So Why is it So Difficult for Military Veterans to Translate their Skills Into Civilian Language?

One of my favorite topics to teach recruiters and hiring managers is how to align military skill sets with civilian positions.  And I am always asked, “Why is it so hard for military members to translate their skills into something a civilian recruiter can understand?”  So, allow me to explain why this is such a challenge for them.

81% of military occupations have a direct or very close civilian equivalent.  We have engineers, nurses, lawyers, accountants, store managers, telecommunications technicians, truck drivers, food service managers and more.  And all military members possess, to some degree, intangible skills such as leadership, process improvement, problem identification, trouble shooting, managerial/supervisory administration, and project management.

The military assesses an applicant for attitude and aptitude to learn a skilled trade or to manage skilled labor and then presents the applicant with choices of career fields based on the assessment results. The applicant selects a career field based on factors such as available choices, demand for those occupations, associated financial bonuses for choosing harder-to-fill career fields, timeliness of training school availability, civilian career goals, and personal preferences.

Once an occupation is chosen, the military invests tens of thousands of dollars in the training and professional development of its service members.  The military also communicates defined career paths for officers and enlisted members, and manages their professional development and requires attendance at career development schools at predefined times.

As the years go by, service members are provided assignments into new positions of increased responsibility by a central team of military human resource managers.

And so, after 6 or 26 years, the service member is completing a successful military career having never assembled a resume or applied for a job. Very few have had a need to interview for a position; the few that have did not need to translate their qualifications and experiences into a different language in order to sell themselves to the decision maker.

In the months, even years, leading up to the point of separation or retirement, the military member becomes increasingly aware that there are major transition planning activities in which they should be engaging.   They also experience anxiety as the realization sets in that they are leaving a highly structured, path-driven, centrally-directed environment of military career management to the looser, endless-possibilities, individually-directed environment of civilian career management.

They struggle with trying to explain how very military specific positions such as “Command Sergeant Major” or “Executive Officer” might equate in a civilian work environment.  And, they are just learning about this social networking tool called “LinkedIn”, but they aren’t clear on what it can do for them and how to use it to find a civilian career.

So, while the military services and the Department of Labor are charged to help the service member prepare for transition to civilian life, I like to focus on those civilian recruiters and hiring managers and help them to understand the military better so they can improve their recruitment of veterans.  I find that once the recruiters and hiring managers get clear on what service members have to offer and better understand their levels of responsibility and salary expectations, their military recruiting programs really take off.  They make better choices on where to look for military talent and spend their talent sourcing dollars more effectively.  They have a higher rate of success in making good matches for their open positions, which is one step towards improving retention of veterans.