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How Veterans Get a Leg Up in the Job Market Using Transferable Skills



    By Maribeth Gunner Pulliam


If you have retired from the military and are transitioning to a civilian career, it’s time to take an inventory of your transferable skills – the skills that will place you light years ahead of your civilian peers in a recovering economy.


The job market remains sluggish and veterans in particular are challenged in finding work. But there is good news. The experience and knowledge gained from military service, including training and coursework, has provided you with valuable transferable skills that will serve you well in your transition to civilian life. The challenge: Define these skills and sell them – and yourself – to your future employer.


What are “transferable skills?” These are the proficiencies mainly acquired through broad work, education, and life experience, and they translate across jobs and career fields. For instance, if you worked as a training specialist in the military, you have probably mastered communications and personnel management skills, as well as leadership abilities that are sought and valued in business and industry, government or education.


In addition, most military personnel have developed “work-content skills” that are technical and job-specific. These skills typically require formal training. They are more specific to trades or professions. And they have a separate skills-based vocabulary or jargon that is unique to the job, such as knowledge of certain sophisticated equipment operation. Work-content skills are not as portable as transferable skills, but when combined, both skill sets reflect the strength of your overall work ethic and demonstrate the array of accomplishments and abilities you have attained.


What employers want

Prospective employers have one important question: What can you do for us? The answer is often found in your portable, transferable skills. These skills influence how you prepare a top-notch resume and cover letter, conduct your job search and convey your talents in an interview. As you recognize and reveal these skills, you will also get a boost of self-esteem about your own achievements.



Identify your transferable skills

Start by reviewing your past or current educational, work, military and life experiences. Did your experience teach you to analyze data and write reports? Supervise others? Work as a team? Make quick decisions or meet deadlines? Organize and implement projects?


If you can analyze, write, plan, organize, lead others and work with a team -- you have just identified six highly valued skills you can place on a resume, discuss in a job interview and put to use in a new work setting.


When starting a military transition ( ) job search, you can also identify your transferable and work-content skills with online career assessment tools and career guidebooks. Keep this list updated over time, as you progress and evolve in your career. This “skills package” record will be a valuable resource for your future, and a reminder of how far you have come.


Trouble getting started?


Taking inventory of your various skills and categorizing them may seem like a daunting task, but there are several online tools you can use to get started. Excelsior offers free advice at its site ( ). Take your time to reflect upon all that you have done. Talk with your friends, family and coworkers to discover more about the valuable transferable skills they believe you exhibit, since they can offer helpful observations that you may not see. These small steps will help you prepare for a job search and feel more confidence in your ability to convince employers that you are the person they’ve been looking to hire.


Veterans may not realize the many exceptional transferable skills they have acquired through their military service. Veterans are trained to lead by example, work respectfully and collaboratively, and accomplish tasks on time – even when facing adversity.  They understand the importance of dedication and perseverance. These are all skills employers seek.


Webinar: Demonstrate your value in the civilian job market


The Center for Military Education, veteran services office, has produced a webinar series; You’re Back, What’s Next? located in the Lt Col Bryant A. Murray online veterans center. To see the webinar, Demonstrate Your Value in the Civilian Job Market at:


Maribeth Gunner Pulliam, MS Ed is the Career Services Coordinator at Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y.,  the education partner serving the Rainbow Divisions Veterans Foundation’s members and their spouses, through reduced cost higher education degree programs. For more resources on higher education and career transitions, visit Excelsior College at, the Excelsior College Career Resource Center at,, and the VFW Partnership page

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