Your Transferable Skills: Career Resources for Veterans


What are they? And as a veteran, how can you use them to sell yourself in the job market?

by Maribeth Gunner Pulliam, MS Ed

Excelsior College®

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 tough economy.

Although the job market remains sluggish and veterans in particular are challenged in finding work, the good news is this: the education you gained from military service schools, from military occupational specialties, ratings and coursework – along with your roles in parenting, projects, hobbies, community service and other life experiences – have given you transferable skills that can serve you well in your transition. Your challenge is to define these skills and sell them – and yourself – to your future employer.

What are transferable skills? These are the skills 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.

Along with transferable skills, most people have “work content skills” that are technical and job-specific. These skills typically require formal training, are associated with specific trades or professions, and have a separate skills-based vocabulary or jargon that is unique to the job. Together, transferable and work content skill sets reflect the accomplishments and strengths you have gained.

For instance, an “air traffic controller manager” in the military has an in-depth, hands-on knowledge of sophisticated radar and radio equipment (work content skills), but has also developed deft abilities in planning, problem-solving and communicating (transferable skills) in high-pressure environments. The technical, managerial and interpersonal skills used in this position apply in many civilian work settings, while specific knowledge of radar equipment operation is a more job-specific (work content skill) and may not be as versatile in the job market, unless you are seeking a civilian air traffic controller job. In short, work-content skills may not be as portable as transferable skills.

Nevertheless, mastery of these work content skills says much about you and your work ethic, and will play a role in your career trajectory and in your ability to learn new tasks.

What employers want

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

Identify your transferable skills

Start by “brainstorming” your skills based on 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 functional skills you can place on a resume, discuss in a job interview, and put to use in a new work setting.

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.

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” inventory will be a valuable resource for your future, and a reminder of how far you have come.

Trouble getting started?

If you are a college student or graduate, begin by contacting the career services or alumni offices at your college. For instance, Excelsior College® Career Center provides a full range of career services to its students and graduates, including counseling sessions, job search tools, and resources for military servicemembers and veterans in transition. Many of Excelsior’s online career resources are also accessible to the general public.

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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