Enlisting into the military should be a calling for young men and women to serve, not just a job to get if you have no other place to go. The military offers exceptional job training, educational benefits, paid vacation, and medical and dental care. Make sure you know what you want to do before you talk to a recruiter and drive the conversation and actions of the recruiter to what you want to do - as long as you qualify for it.
Once the recruiter has determined your qualifications for enlistment (or got permission from his/her superiors to process you, in the event a waiver is required), you'll start the enlistment process.
Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)
The first hurdle you must deal with is determining if you are medically qualified to join the military. The ball first gets rolling by the recruiter sending your forms and paperwork to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), where the real processing is done.
The Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
While this test is usually accomplished at MEPS, it can also be done in high school. The ASVAB is used to determine what jobs you are academically eligible for. It is smart for you to take a month and do a few online practice ASVAB tests or get a book with practice tests and tips to score better. The reason you need to score well on the ASVAB as it may determine whether or not you get your number one choice of jobs after boot camp / basic training.
There are three ways to take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery ASVAB to qualify for military service (and military job qualification). It can be taken in high school, or a paper version at MEPS, or in a computerized version at MEPS. The third option is the way most recruits take the ASVAB.
The visit to MEPS is two-phased: Part of the process does not belong to any individual service. It's a joint-service operation, that attempts to determine whether or not you are qualified for the military. This includes a medical examination and the testing (ASVAB, DLAB, etc.) portions of MEPS.
To get the job of your choice in the armed forces is not guaranteed. There has to be an available vacancy, and you have to be qualified. Job qualification is based on several factors. Most significant are your ASVAB line scores. The services have assigned minimum ASVAB line scores to each enlisted job.
In addition to ASVAB line scores, many jobs require the applicant to qualify for a security clearance. If the applicant has anything in their background that may prevent approval of clearance, the MEPS job counselors are unlikely to allow the applicant to reserve that job. Some jobs require additional testing. For example, any job that requires one to learn a foreign language requires a passing score on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB).
Different jobs have different physical requirements. When one goes through their medical examination at MEPS, one is assigned a Physical Profile, which is a series of numbers that indicates the member's medical condition in designated medical areas. In order to reserve a job, one must meet the minimum physical profile required for that job. Your recruiter should remind you and test you often if you are seeking some of the tougher programs in the military like Army Ranger / Special Forces, Navy SEAL / EOD / SWCC, Marine RECON, or Air Force PJ. However, if you seek Army or USMC Infantry, you need to prepare yourself for the challenges of after boot camp as well. Getting in shape prior to MEPS is critical for some of the Special Ops / Combat jobs.
Each of the services has different policies/procedures when it comes to guaranteed jobs - often if you fail any of these tests prior to basic, you will lose your "guaranteed slot".
Jobs in the Army
In the Army, an enlisted job is called a MOS, or military occupational specialty. The Army is the only service that offers a guaranteed job (MOS) to everyone, even though it might not be the exact one you want. It depends upon your qualifications and what jobs have current or projected openings. If the job you want is not available, your only choices are to choose a different job, or not enlist if there is nothing else you prefer to do in the Army.
Jobs in the Air Force
The Air Force calls its enlisted jobs Air Force specialty codes (AFSC) The Air Force has two enlistment options: Guaranteed Job, and Guaranteed Aptitude Area. Under the guaranteed job program, the applicant is guaranteed training in a specific Air Force job. Under the guaranteed aptitude program, the applicant is guaranteed that he will be selected for a job that falls into one of the designated aptitude areas. The Air Force has divided all of their jobs into four aptitude areas: general, electronic, mechanical, and administrative.
Because the Air Force has many more applicants than they have slots, it is very common for an applicant to process through MEPS, and return enlisted in the delayed enlistment program without a reserved job-slot or shipping date. Instead, while at MEPS, they provide a list of job and aptitude area preferences to the job counselor, then they are placed on the qualified waiting list, for one of their preferences to become available. This can take several months. It's not uncommon, these days, for an Air Force applicant to remain in the DEP for 8 or more months before finally shipping out to basic training.
In order to join the Air Force, one must be flexible with both job selections and dates of availability.
For those with lots of flexibility, the Air Force has a program called the quick ship list. Every once in a while, an applicant with a reserved slot will drop out of the DEP at the last minute. The Air Force will allow applicants in the DEP to voluntarily put their name on the quick ship list to take the place of the applicant who dropped out. Be ready to go while in DEP as you can get the call to leave in less than a week in some cases. You do not have to go as they will offer the early slot to someone else, but getting another opportunity is hit or miss with some job specialties.
Jobs in the Navy
The Navy calls their enlisted jobs "ratings." The Navy offers two programs: guaranteed job, and undesignated seaman. The Navy also has some special enlistment programs whereby you can enlist knowing what area you are going into, but not your specific rating (job).
Jobs in the Marines
Like the Army, an enlisted job in the Marine Corps is called a MOS. The Marines also offer two programs: Guaranteed job, and general field. Very few Marine applicants get a guaranteed job; mostly those with college degrees or high ASVAB scores, applying for certain, designated technical specialties.
Jobs in the Coast Guard
Like the Navy, enlisted jobs in the Coast Guard are referred to as "ratings." Of all of the services, the Coast Guard offers the fewest guaranteed jobs. One normally enlists in the Coast Guard, undesignated, then strikes for a job after a period of on-the-job training in "basic coast-guardsman-ship" at their first duty station. A few schools (and therefore jobs) are offered during basic training.
As well as offering the fewest guaranteed jobs, the Coast Guard has the fewest overall jobs (about 23) of any of the services. On the plus side, for the most part, all of the Coast Guard jobs directly relate to a civilian occupation.
Jobs in the Reserves and National Guard
The Army National Guard and Air National Guard, as well as the reserve forces of all the branches, give guaranteed jobs to everyone who enlists. This is because unlike the active-duty forces, who recruit for available slots all over the world, the Guard and Reserves recruit for specific unit vacancies in their local areas.
Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP)
Once the job counselors have helped you determine your job/enlistment program you'll sign an enlistment contract and take an oath, enlisting you in the delayed enlistment program (DEP). The DEP is a holding status while you are waiting for your scheduled shipping date to basic training.