Translating Military Skills into a Career


Photo credit: Jacob Valerio via Unsplash

When you join the armed forces, your whole life shifts. Instead of school, it’s bases and battlefields. Instead of home life, it’s life with your fellow soldiers. Instead of going with the flow, you have to follow a rigorous schedule.

The military may have prepared you for the worst things that can face this country, but has it prepared you for life after your service? Transitioning back to civilian life can be tough — the military wasn’t just your job, it was your life. What happens when you come back?

You might think that the skills you learned during your service won’t transfer easily to employment. Military jargon can easily crowd your head, which creates confusion, as well as a culture gap. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure your transition back to civilian employment is a smooth one.

Hmm… What Skills?

Trying to find a job after serving can be truly frustrating. Realizing the skills you gained from the military, however, can help you narrow down your career options and boost your confidence. Here are some common skills that translate easy to the workforce:

  • Leadership: Think about when you had to follow orders. This involved a high degree of honor and responsibility. These are great traits that exemplify leadership. In the military, you probably exhibited excellent planning strategies and intelligence. You could be the next CEO of a major company, like these guys.
  • Flexibility: The military may have rigid regulations, but situations can change at any moment. Regardless of what happens, there must always be a plan of action. Planning ahead and on the spot is a value that is greatly needed in the workforce.
  • Expertise: Were you an airplane mechanic? Did you study weather patterns? Did you work on radar, or operate tanks? No matter what you did in the military, your expertise in that position can easily become a job — especially jobs that require technical prowess.
  • Communication: While this is essential for everyone who enters the workforce, it is extremely important to veterans. Keep in contact with your fellow soldiers. Drop a line to the higher-ups. Attend job fairs and career centers. Sign up for job-hunting websites like LinkedIn. All the contacts you could ever need, both new and old, are a button click away.

De-Jargonize That Resume

Your resume is souped up for the military, but all those military terms might confuse the HR people who will be looking at it. Do a little bit of housekeeping.

Putting “sniper” on a resume won’t necessarily impress your potential employer. It’s best to dissect the little things that made up your duties. No matter what your position was, there has to be some sort of value or expertise you can draw from it.

For instance, if you were a sniper, that involves using a high amount of focus in a high-pressure situation. There’s little room for error, and you must execute your orders with precision.

Sometimes talking to another person about your transition can help. It’s too dangerous to go alone, so why not try the free counseling services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs? There are also transition centers for every branch of the military.

Now Show the World Who’s Boss!

Once you find a career that’s right for you, it’s not the time to slack. The military is based on ranking, but in a civilian career, you must succeed in areas that further the success of the organization.

You won’t encounter shocking differences right away, but subtle changes will become noticeable to you. The way your coworkers communicate, the company’s organizational processes, a looser structure — all of it will take some getting used to. Be patient and positive, and you’ll become adjusted in no time.

When you take the steps to make the transition back into civilian life, you’ll find some bumps along the way. Don’t lose hope — your service is greatly appreciated, and your amazing contributions to society will be as well!

sarah landrum head shotAbout the author: Sarah Landrum is a graduate from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she’s a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. She’s also the newest addition to the Campus to Career family, serving as a featured contributor on a regular basis. You can find her tweeting during boring speeches @SarahLandrum


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