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A primer on Translating veterans' training into civilian job skills

During their military careers, veterans receive extensive, full-time training not only in technical specialties but in valuable nontechnical (or soft) skills, such as leadership, decisionmaking, persistence, and communication. These skills are vital to success in the civilian workforce, but translating military terminology into civilian workplace parlance can be challenging. Here are two examples of how training can translate.

How training can translate

Example 1

Military training received

Army Basic Combat Training (10-week course)

  • Participating in dangerous, demanding exercises
  • Completing tasks quickly to support team success
  • Mastering tasks that require extensive practice
  • Following exacting standards with precision
  • Working collaboratively with others around the clock
  • Cooperating with peers from diverse cultural backgrounds

Skills employers want

Entry-level civilian job skills

  • Handling work stress
  • Being dependable and reliable
  • Persistence
  • Conscientiousness and attention to detail
  • Teamwork and team-building
  • Interpersonal skills

Example 2

Military training received

Marine Corps Sergeants Course (7-week course)

  • Giving extemporaneous speeches
  • Developing a plan of action despite uncertainty
  • Gaining buy-in from peers
  • Debating, considering, and reconsidering positions
  • Writing and revising analytical essays
  • Learning how to create long-range, annual, and quarterly training plans

Skills employers want

Mid- to senior-level civilian job skills

  • Oral communication
  • Decisionmaking/decisiveness
  • Leading, motivating, and inspiring others
  • Critical thinking
  • Written communication
  • Training others

Excerpted from Essential Skills Service Members Gain During Professional Military Training: A Resource for Leaders and Hiring Managers, by Chaitra Hardison et al., RAND Corporation, TL-160/2-OSD, 2015

icons: Askold Romanov/iStock


This research was sponsored by the Transition to Veterans Program Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. It was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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