Are military occupations transferable?


By Robyn Grable, founder, Service to Civilian

Every military occupation requires the same thing every civilian occupation requires – both technical and soft skills. Veterans have years of hands-on experience and years of training, which translates into skills. However, when they apply online and the application system asks if they have five years of industry experience, they honestly answer no. And that’s the end of their opportunity with your organization.

So, what exactly does it mean to have five years of industry experience? As a hiring manager, can you define what skills you expect a person to have with five years of industry experience? How does working in the industry for any length of time prove a candidate can do the job and fit into your organization? Putting in the time doesn’t necessarily make a person good at something. It could mean they worked without performance standards or the employee was continuously told they did a great job so the manager could avoid conflict. Veterans work in multiple industries during their military service and gain highly transferable skills in the process.

Hire for skills

Define the behavioral skills and competencies that are necessary for exceptional performance. Identify the skills that add value to the job, the department, and the organization overall. Soft skills, while they can be coached, must be inherent in a candidate. Soft skills are role specific as well and therefore must be defined for each job within an organization. Technical skills can be taught but must also be clearly defined to ensure the right person is identified for the position from the start.

Taking the time upfront to define and communicate the successful skills will ensure quality in finding candidates, consistency in interviewing, and competency in hiring. According to Manpower Group’s 2018 Talent Shortage Survey, “more employers than ever are struggling to fill open jobs – 45 percent globally say they can’t find the skills they need, up from 40 percent in 2017 and the highest in more than a decade. In the United States, it’s even greater at 46 percent.”

What does this mean for our veterans? The biggest challenge for transitioning veterans is overcoming misperceptions and misunderstandings about what they bring to the civilian workforce. In an interview for JP Morgan Chase, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, (retired), former Army chief of staff, said, “There are many misconceptions about the military, and we need to look at the bigger picture. For example, when we analyze how being an infantryman could translate into a being high-performing employee in the private sector, we need to look at the tremendous traits that military veterans provide. You have somebody who is physically and mentally strong, who displays moral and ethical courage during the most-stressful situations. They have a strong grasp of leadership fundamentals and have significant experience leading others. They are able to quickly assess risk and adapt quickly in a variety of situations to include incredibly chaotic and sometimes in life and death situations. Those skills can transfer to any field to include the corporate environment with a small investment.”


 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “In 2017, 20.4 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about 8 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over. About 10 percent of all veterans were women.” Additionally, 200,000 service men and women will leave the military each year. Of those already in the workforce, there are many factors contributing to the high number of underemployed veterans, including communication barriers between civilian employers and veteran candidates. It can be difficult for a civilian employer to understand how a veteran candidate’s experience (skills) can translate to their workplace. The military and the civilian workforce also have very different cultures. Hence, veterans find it difficult to market their skills and expertise in ways that easily translate.

Underemployment disproportionately affects veterans, who with little to nothing as a benchmark for civilian employment, take the first job they can get to support themselves and their families. Their real-life experience, training conducted by the world’s best schools, and their inherent soft skills are not fully utilized, making them underemployed. Impeding their economic success after military service, this also impedes the economic success of our communities. Consequently, employers are missing out on a large talent pool, if they aren’t hiring for skills, and ensuring their hiring practices (applicant-tracking systems, interviews and onboarding) don’t mistakenly exclude veterans.

So, the answer is yes – military occupations are highly transferable. Employers must find and hire veterans based on skills. They have them, both finely tuned soft skills and hundreds of hours of training and practicing technical skills. Veterans thrive under pressure and they understand the consequences of accomplishing goals. Veterans succeed in different environments, are open to change, and skilled at working with people of diverse backgrounds. They can apply practical skills to problem solving in the workplace, and veterans have distinct capabilities that support organizational teamwork, entrepreneurial spirit, and a focus on success. The good news: Veterans are out there to be hired. It may take a little more investment upfront to ensure your organization can attract and retain a veteran, but the business results and community impact will be more than worth it.

Veterans Ascend, a revolutionary program that matches veterans to employers based on skills, will launch soon. To learn more go to, call 864-887-5865 or email [email protected].


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