Standing in formation, there are days when you just want to be hidden somewhere in the middle of the ranks, comfortably anonymous. Out in the job-search world, things are different. Front and center is the place to be, first in line and first through the door.

Turns out there are rules about that kind of thing. Employers are bound by a range of regulations as to who they can move to the front of the line — it's called "giving preference" — and under what conditions.

Not every employer can or will give you bonus points for having served. But it pays to know who can, and how it works.

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1. States say OK. Back when few women served, veterans' preference meant giving an edge to men. That could be classed as discrimination, said Adam Augustine Carter, principal at the Employment Law Group. To make the laws current, roughly half the states now have laws giving employers specific permission to give preference to veterans. With a written policy, employers are allowed to take veteran status into consideration as a factor in hiring.

2. Federal edge. The federal government gives veterans preference in nearly every hiring situation. You aren't guaranteed a job, but you get extra consideration. Details vary, but as a rule you get five points added to the score used in federal hiring decisions if you served on active duty for more than 180 consecutive days (depending on when you served) and 10 points if you have a service-connected disability or received a Purple Heart. Many states have similar laws.

3. Contact contractors. Companies doing business with the federal government are charged with giving special weight to veteran applicants. Employers with federal contracts or subcontracts of $25,000 or more must advertise jobs where veterans are likely to see them, target veterans as likely hires, and formally report back to the government on the actions they have taken to bring in former service members. There's no hiring quota here, but they need to give you a leg up.

4. Favorable conditions. It's worth noting that preference goes beyond hiring. Many employers will actively recruit veterans, and many more will make themselves "veteran friendly." This might include accommodations for post-traumatic stress disorder, flexibility for reservists' drill time or an in-house team who advocate for veterans' interests within the organization. While not strictly a form of preference, these kinds of veteran-friendly actions do send a message that veterans will be welcome.

5. One step too far. There are limits to how far a company can go in giving a veteran an edge. Under various anti-discrimination laws, an employer can't hire a veteran to the detriment of someone else. Meaning? Suppose a woman, an older person or a member of an ethnic minority applies for a job. Maybe the boss really wants to hire a veteran, but one of these other folks is more qualified. Hiring the veteran would be discriminatory. So there are limits.