Translating Military Experience to a Civilian Resume

Explaining transferable skills is a critical component in navigating the job-search landscape.


For the returning military veteran, finding a new job in the civilian workforce often comes down to how well they can explain their transferable skills.

It can be a challenging task. Assembling weapons and digging ditches might not seem useful during peacetime, and often recruiters or hiring managers won’t see how a military background is useful to employers.

As a result, veterans are struggling more than most in this anemic economy and have an unemployment rate that is about 50 percent worse than the national average. “It’s very hard for them to translate their military experience into something a person without military experience would understand,” said Michael McNelis, the director of sales and marketing at Training Camp.

McNelis works with many returning soldiers to prepare them for a private sector career in information technology services. He said they usually come back from their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and seek to learn new skills; however, their military training has its own unique — yet misunderstood — value. “They all do well because they have discipline,” McNelis said. “These are project management skills. These are leadership skills. These are some things you want in an employee.”

Holly Mosack, director of military recruiting for Advanced Technology Services, looks for veterans who could excel at her company because of the extensive mechanical and electrical training they received in the military. “The skills are very hard to find,” said Mosack, a former captain in the U.S. Army who returned from a tour in Iraq in 2005. “We have technicians making $80,000 (a year) who don’t have a degree.”

With major American companies such as Eaton and Caterpillar as their clients, Advanced Technology Services is responsible for the maintenance of some of the most complex machines and vehicles in the world.

Mosack said veterans are uniquely suited for such high-end work. “Even though they were fixing weapons, they have electrical and mechanical skills that transfer,” she said. “There are very complex machines that are down and they have to fix them.”

While many recruiters and hiring managers don’t think of military backgrounds as a good match for the positions they’re trying to fill, Mosack said an even worse problem is that the veterans themselves usually aren’t sure how to market themselves when they get home from combat. She suggests that candidates from the armed services should emphasize their military training and promote how effectively those skills can transfer to the job that’s being sought.

Networking for a job can even be done during a deployment, Mosack said, adding that the more friends one makes during their service, the more contacts they’re likely to have when they get out.

Mosack said an immense military network can be the most useful weapon in a veteran’s job-search arsenal. Fellow veterans can refer candidates to jobs, pro-military companies and particular recruiters or online resources that are the most helpful. “It’s really good to have a mentor,” she said. “I was lucky enough to work for another veteran.”

Another major obstacle is adapting to the new landscape of the job search, which might have changed since they enlisted. For instance, modern hiring operations use applicant tracking systems to scan resumes for keywords and disregard those that don’t list particular skills or phrases. “So much now, it’s a black hole. You never talk to a person. You just submit your application and hope,” Mosack said. “They don’t know how to get a person or trick the computer.”

Working around the application machines can be frustrating but it’s certainly doable with a little coaching and determination — something veterans tend to have in abundance.