Translating Military Experience into the Civilian Workforce

Military service offers the opportunity to develop many skills that are valuable in the civilian workplace. However, figuring out the best way to explain and present those credentials when transitioning from the military to a civilian job market can sometimes be tricky.

Evaluate your experience

Most likely, you have achieved many accomplishments and mastered a number of skills while in the military. These can be desirable assets to an employer seeking good candidates. Take time to do an inventory of the highlights of your record while in the service. Be particularly alert for any unusual expertise you may offer that will help you stand out from the pack. At the same time, you want to consider ways that you can frame your experiences in a more general way that would apply to civilian job situations. For example, many military positions — regardless of the actual job title — require good leadership skills, problem-solving talents, or the ability to remain calm in stressful situations.

Speak the right language

The military can have its own special vocabulary that may be difficult to understand for people unfamiliar with it. It’s important that you describe career-related aspects of your military experience in a way that would be clear to a civilian HR representative. This is particularly true in today’s high-tech landscape, where many companies rely on applicant tracking systems or electronic tools to review candidate materials. Applications are often electronically searched for certain keywords, so having the appropriate terms in your résumé can help ensure your application has the best possible chance of getting noticed. You will want to also be careful about including military acronyms, as you cannot always be certain that civilian HR reps will know what they mean.

Military.com has a military skills translator that helps you identify the best civilian terminology to explain skills or experience on your résumé. O-Net Online is another helpful resource that can be useful in identifying your job skills and suggesting equivalent civilian job titles.

Use resources available to you

There are tools that can make this process easier. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a variety of resources — including résumé preparation guides — as part of the Transition Assistance Program.

Also, LinkedIn offers a free one-year premium subscription to U.S. service members and veterans. This can be a valuable resource in helping you make professional connections and research potential employers.

Veterans or members of the military who are interested in furthering their education may be able to earn college credits for their military experience. That’s one of the Prior Learning Assessment options available to Penn State World Campus students.

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