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Employment Outlook for Service Members Continues to Improve, But Translating Skills to Civilian Jobs Still a Challenge for Many Veterans, Reveals University of Phoenix Survey

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A new University of Phoenix national military survey suggests that while the veteran unemployment rate continues to declinei, many veterans may actually be underemployed. A majority (61 percent) of past service members who have held civilian jobs say they have previously been or currently are in jobs beneath their skill sets, with nearly three-quarters (72 percent) saying they accepted a position because they were unemployed and needed a job. Forty-two percent of past service members who are currently employed say they are working in jobs today that are beneath their skill sets.

The online survey of more than 1,000 adults who are serving or have served in a branch of the U.S. military was conducted on behalf of University of Phoenix by Harris Poll in October 2014.

“Service members cultivate skills in the military that are invaluable to civilian employers,” said University of Phoenix Military Relations Vice President and ret. Army Colonel Garland Williams. “Veterans bring diverse experience to the workplace, but may not know how to specifically market the skills they gained in the military for civilian jobs, and employers may not instinctively know how the skills translate. The good news is there are significant national efforts underway to help bridge this gap, including some exciting veteran employment programs developed by corporate America.”

Job Search and Transition

The survey finds that only one-third (34 percent) of veterans made a transition plan for returning to civilian life after separation from the military. Veterans specifically identify the following actions that were difficult when transitioning to the civilian workforce after separating from the military:

  • Connecting/networking with hiring managers: 55 percent
  • Finding employment that was suitable for them: 57 percent
  • Deciding what career path to pursue: 54 percent
  • Promoting their individual skills and accomplishments to an employer after working in a team environment: 46 percent
  • Translating skills learned in the military to the requirements of civilian jobs: 44 percent
  • Demonstrating to employers how their skills from their military service can be valuable in a civilian job: 44 percent
  • Finding any type of employment: 45 percent
  • Adjusting to the dynamics inside civilian companies/organizations: 41 percent

On an encouraging note, the survey indicates that more service members today understand the need to have an action plan to make a successful transition. In fact, more than three-in-five (62 percent) of those currently on active duty say they have made a transition plan.

“It is so important for our men and women in uniform who are finishing their military tenure to start early with the transition process,” said Williams. “Service members should research careers, determine necessary skills and talk to others who have made the transition to help ensure they find career options that maximize their unique skill sets.”

Translating Skills Gained in the Military to Civilian Jobs

The national focus on military hiring and the lower unemployment rates may be spurring more confidence among active duty service members that their skills will translate to civilian jobs. In fact, four-in-five (81 percent) active duty service members believe that a great deal or a lot of the skills they developed in the military will be used in civilian jobs once they separate from active duty, which is nearly twice the percentage (45 percent) who indicated this in the 2013 survey. However, when past service members were asked about their first civilian jobs after separation from the military, less than one-third (29 percent) say that they used their military skills to that extent in the civilian workplace.

“Advanced planning can help service members think critically about how to best position their skills and experience to meet the specific needs of employers,” said Williams. “The military has a ‘we’ vs. ‘me’ mentality that benefits employers who hire veterans. However, the focus on teamwork can also lead service members to minimize their personal achievements in interviews and on resumes. In this highly competitive job market, service members need to be prepared to promote their accomplishments and make direct connections between their experience and the skills required for specific jobs.”

Skills Gained in the Military

Skills Gained in the Military that
Current and Former Service Members
Say are Most Beneficial to Employers

Skills Veterans Say They Are Using In
Their Current Jobs

Responsibility 72% 30%
Teamwork 69% 31%
Ability to work under pressure 65% 24%
Ability to follow directions 65% 15%
Leadership 63% 20%
Problem-solving 61% 31%
Accountability 57% 16%
Ability to focus on tasks 53% 9%
Communication skills 52% 14%
Critical thinking 47% 17%
Technical skills 44% 18%
Analytic skills 35% 13%
Cultural awareness 23% 4%


Many active duty service members and veterans recognize the benefits of education in closing skills gaps. In fact, nine-in-ten active duty service members are currently pursuing education or plan to go back to school at some point. More than one-third (35 percent) are currently doing so and 37 percent plan to go back to school within the next two years.

