- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

How to Apply Your Military Skills to the Civilian Workforce
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Article Sponsored by: University of Phoenix

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America’s veterans deserve our gratitude when they return home from their time in the service and hang up their uniform. But more than that, they also deserve an opportunity to demonstrate what a valuable resource they can be to employers as they begin the transition from military to civilian life.


Whether having recently transitioned into their first civilian job, or if it has been several years since detaching from the military, veterans bring a deep and impressive roster of valuable skills to the job market. Matching those skills with the right kind of employment is key. However, many veterans may not know how to specifically translate the skills they gained in the military into their civilian jobs, and employers may not understand how to utilize the skills in corporate America.


In fact, a recent University of Phoenix national military survey ( found that civilian employers are not utilizing key skills their veteran employees learned in the military. These skills include responsibility, leadership, working under pressure, critical thinking, communication and teamwork, to name a few.


The survey also found that four-in-five (81 percent) active duty service members believe that a number of the skills they developed in the military will be used in civilian jobs once they separate from active duty, which is nearly twice the percentage (45 percent) who indicated this in the 2013 survey. However, when past service members were asked about their first civilian jobs after separating from the military, less than one-third (29 percent) say they used their military skills to that extent in the civilian workplace.


Perhaps this is due to the gravity of a military job versus a civilian job. For example, in most cases, no one is going to lose their life if they’re unable to work together in a team to complete a project on time in a civilian job, but a platoon could lose their lives if they do not work together and effectively communicate while on patrol.


Here are a few tips to help veterans translate their skills into the civilian workforce.


Find a common denominator. Both military and civilian jobs can be measured in manpower, materiel and money. Regardless of Military Occupation Specialty code (MOS) or rank, veterans can compare the manpower needs to complete a military mission to the HR needs of his or her civilian employer to complete a task or project.


Both civilian and military jobs require specific resources, or materiel, to complete a mission or specific task or project. Of course, the resources may be a bit different – a military job may require a helicopter or air support to complete where a civilian job may need design software. Lastly, in most cases, both civilian and military employers will be provided a budget, or money, to adhere to. A key goal for most civilian employers is to maximize profits while minimizing the expenses, while the military looks to keep costs at or under budget.


Strengthen your leadership skills. As a service member promotes throughout his or her military career, their leadership skills are enhanced due to experience and additional military schooling and training. These manpower skills can be translated to their civilian job environment to motivate their subordinates to perform.


Research your education and career options. The ability for a veteran to apply their military skills to their civilian career starts during the military transitioning process. Free tools are available to help service members investigate degree programs and possible career paths before transitioning. The Phoenix Career Guidance System™ ( can help you research a degree program based on your interests, skills and experience, and provides insight on local job market trends and industry demands. Also, the Military Skills Translator Tool takes your job specialty code and suggests a list of related civilian occupations.


Speak the language. Communicate military experience and training to employers with words, not acronyms, which may not translate to corporate America. Promote and demonstrate skills such as leadership, communication management, teamwork and strategic thinking, which can be applied in both civilian and military jobs. Give your employer and fellow employees specific examples of how you used these skills in your various assignments during your military tenure.


Advanced planning can help veterans think critically about how to best position their military and civilian skills and experience to meet the specific needs of their civilian employers. However, in this highly competitive job market, veterans need to be prepared to promote all their accomplishments and make direct connections between their experience and the skills required for their career.


Recognizing this need, University of Phoenix also offers career-planning services for military veterans. Resources include career coaching, proactive and ongoing support from representatives who understand military culture, and the Military Skills Translator Tool. Veterans gain valuable knowledge and experience during the time they serve, but understanding how military skills translate to civilian jobs isn’t always easy. Through resources such as those provided by University of Phoenix, returning servicemen and women can more effectively communicate the value of their military skills and experience to employers and, in turn, start putting them to good work in their new careers.


Garland Williams (Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired) is Military Relations Vice President at University of Phoenix.


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