5 Hints to Turn Military Experience into Civilian Employment

Veterans must translate their skills into a format that not only makes sense to an employer, but stands out.

By Bradley Hood

Deployed personnel prepare to take a CLEP exam at a deployed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 30. The education center provides deployed personnel with education services and testing opportunities. (Photo courtesy of DVIDS)

I recently read an article by Kathleen Lucadamo in the New York Post regarding the difficulties faced by a sample of New York based veterans trying to find employment. One of the veterans, a Marine by the name of Luis Correia, made a statement that made a lot of sense to me: “They wanted a veteran — but not a veteran’s experience.”

One of the greatest challenges veterans face when thrust back into the civilian job market is finding a way to make their experience relevant. For many civilian employers with no military experience, there is an expectation that a veteran will offer not only all the benefits traditionally associated with the military — discipline, hard work, initiative — but will also have competency and experience in their field.

Unfortunately, many veterans either do not have the experience (can an infantryman usually make a case for advanced Microsoft Excel skills based on his job experience?) or do not know how to translate their related experience into a format that not only makes sense to a civilian employer, but stands out. While there are certainly a number of varied and intensive processes of selection within the military, not too many first-term service members come out knowing how to write a good resume.

I have experienced a lot of rejection in my own job hunting over the past five years in the reserves. Although being a Marine helped me, one of the main problems I had was a lack of specific experience. The good news is that there is hope. Here are a handful of tips for translating military experience into a resume:

1.  Examine your experience and compare it against your ideal job posting. Find out exactly what your target employer is looking for in a candidate, and try to find areas in your service that may line up. For example, although I was a Bulk Fuel Specialist, as a Corporal I also had leadership and training responsibilities. These skills have been easy to integrate into my resume for supervisory positions in security (the field I currently work in while I wait for active duty orders).

2.  Have civilian friends look over your resume. Try to select friends with professional experience, and if possible, someone who works in the field you’re looking at. They will know what kind of a resume works, and will ask you questions when something does not make sense to them. A friend of mine once pointed out that she could not understand half of my resume. This was  a result of her lack of experience with the military, but indicative of how some civilian employers might see my resume as well!

3.  If all else fails, get help. There are plenty of military resume conversion services that can produce a civilian-palatable resume based on your experience and target profession. I cannot speak from experience about the quality or price of these services, but it’s always an option.

4.  Education is an excellent tool for your job hunting, but make sure you actively set goals for yourself. I am earning a graduate degree in Military History, and thoroughly enjoy it. However, those with history degrees do struggle to find employment if they lack specific experience. In my case, I have a contract to go to flight school in the Marine Corps, and afterward intend to pursue a PhD and eventually teach at the college level.

5.  Start thinking about your career now. Find an internship in a field related to what you want to do; even if it’s unpaid, it will pay in experience, which gives you an edge when you go to find a civilian career. Certifications and training in programs such as Microsoft Office Suite are additional options for setting you apart in the eyes of employers.

The job market is not an easy place, but with careful assessment of your experience and goal-oriented education and training, a career should be within reach for any veteran.

About the author: 
Bradley Hood is a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant in IRR status with 5 years of prior enlisted experience. He is a recent graduate of American Military University, and currently is working towards a master’s degree in military history through Norwich. Bradley lives with his beautiful wife in historic NJ.

This article was originally posted on 10/17/2013 to Military1.com, and was reposted here with permission.



2 thoughts on “5 Hints to Turn Military Experience into Civilian Employment

  1. Hello Karen,
    I am a Vietnam-era veteran and professionally I am an Author, Motivational Speaker, and Entrepreneur. My upcoming book is titled “No Woman Vet Left Behind–Returning to Civilian Life Again.” It will be a compilation of short stories regarding transitioning from the military into civilian life. I plan on interviewing several female veterans and obtaining their stories and the lessons learned. I am interested in hearing from women veterans and their transitioning stories. I can be reached at richellerodgers@aol.com
    This will be a book written by women veterans, for women veterans!

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