Past service members who pursued education during or after military service (59 percent) report the following benefits of their education:

  • Learned specialized skills for their career: 43 percent
  • Gained a diverse set of skills and knowledge: 39 percent
  • Met other students with military backgrounds who understand my experiences as a service member: 31 percent
  • Counselors/advisors helped me develop my course of study: 12 percent
  • Met students with diverse backgrounds, which gave me more career perspective: 11 percent
  • Provided networking opportunities that can help further my career: 11 percent
  • Counselors/advisors helped me determine my post-graduation career plans: 6 percent

“Education can help service members build on their already solid skills to prepare for civilian careers,” said Williams. “At University of Phoenix, we guide our military students to understand how their education aligns with career paths and help them translate skills acquired through military experience into viable credits that can be applied to their degrees.”

Tips for Military Career Transitioning

Williams, who himself made a successful transition from a 28-year military career to civilian employment five years ago, offers the following tips to avoid underemployment and ensure service members parlay valuable skills developed in the military into productive, fulfilling civilian careers:

  1. Start early and get connected. Begin the transition process as early as possible. Talk to peers who made transitions and network with as many people as possible to learn about employers who are hiring. Create profiles on professional networking sites to keep in touch with professional contacts and learn about possible career opportunities. Conduct informational interviews with veterans who are working with companies that appeal to you.
  2. Research your education and career options. Use free online tools to investigate degree programs and possible career paths. The Phoenix Career Guidance SystemTM can help you research a degree program based on your interests, skills and experience, and provides insight on local job market trends and industry demands. Also, the Military Skills Translator Tool takes your military occupational specialty (MOS) code and suggests a list of related civilian occupations.
  3. Brush up on your job-searching skills. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Transitional Assistance Program (TAP), which provides soon-to-be discharged or retired service members helpful information and workshops on job searching, resume and cover letter writing, interviewing techniques and career decision-making. Look for veteran hiring fairs and local hiring events that are taking place across the country. Each year, there are hundreds of Hiring Our Heroes veteran events that help transitioning service members, veterans and their families find viable career options.
  4. Speak the language. Communicate military experience and training to hiring employers with words, not acronyms, which may not translate on a resume. Promote skills such as leadership, management, teamwork and strategic thinking. Mention these attributes in the cover letter and resume alongside all technical skills. Give your prospective employer specific examples of how you used these skills in your various assignments during your military tenure.
  5. Don’t sell yourself short. While job searching, remember the valuable skills you learned in the military can make a real difference for employers. Identify a mentor – preferably someone with a military background who has transitioned successfully and can help guide the job search process and remind you of your strengths and transferable skills.

To learn more about University of Phoenix(R) degree programs and career resources for veterans, service members and their families, visit

Survey Methodology

The 2014 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix Oct. 20-29, 2014, among 1,011 U.S. adults age 18 or older who are serving or have served in any branch of the U.S. military; 113 of whom are currently on active duty. The 2013 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Apollo Education Group and the University of Phoenix between September 24 – October 2, 2013 among 1,010 U.S. adults age 18 or older who are serving or have served in any branch of the U.S. military; 105 of whom are currently on active duty. These online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Veterans are defined as those who have ever served on active duty in any branch of the US military, but are not actively serving at the time of the survey; includes those currently in the Reserves/National Guard, those retired after 20 years of military service, and veterans with less than 20 years of service. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Jennifer Tomasovic at

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix is constantly innovating to help working adults move efficiently from education to careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant and engaging courses, and interactive learning can help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. As a subsidiary of Apollo Education Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: APOL), University of Phoenix serves a diverse student population, offering associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. For more information, visit



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