In the past few years veteran employment has been brought to the forefront of hiring conversations, in part because of Joining Forces — a national initiative that aims to provide employment, education and wellness services to U.S. military veterans. Through this program, more than 50 companies have pledged to hire more than 110,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.

In partnership with Joining Forces, Indeed Military offers free resources to help employers connect with veterans and military spouses who are looking for jobs. Since last Veteran’s Day, more than 4,900 employers have used Indeed Resume to search for candidates with military experience and made more than 250,000 contacts to job seekers as a result.

As we approach Veterans Day 2016, what can we say about how veterans are doing in today’s labor market? A deep look at the data from government sources and Indeed can give us understanding of what employment outcomes look like for former service members in the US economy.

Currently, according to the Census Bureau, veterans make up 7.6% of the US population. As a group, veterans tend to be older and male: the median age is 64, compared to 37 for non-veterans, and 91.6% are men. Veterans are less likely to have a bachelor’s degree but have a higher median income, $38,334 compared to $27,248 for non-veterans.

Overall, the unemployment rate for former service members is lower than civilians. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us a better view of this trend over time. In the wake of the recession, veteran unemployment peaked at 9.9% in January 2011. That figure has steadily declined to 4.3% as of October 2016, lower than the overall US unemployment rate of 4.9%.

Unemployment rate in October, aged 18 years and older

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Of course, looking at these figures overall is only part of the picture. Labor market outcomes can vary significantly for different age groups.

For those who served during the Gulf War II era for example, which includes veterans who have served since September 2001, post-recession unemployment rates were concerningly high at times — 15.2% in January 2011. We might expect these younger vets to have higher jobless rates as younger workers generally experience more unemployment, but 15.2% was far higher than the average youth unemployment at the time (9.3% for those aged 25–34).

In the last five years, however, the employment situation for veterans has markedly improved. The unemployment rate for Gulf War II Era veterans is down to is 4.4%, significantly lower than the unemployment rate for all 25–34-year-olds, which stands at 5.1%.

Veterans’ occupational preferences

What jobs are service members most likely to take after transitioning back to civilian life? We can answer this question with data from the Census Bureau, gathered through their American Community Survey, which asks respondents to indicate their veteran status and current occupation.

We can identify which occupations veterans are more likely to work in by comparing the shares of civilians and veterans in each broad occupational category. Listed below are the occupations in which the share of veterans outstrips the share of civilians in that category by the widest margin:

Share of total employment (ranked by difference)

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Veterans are more likely to work in occupations that require skillsets they may have used in a similar military job. The occupational categories in which veterans are more likely to work generally align with the jobs veterans fulfill and skills they acquire while serving their country.  For example, military experience may easily transfer into occupations like transportation, maintenance, and protective service. However, one concern is that in ten-year job growth projections from the BLS these occupations are predicted to underperform the overall labor market. Employers in faster-growing occupations, such as computer and mathematical, healthcare and construction may have an opportunity to work to attract veterans in order to fill their roles.  

Through job seeker activity on Indeed, we can take a deeper dive into veteran’s occupations by identifying the specific jobs that are of most interest to veterans. Here are the titles of the job postings that veterans click at a high rate, ranked by volume of clicks that can be attributed to veterans as a share of clicks from all job seekers:

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These job titles offer a closer view of the fields that attract veteran’s interest after they have made the transition to civilian life. As expected, these are jobs in which military experience transfers well, such as management, maintenance, protective services and logistics.

In considering occupational preferences, demographics become an important factor once again. The occupational preferences among veterans of different ages do not vary greatly, but the subtle distinctions are notable:

Gulf War I (served from 1990–2000) and Post-Vietnam (1976–1989) veterans are more likely than civilians to be employed in Computer and Mathematical occupations. This may be because, during that era, people working in the military were getting more exposure to computers than civilians.

Gulf War II Era (2001–present) veterans are more likely than civilians of the same age to be employed in Military Specific occupations. However, this disparity fades as we examine veterans in older age cohorts, suggesting that veterans are more likely to work in jobs related to the military the more recently they have left the service.

There are differences among men and women veterans as well. Listed below are the occupations in which the share of female veterans outstrips the share of female civilians in that category by the widest margin.

Share of total employment by gender (ranked by difference)

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Interestingly, while healthcare occupations don’t appear in the top five occupations for veterans overall, these jobs take the #1 spot for veteran women. Overall, civilians are more likely than veterans to work in computer and mathematical jobs, but veteran women are more likely than their civilian counterparts to work in this same field.

Once they’re in a civilian job, few veterans feel supported

While the high-level data do indicate that veterans are faring well in today’s economy, there are other data points that point to areas for improvement. In a survey of 1,022 veterans working full-time in white-collar professions conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, researchers found that only 2% said they have an executive who really champions and advocates on their behalf. By contrast, 19% of civilian men and 13% of women in felt the same way.

Another telling statistic from the survey is that two-thirds of respondents said they weren’t using three or more of their skills that could have been applicable to employers. These figures only speak for those veterans working in white-collar professions, but still indicate room for growth when it comes to providing successful employment outcomes for former service members.

Enabling people with diverse backgrounds, including military service, to bring their unique skills to the table is one way that organizations of all kinds can compete in an increasingly tight labor market.


All unemployment data are collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In some of their data the  BLS classifies veterans by their time of service. Gulf War II Era veterans as those that have served since September of 2001.
Our occupation analysis is based upon Census Bureau data gathered from the annual American Community Survey (ACS), which asks respondents for information on a wide range subjects. This research uses questions regarding age, veteran status, and occupation. We exclude all respondents under the age of 18 and also those that did not provide an occupation or clear indication of their veterans status.
For comparisons across age categories, we grouped veterans by an approximation of their time of service based on age at the time of the ACS survey. We define Gulf War II Era veterans as those aged 18-32 years old, Gulf War I Era as those 33 to 43 years old, Post Vietnam Era as those aged 44-57, Vietnam Era as those aged 58-69, and Post World War II Era as those aged greater than 69 years.  
Job titles of particular interest to veterans are determined based on Indeed data generated by job seekers on our site. We identified the most popular job titles clicked on by those job seekers that we could consider veterans based upon keywords in their resume created with Indeed. The volume of clicks to each specific job title by veterans is then calculated as a share of clicks to that same job title by all job seekers. Those job titles in which veteran’s clicks account for the highest share of all job seeker’s clicks are considered to be of particular interest to veterans.