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5 steps to a successful transition from military to civilian jobs

Person in criminal justice career

By Jason Robert, UOPX Career Advisor

As a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army, I have personally experienced the challenges our veterans face when leaving the military.

First, think back to when you joined the military. You probably spent anywhere between eight and 12 weeks in Initial Entry Training, formally known as Basic Combat Training. During this introductory period, service members become inundated with terms, acronyms and ideologies unfamiliar to the average civilian. Trainees learn quickly that there is no "I" in team and that it is no longer about individualism. From that point on, it’s all about your battle buddy and the team’s contributions.

You’re told what time to go to bed, what to eat and how to think. The longer you stay in the military, the harder it is to change your routines and way of thinking.

This way of living is in stark contrast to what we learn in everyday society. In the world of career advising, we tell job seekers to focus on individual achievements and to put them on their resumés and think outside the box. This is easier said than done, especially if you have been living inside the box, and that box was the rigid standards of the military.

Picture for a moment that you learned a new language and a new way of life, and you stopped speaking your previous language and living a certain way for years. Now imagine waking up one day, and you’re told to go back to your previous language and lifestyle and that your future depends upon your ability to transition back. This drastic change is the challenge that every service member faces daily.

If you’re a veteran, the following five key steps can help make your transition to civilian life a little easier while job searching.

1. Create a plan of attack

Before going into battle, we are taught to come up with a plan of attack. As a civilian job seeker, your plan of attack is this: know your challenges, strengths and desired outcome. Decide if you want to pursue a new career or work in a comparable occupation you held in the military.

Resources like and both have features that help people research potential careers. If you’re unsure what career to pursue, then websites like have an interest profiler that helps match your interests to careers.

2. Take advantage of education benefits

According to, eligible veterans can receive up to 36 months of paid education and training while attending schools approved under the post-9/11 and VA educational benefits. Go to to learn about the different programs and which you might qualify for. Perhaps you are interested in on-the-job training; if so, the Department of Defense has a program that can connect you to employers for job and training opportunities at

3. Identify your hard and soft skills

Everyone possesses certain skills that can be beneficial to their career exploration. In the military, you probably developed many soft skills in the civilian job market. If you served in any capacity where you managed at least one other person, you have leadership skills applicable in many careers or situations.

If you served honorably, then you have demonstrated your ability to see something through and that you are dependable. The list of transferable skills is extensive, and I wish I could list them all in this article. Your hard skills are the technical skills that you learned for your particular military occupation. This leads me to my next step, which is translating what you did in the military in a language a civilian recruiter or hiring manager can understand.

4. Translate military language into civilian terminology

Even a trip to the grocery store on a military installation can sound confusing in a conversation with a civilian. For example, "I need to go to the Commissary before it closes at 1800 hours. My ETA should be at 1600 hours, and I need to remember to pick up some MREs because my CSM wanted them ASAP for his dependents."

My fellow veterans followed along with no problem, but nonmilitary readers may have been lost in the discussion. Now, imagine trying to explain what you did in the military to a recruiter. You need a translator to help get your message across so they can appreciate your skills, knowledge, abilities and accomplishments. A PDF on lists common terms and their civilian translations, which will be helpful in the next section, where I will discuss resumés.

5. "Civilianize" your resumé

My experience is that veterans either saturate their resumés with too much information in a language most do not understand, or they are too modest and leave out a lot of significant accomplishments. Most of the time, this is due to not knowing how to translate that experience effectively.

According to, it is important to use equivalent civilian job titles so employers understand your qualifications. For example, an infantry soldier is similar to a security officer or police officer. Instead of supply sergeant, use the title logistics manager. Do not just list what you did in the military; also include ribbons or medals received for outstanding performance or courage. Use the language in your reward, but with civilian wording.

A lifestyle change is never easy, particularly when you have to adapt quickly with little to no direction. The five steps above can make transitioning from a military to a civilian job a smoother process, so you can get back to work ASAP.
However, if you need additional help, University of Phoenix has career advisors to assist current degree-seeking students and graduates. Visit the University’s Career Services page to learn more about our offerings, including our Career Services for Life™ commitment.

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