic controllers/airfield operations
Aircraft pilots/flight engineers
Sailors/marine oilers
Power generation, transmission or distribution
Sewage treatment
Unspecified utilities
Engineering technicians
Marine engineers/naval architecture
Aerospace engineers
Mining, quarrying, or oil and gas extraction
Metal ore mining
Nonmetallic mineral mining
Oil and gas extraction
Information security analysts 
Computer network architects
Operations research analysts
Ship and boat building
Aircraft and parts manufacturing
Tire manufacturing
Power plant operations/distributors
Engine/other machine assembly
Stationary engineers/boiler ops
Source: David Schulker, “The Recent Occupation and Industry Employment Patterns of American Veterans,” Armed Forces and Society, 2017, Vol. 43(4), 695-710.

By contrast, veterans are underrepresented in industries like healthcare, retail, education, and finance, despite the number of organizations, of all sizes, in those industries committed to hiring veterans. 

Veterans are sometimes channeled into security jobs by default, despite often having skills and interests that make them suitable for a much wider range of opportunities. Amid fierce competition for talent in the current environment, however, employers in a wider range of industries have become increasingly interested in recruiting veterans.  

Lingering Obstacles to Recruiting Veterans

Challenges for employers

Although surveyed businesses report that veterans make excellent employees, many companies still struggle to locate veteran job seekers and to understand the match between their military skills and civilian job requirements. 

Some skills—particularly technical skills, like drone operation or aircraft maintenance—are easy to translate into civilian applications. But it is often more difficult for employers to recognize the valuable “soft skills” veterans offer, or to decipher the military training records and awards of veteran candidates. 

Traditional recruitment tools, like military job fairs, are helpful but often somewhat limited. Federal resources, such as the Veterans Employment Center and tax credits to employers who hire veterans, are also valuable, but not broad enough to overcome the barriers.   

ZipRecruiter makes it easier for employers who want to hire veterans to find them. Our matching technology also actively connects employers to veteran job seekers with relevant skills and interests.  

Challenges for veterans

Veterans often struggle to appreciate how broadly applicable their skills and experience are in the civilian workplace. Too often, they believe that jobs at defense contractors or in security are their only options, and see artificially stovepiped career paths ahead of them. 

A 2016 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation survey of 1,000 veterans found that 44% left their first jobs within a year. The reason, it found, was that many veterans had taken tedious civilian jobs that had limited opportunities for advancement and that poorly matched their skills.

ZipRecruiter does not limit job seekers to a narrow set of past job titles or industries. Our technology can often recognize that job seekers are a good match for a wider range of jobs than they themselves could have imagined. 

Veterans also often struggle to know what they should reasonably expect to earn in a civilian job. Compared with civilians, veterans tend to accept lower wages in their first post-military job. That is likely because veterans often underestimate the costs of housing, healthcare, and other benefits that the military provides, but which they must pay for out of pocket in their new civilian lives. 

Veterans can also underestimate how susceptible to economic and business shocks employment outside the military can be. While military service members typically sign longterm military contracts, most civilian workers are at-will employees who can be laid off or fired with little notice. 

ZipRecruiter helps veterans overcome these challenges by providing access to a wealth of information about jobs, working conditions, and earnings across industries and locations, and by presenting jobs to veterans for which they are well suited. 

“Beyond the extremely transferable core values each armed services branch instills into its members, veterans are known for their excellence in the servant leadership craft. Given shortages of inspiring leaders within many organizations, and particularly so in front-line leadership roles, veterans who demonstrate this talent well can open many doors. Veterans should also remember that being a leader does not necessitate having formal reports, and that you can still present and market yourself well as an informal leader when applying to individual contributor roles.” – Elliot Wilson, ZipRecruiter EVP of Sales & Support and US Air Force veteran

How ZipRecruiter Helps Companies Find and Recruit Veteran Talent

ZipRecruiter has built some unique features into our products that help veterans. For example, job seekers are able to indicate their veteran status to employers if they want to, so that employers will see a veteran badge next to their name. Veterans can also access customized resources on our website. 

By using VeteranPost, employers can make their job posts stand out to veterans by labeling their jobs as “Veteran-Friendly” and accessing multiple veteran job boards.  

One of our proactive sourcing tools, Get Recruited, is even more of a game-changer for both employers and job seekers, and it too has a tailored version for veterans. Get Recruited flips the hiring process on its head by letting job seekers opt into “getting recruited” by employers across every industry, location and experience level. Employers who opt to use the product are then shown a list of the most qualified candidates, based on the hundreds of features extracted from both the job description and job seekers’ resumes, profiles, and preferences. The employer lets us know which of the matches we showed them are the most relevant. And then we allow employers to initiate first contact, by inviting job seekers to apply for their roles. 

The product can help transitioning veterans who don’t yet know which jobs they are qualified for. It can also help those who want to ease into the civilian labor market and take a more passive approach to the job search at first. 

1 ZipRecruiter monthly Job Seeker Confidence Survey based on an online sample administered by Qualtrics on behalf of ZipRecruiter to 1,500 job seekers between the 10th and 16th each month of 2022 and weighted to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Respondents may be employed, unemployed, or not currently in the labor force, but must reside in the United States and have indicated a desire to find a new job “in the next six months” in order to be included in the sample.

Written by

Julia Pollak is Chief Economist at ZipRecruiter. She leads ZipRecruiter's economic research team, which provides insights and analysis on current labor market trends and the future of work.

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