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Translating Military Experience to Civilian Employment

airmen half in uniform half in business suit

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Mendez

Transitioning out of uniform can be hard. Whether you are finishing one enlistment or retiring after 20 or more years, it is common to feel uncertain about your future—especially your career.

Finding a civilian job isn’t always easy. However, employment is important not just for your finances. It can also help your psychological health and overall well-being.

Fortunately, the military has given you training and skills that employers want. Also, each military branch has transition assistance programs. If you already left the service, the Department of Veterans Affairs has additional resources to help.

With a little work, and the following tips and resources, you can launch a new career and find a sense of purpose and belonging out of uniform.

Translate Your Experience

The first step to landing a job is figuring out how your military experience applies to the civilian workforce. A good place to start is the Department of Labor’s Military to Civilian Occupation Translator. This online tool helps figure out what types of jobs are a good match for you.

Once it is time to put together your resume, write a cover letter or interview, remember:

  1. Avoid military jargon. Put your military job title, skills and experiences into terms employers understand. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Military Skills Translator can help. If you use terms you learned in the service, a future civilian employer probably won’t know their meaning.
  2. Provide a complete picture of your military experience. Describe your:
    • Technical Skills: You might, for example, understand communications gear or be a financial management expert. These skills may reduce the time an employer has to spend training you.
    • Interpersonal Skills: To execute missions in the military you likely coordinated with commanders, teammates and subordinates. Give examples that show how you unite people to accomplish tasks.
    • Leadership Skills: Leadership experience, whether as a noncommissioned officer or unit commander, is valued by employers. These experiences could make you a good project manager or team leader.
    • Leadership Skills: Leadership experience, whether as a noncommissioned officer or unit commander, is valued by employers. These experiences could make you a good project manager or team leader.

Use Resources for Veterans in Transition

The most important resource you can leverage is your service-specific transition program.

These programs can help you go back to school, get a job or start a business.

If you have already left the service, use these resources:

Training and practical job search assistance is important. However, finding a job is just one piece of the puzzle. There is also help if you are struggling to adjust to civilian life. It can be hard to leave a tight-knit community. Your first job might not give you the same sense of service and higher purpose. But, you don’t have to transition alone. If you are struggling, know that reaching out is a sign of strength. The following can help:

If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants. Call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care" page for a list of psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

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