If you’ve ever tried to explain to your civilian friends and family what it was you really did in the military, you already know that sometimes the details don’t translate. And this problem is only compounded when you’re trying to launch a civilian career after service. In fact, CNN reports that 40 percent of employers admit to having difficulty understanding military experience and 30 percent say military applicants could do a better job of marketing their skills. Some larger corporations have incorporated military talent recruiting into their human resources division, so that recruiters with backgrounds in military service can help identify the skills of other veterans. Still, it’s important to understand where the basic miscommunication lies and what you can do to correct it.
1. Assess Your Abilities
This usually means breaking down your strengths into “soft skills,” or generalized skills that focus on emotional intelligence and your character as a worker. In the case of veterans, employers need to understand that the military is actually a great place to hone and develop the soft skills that are needed in most business environments. You’re a born leader, but you’re good at working with others. You’re disciplined, you accomplish goals, and you have a strong work ethic. Breaking down roles you’ve performed in the past and what your success in these roles says about you as part of a professional team is the first step to equating the military with work experience.
2. Research the Job Market
It’s not hard to translate military skills to work skills if you know what kind of position you’re trying to get. Jobs in fields like healthcare and engineering can directly correlate with what you did during your service, and you may not end up having to explain anything at all. You also might be surprised the kinds of corporations who employ military talent recruiters. Your skills on the battlefield and off may make you a great candidate for project and risk management, information technologies, or logistics. It’s also a great idea for veterans to think about starting their own small business. Your management abilities along with special support tools for veteran entrepreneurs can help you get a start up off the ground. The Office of Veterans Business Development, a subdivision of the Small Business Association, is full of important resources.
3. Translate Your Resume
Never listen to anybody who says you need to downplay your military experience in your resume. Employers know that the military has many important skills to offer – sometimes much more than your average civilian applicant. That doesn’t mean they always understand what these skills are. What you should do instead is assume that any hiring manager who reads your resume knows nothing about the military. Eliminate jargon and put your experiences into the simplest terms. But be proud of your experiences. When you come in for an interview, the employer will get to know you as more than your military record, but on paper it’s simply an indication of your skill level. Make sure to lead with a professional summary, use bullet points, and give references.
Though unemployment rates for veterans are falling, it’s still not uncommon for people to be unemployed years after leaving the service. That’s why you need a clear goal and a plan for how to get there. The first step to securing that career is making sure that the military language translates to a civilian world. After all, you have every right to flaunt your accomplishments and show businesses what you can do for them.
Writer Brett Harris is an avid military blogger. If you’re interested in gaining more skills, you may consider Grad School for Military before entering the civilian world.