Veterans Campus to Careers Toolkit

For student veterans moving into the workforce
A person wearing military gear and looking through binoculars


Are you ready to go from campus to work?

Are you ready to go from campus to work?

Ask yourself the following ten questions to evaluate your readiness.

1. Do I put my strengths front and center?

Your strengths, skills, and aspirations matter now as much as they ever have. Keep this mantra in mind: Focus on your strengths, manage your disability. Let your abilities, not your disability, drive your career choice and job search.

2. Do I understand my legal rights as a veteran with a disability in the workplace?

Several laws protect the rights of veterans and people with disabilities in the workplace. In a nutshell, here’s what you most need to know:

  • Your employer cannot fire or demote you when you are deployed.
  • There are some incentives and preference programs for employers to hire veterans and veterans with disabilities.
  • Generally, you have a choice about disclosing your disability during the hiring phase and after you’re employed. If you decide to disclose your disability during hiring or employment, your disability information can’t be shared with co-workers.
  • You have a right to a reasonable accommodation during hiring and through the course of employment, unless this causes undue hardship to the employer. Using an accommodation does not make you less qualified to do the job. You have a right to an accommodation whether or not you told the employer about your disability during hiring.

3. Have I chosen a career path that’s right for me?

A signpost points in three directions, representing the idea of choosing a career pathWhen making your career choice, do a little homework. Don’t dismiss career choices just because of your disability. Understand that you will probably be able to use an accommodation when working. To consider your career path, think through a few questions:

  • What jobs capitalize on your strengths? 
  • What have you always wanted to do?
  • What type of work would you do even if you weren’t paid to do it?
  • What’s your comfort level for your work life: Money or satisfaction? High pace or low stress? Creativity or predictability? Working alone or with others?
  • Finally, what career goals can you make in the short term versus the long term?

To make a career choice that’s right for you, go through the Veteran’s Career Planning Workbook and the online Occupational Outlook Handbook.

4. Have I thought through my disability disclosure decision?

Think through your decision to let your employer know about your disability during hiring and once you’re employed. You can decide to tell your employer about your disability at any time. If you decide not to disclose during hiring, you can do so later if you wish.

In certain situations (such as affirmative action requirements, potential safety concerns, work-start period, or an accommodation request), your employer can make some inquiries about your disability and medical condition. But this information can’t be shared with co-workers or with future employers.

When applying for jobs, you can make a different disclosure decision for each employer. Deciding not to tell your employer about a disability is not a lie and is not dishonorable. It is sometimes the right choice.

5. Am I getting real-life work experiences?

A student veteran works in a laboratory with a colleague, and they are looking at a microscope slide together.You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get wet. The best way to explore a career choice is to spend some time with people who are doing the job. Develop curiosity. Ask questions. Make connections. Jot down notes as you go along. Get a mentor. Finally, think through questions about your disability during internships, apprenticeships, or other work-learning experiences. Do you want to disclose your disability? Will you need an accommodation? If you’re working with a career counselor, consider discussing your needs and wishes as you explore work-learning experiences.

6. Am I ready for the hiring process?

Employers need you—your skills, your knowledge, and your commitment. Disclosing your disability during hiring is your choice. For each job you apply for, think through your disclosure decision and how, if asked, you want to explain a gap in your resume. Increasingly, employers are seeking to hire veterans and people with disabilities. Find veteran- and disability-friendly employers by using the links in the second half of the Playbook in Tool 6. Or consider working for the federal government.

Make a list of all your job qualifications, including paid and unpaid experience, completed classes, certifications, language skills, accomplishments, or any other experience that would prepare you for your chosen career. Make a list of any achievements or challenges you’ve overcome that make you stand out as a candidate. Include any experience you’ve gained while serving, using the military skills translator.

7. Have I thought through what accommodations I might need in the workplace?

As a person with a disability, you have a right to a reasonable job accommodation when applying for work or when employed. An accommodation is any change in facilities, equipment, or how things are done that enable a person with a disability to participate in hiring, perform the essential functions of the job, or access the perks of the job.

To get an accommodation, just ask. Usually, you request an accommodation from a manager, HR representative, or some other designated person in the workplace. The employer may (but doesn’t have to) collect medical information to support the accommodation request, but this information must be kept private. Using a reasonable accommodation does not make you unqualified to do the job. It just means you’ll do the job a little differently or with an aid.

8. Am I comfortable with social interactions in the workplace?

A veteran using a wheelchair enjoys lunch in the workplace with a colleagueIn most cases, the difference between a job you hate and one you love isn’t the pay, the facilities, or the title. It’s the people. If you are comfortable and connected with one or two people at work, you will work more effectively, tolerate more challenges, and be less likely to leave the job. This is as true for workers with disabilities as it is for anyone else. Yet, people with disabilities (particularly newly acquired disabilities), might not feel like they fully belong. This can be due to a disability-negative work environment. Or it could be due to internalized stigma.

Seek out disability-positive, welcoming workplaces and co-workers. Do a reality check on your own assumptions and beliefs about your disability. Don’t accept being marginalized because of your disability.

9. As a woman veteran, am I getting the support and connection I need?

Women veterans are strong and getting stronger. Their numbers are increasing and their roles in service have expanded. But they still face a unique set of challenges in transitioning to the civilian workforce. They are more likely to be making this transition while caring for dependent children. They are using veterans’ services and benefits programs which were not designed for them (but that are getting better). Their annual incomes still lag behind male veteran incomes. And, sadly, their rates of homelessness and suicide are higher than both male veterans and nonveterans. But there is reason to be hopeful. More women are advocating for female veterans, and there are more opportunities to find connection and support with other women veterans (see the Deeper Dive in Tool 9).

10. What’s the most important thing to do now?

A student veteran drives her car at the start of a trip, looking optimistic. To add a bit of fun, the photo shows a happy dog in the passenger seat.You are on a journey, so get ready for the trip. Put your strengths and skills in the driver’s seat. Put your disability in the back seat, but keep an eye on it in the rear-view mirror. Get a map. Make a backup plan. Connect with others who have already travelled this road. Pack what you’ll need for the trip. Grab the steering wheel. And start your journey.