Veteran and Military-Oriented Career Advice: Your Transferable Skills


What are they? And what can you do with them?

by Maribeth Gunner Pulliam, MS Ed

Excelsior College

If you are approaching your transition to a civilian career, it’s time to take an inventory of your transferable skills. The good news is this: since you trained and worked in the military, you may be light years ahead of your civilian peers. In addition to the skills you gained from service schools, military occupational specialties or ratings, and coursework, your role in parenting, projects, hobbies, community service and other life experience will serve you well in your transition.

For example, if you are embarking on a civilian job search and 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.

Along with transferable skills, most people have “work content skills” that are technical and job-specific; these skills typically require formal training and are associated with specific trades or professions. These skills often have a separate skills-based vocabulary or jargon that is specific to the job.

Examples of work content skills include programming computer software, operating electronic communications equipment, and encoding and decoding classified messages. Although work-content skills do not always transfer from one job to another, your mastery of these skills may says much about you and your work ethic, and will play a role in your career change and advancement.

Transferable skills are mainly acquired through experience and translate across jobs and career fields. For instance, a military “Air Traffic Controller Manager” has an in-depth hands-on knowledge of sophisticated radar and radio equipment (work content skills), but also includes deft abilities in planning, problem-solving and communicating (transferable skills). The managerial and interpersonal skills used in this position easily apply in various civilian work settings, while knowledge of radar equipment operation is more job-specific and not as versatile in the job market – unless you are seeking a civilian job as an air traffic controller. In short, work-content skills do not provide the same portability as transferable skills.

What employers want

Prospective employers have one important question: What can you do for us? Your answer is in your transferable skills. Not only are these skills the key to career portability, but they influence how you conduct your job search and convey your talents to prospective employers. A top-notch cover letter and resume are the first steps in convincing an employer that you have the transferable skills they need, so articulating these in a resume and cover letter are essential. As you brainstorm about these skills and transfer them onto paper, you will also get a boost of self-esteem about your own achievements.

Trouble getting started? If you aren’t quite sure where to begin, if you are a college student or graduate, start with the alumni office or career services department at your college. For instance, Excelsior College® provides a full range of career counseling services to its students and graduates, and also provides free online resources to the general public, and for military servicemembers and veterans in transition.

Brainstorm your transferable skills

Start by “brainstorming” your skills based on past or current educational, work, and life experiences. Did your experience teach you to analyze data and write reports? Supervise others? Carry out instructions in an orderly manner? Make quick decisions? Meet deadlines? Organize and implement projects?

If you believe you have proficiency in analyzing, writing, planning, organizing, and leading others – and/or implementing others’ instructions —  you have just identified six functional skills you can place on a resume, discuss in a job interview, and put to use in a new work setting.

Another way to learn more about your transferable skills is to complete online career assessment tools and checklists found in career guidebooks. Be sure to differentiate which of your listed skills are transferable and which are work content skills. Keep this list updated over time, as you progress and evolve in your career. This “skills package” inventory will be a valuable resource for your future, and a reminder of how far you have come.

About the Writer: Maribeth Gunner Pulliam, MS Ed is the Career Services Coordinator at Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y. For more resources on higher education and career transitions, visit Excelsior College at and the Excelsior College Career Resource Center at,


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