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Translating Military Experience to Civilian Employment

Army soldier with Family


If you served in the military, you’ve lived and worked in environments that are specific to the military culture. You have lived on bases, installations, ships and submarines; you ate MREs and shopped in PXs/BXs/NEXs and commissaries; you deployed to unique locations worldwide; and you enjoyed a tight-knit sense of community whether you were visiting schools, places of worship, restaurants or medical clinics. Understandably, leaving this culture can be difficult – you are not just leaving a job, you are leaving a lifestyle.

The skills you developed as a service member are truly valuable and in high demand, but describing those skills to a prospective employer can be difficult. For instance, you may have trouble communicating without using military jargon or are unsure of how to bridge the culture gap that exists between military and civilian workplaces. There are four steps you can take to translate the military experience to civilian employment, and a wide range of resources at your disposal to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Step 1: De-militarize Your Resume

The following two steps can be used to de-militarize your resume:

  • Inventory the skills you used during your service. Whether you were a sharpshooter in the Army, a diver in the Navy, or had another profession in the military, there are marketable skills you developed in your career that apply to the civilian workplace.
    • Think beyond the specific function you carried out and identify the core value, skill or expertise you brought to the table. For example, a sharpshooter would have led small teams to carry out high-priority objectives with minimal room for failure in high pressure situations.
    • Some core values, skills and/or expertise displayed above are leadership, ability to carry out work with minimal supervision, attention to detail and ability to work under strict deadlines.
  • Read the “How to Create an Effective Resume” [PDF 2.4 MB] manual published by the Transition Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Labor’s veterans employment and training service to learn about the key elements of the resume development process, develop your career objective and accomplishment statements, and write a draft resume.

Step 2: Give the Full Picture of Your Experience

Be sure to include examples of the following types of skills:

  • Technical Skills: Military careers such as a telecommunication technician, financial management technician, mechanic or health care specialist all have closely related civilian careers. The technical skills you developed in your military career should be included in your resume.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Working in the military requires working with a variety of personalities, from high-ranking officers to unit commanders, teammates and subordinates. Often, service members must master the art of interacting with supervisors, peers and subordinates to complete a task. Interpersonal skills are valued in the civilian workplace and should be detailed in your resume to reflect your ability to work with many different kinds of colleagues to get the job done.
  • Leadership Skills: Any leadership experience or training that you acquired in the military is also highly valued by civilian employers. Overseeing subcontractors is a leadership skill that can be valuable in the civilian world.1

Step 3: Use Resources for Veterans in Transition

Step 4: Excel in the Civilian Workplace

After you’ve translated your military experience and secured a job in the civilian workplace, it is up to you to do the best job you can in your new career. It’s important to remember that the military system is based on seniority and rank, but career advancement in the civilian workplace is a matter of excelling in areas that propel the success of the organization. To ensure your success, it is important for you as a former service member to pay attention to three key differences that exist between civilian and military environments:

  • Communication style – Former military personnel can be formal, direct and to the point while civilian communication styles are slightly different and may be more informal or conversational. Try to be sensitive to the communication styles of your civilian coworkers and remember to be patient, accept challenges with a positive mindset and always be willing to adjust.
  • Efficiency – The U.S. military has a top-down system for making decisions, while many private and public companies have organizational processes that involve more people and may take more time. Be patient, and understand that although taking direct orders from the top works well in the military, civilian organizations often benefit from having multiple stakeholders contribute to the decision-making process.
  • Flexibility – Many companies today offer flexible hours, schedules and work locations. While the military benefits from having a rigid structure for service members to operate within, the corporate workplace can benefit by allowing its employees to have a flexible work-life balance.

Although the current job market is very challenging it’s important to stay positive and use the psychological resilience skills you learned during your military career to help you cope with the stress often experienced with job searching. There are a variety of programs to support you as you transition from your military career to a new civilian career as well as initiatives to help you get your civilian career started.

Additional Resources


1 "Resume Advice," Career OneStop. Last accessed Nov. 21, 2014.

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