Professional Development

Translating your military experience to civilian work

Written by Eric Titner

Are you a current or former member of the United States Military? If so, then congratulations: not only did you seize the opportunity to serve your country, you also likely earned some valuable skills along the way—skills that should serve you well through the remainder of your active duty and beyond. Now that you’ve made or are contemplating a move to civilian life, you’re ready to take all of that experience you’ve earned and run with it towards your next great professional opportunity.

The truth is, making a bold new move forward along your professional journey is always a stressful time—there are lots of unknowns and uncertainties surrounding you, and most of us wonder if we’re doing everything we can to ensure we’re making all the right moves and decisions to position ourselves for success.

These feelings of unease can be especially heightened when you’re making a change as significant as transitioning from the military to civilian life. But you’re surely no stranger to overcoming big challenges! Although the civilian and military work worlds are quite different, there are some areas of similarity and overlap that you can use to your advantage. With some careful strategic planning and preparation, you can make sure you’re translating and communicating your military experience effectively. Consider the following advice to help you grab the attention of target hiring personnel—and achieve your next professional goal.

List your transferrable skills

Here’s the good news—you’ve built up an impressive array of skills during your military experience, and many of them are transferrable to the civilian work world. Managing big projects? Check. Overcoming key challenges to meet target goals on schedule and budget? Check. Leading others and collaborating in a teamwork setting? Check. We can keep going, but you get the idea—when you break down your military accomplishments, you’ll begin to notice that they required the same sort of core skills that it takes to be successful in the civilian world.

Your mission here is to translate all of those commendable military skills you’ve acquired to your new target civilian goals. Start off by making a list of all those skills, big and small, and then refine that list to highlight those that can be used outside of the military. It might be helpful to research your target civilian-based position, list all the skills and experience typically required in order to be seriously considered for employment, and then look for areas of overlap. Make sure all these transferrable skills are peppered into your resumes and cover letters appropriately and be sure to touch on them on interviews as well.

Smooth out the jargon

Sure, all of those impressive military-specific accomplishments and skills are second nature to you, but remember that your target audience might not have the same experience. Don’t forget that on the job hunt in the civilian world, you’re one of many applicants vying for each position you seek, which means your window to grab and hold the attention of hiring personnel is narrower than you may think. Throwing insider vocabulary at civilians—think everything from equipment to tactical training terms and more—just might confuse them and cause them to gloss over your documents as they quickly move to the next candidate. Not a good strategy. Do your best to communicate your military experience without the jargon on your resumes and cover letters, and you’ll be doing yourself a big favor.

Use your networks

A good way to have your military experience properly valued and appreciated in the civilian world is to leverage connections through your established relationships with former military personnel. One of the great things about having a background in the military is that there are plenty of channels in place to help you transition to civilian employment—on top of your own personal job hunt efforts, there are employment services available through the VA, as well as other publicly and privately funded hiring and transition programs. The bottom line here is that your military experience affords you benefits that can really help you achieve your work goals in civilian life, so be sure to take full advantage of them.

When making the leap from the military to civilian life, use the strategies and advice presented here along the way to help ensure your transition is as smooth as possible. Good luck!

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.