Translating Military Service For The Civilian Work World

As Johnny and Jane come marching back from war to prepare for the next chapter of their lives, they face the daunting challenge of turning their military experience into machine-readable resumes and elevator speeches that convince corporate recruiters to give them a second look.

“The novelette of their experience in the military,” says Sherrill Curtis, doesn’t always translate clearly.

Agrees Carl Blum, “The hardest problem they have is translating their military experience into civilian language so a recruiter can understand what they have to offer.

Curtis, Blum, and Blum’s partner in an organization called Tip of the Arrow, Bob Deissig, and Sgt. Major James Clark were the prime movers of a program last month at New Jersey’s  Ft. Dix called “Ultimate Warrior Career Workshops and Job Fair.”

They had plenty of help. The Garden State (New Jersey) SHRM council signed on early to the project, supplying dozens of recruiters, supplemented by career coaches from the state’s professional association, and representatives from federal agencies and area colleges.

But this was no ordinary job fair, although some 70 employers showed up and Blum tells us 200 of the participants expect offers.

What made this different were the one-on-one counseling sessions and workshops that prepped the servicemen and women — and some dependents — for the next day’s recruiter meet and greet.

Blum and Deissig, who founded Tip of the Arrow, began working with returning soldiers at Ft. Dix last year. Retired from careers in staffing and search, they both quickly discovered that while the men and women they met had held positions of leadership and responsibility, they were not skilled at explaining to a recruiter how what they did had value in the corporate world.

Blum told a story about a 24-year-old National Guardsman returned from Iraq who described himself as a clerk who had also been in charge of a security detail.

“I had to draw it out of him, really talk to him about what he did,” Blum says, learning the soldier had traveled Iraq returning money recovered from captured terrorists to their victims. In another assignment, he was in charge of protecting teachers and students from attack.

Saying he was a military clerk who also had worked security wouldn’t have meant as much to a corporate recruiter as explaining he was entrusted with a small fortune in cash and was responsible for the lives of a classroom full of children. Putting it that way, Blum says, lets a recruiter know that the soldier in front of them has integrity and has handled more responsibility than any job they may have is likely to require.

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When Blum and Deissig connected with Curtis, who heads the state council’s Workforce Readiness committee, they found a firecracker of organization who mobilized the council and local chapters to provide the training the military personnel would need to launch successful civilian careers.

“I saw bright, articulate people,” Curtis reports. But like so many workers in the civilian world seeking a career change, “they have a very difficult time explaining what they are, what they have done, and how it applies.”

Career coaches and professional recruiters met one-on-one with the nearly 500 personnel — many of them  Army — who attended the workshop the day before the job fair. The volunteers would review resumes, teach basic job hunting techniques — there was a how-to session on career networking — and even do role-playing to help the job seekers get a feel for interviewing.

There was a panel of experienced, senior recruiters to answer audience questions on everything from what to wear to concerns about military related disabilities. International recruiting consultant Gerry Crispin, a principal in CareerXroads, talked about using technology for job searching. He also set up a LinkedIn group to carry on the day’s work.

The goal of the workshops was to get the military job seekers ready to “meet with an employer with confidence and articulate what they have done and how it applies to their job,” Curtis adds.

Curtis and Tip of the Arrow, which was founded to provide just that kind of help, are hoping that other state SHRM councils will pick up on the project and hold their own workshops and job fairs, with the Ft. Dix program as a model.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


8 Comments on “Translating Military Service For The Civilian Work World

  1. Great program from NJ SHRM, HR and recruiters helping those that defend our freedom. But besides that, I believe its employers and recruiters responsibility to educate military people (many of them young right out of high school) about what careers are in demand and what skills and education is needed. I spent some time in Army ROTC and learned firsthand that communication in the military is a little different, so the soft skills and interviewing advice provided will be very helpful to those military personnel. Kudos to all that were involved.

    Just a FYI, The Garden State (NJ) SHRM council has a conference Oct 26&27, Lon O’Neil, President and CEO SHRM, will be one of the keynotes.

  2. Great program and support from SHRM! So good to see how HR leaders are pulling in al the pieces of what the service memeber needs.

    Greater Baton Rouge SHRM is having simliar partnerships with educating HR and Community leaders in support of Veterans with Disabilities. We are all a resource for our Veterans!

    Best to you all.

  3. Thanks Angela but you are too modest. Your pioneering work with Sodexho and locally in helping this generation of troops along with the many volunteers in NJ and other states sets high standards and inspires the rest of us to do what we can.

    One note missing from John’s great article is that a significant percentage of returning Army reservists and national guard from all states “demobilize” every month from Ft Dix. Literally thousands of troops and wounded warriors leave NJ headed home (everywhere in the US)with no job and no guidance…every month.

    The efforts of the local SHRM chapters and volunteers willing to coach these folks is a long term commitment and will continue. You can participate or stay connected to Sherrill’s efforts with the tip of the arrow foundation(especially if you are in the area) by joining the Linkedin Group UW Network for Career Success at

  4. Thanks for this article and the efforts to translate military experience. No doubt it is key to success.

    For those military job seekers who cannot attend one of the seminars, here are a couple resources that might assist:

    “Military to Civilian: 3 Tips for Success” (don’t forget to use the O*Net Resource Center page)

    “Top Ten Tips for post-military job search”


    Bill Scott
    Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI)
    Delivering Military-Experienced Talent to America’s Top Companies

  5. John Zappe did a wonderful service for those who protect us in the night while we sleep, our Soldiers.
    The impact of Sherrill Curtis and SHRM cannot be overstated.
    There were 125 volunteers from SHRM giving one on one counseling to every participant in the “Ultimate Warrior” job fair at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
    This is the first time I have ever seen Soldiers get the preparation that is necessary to find the thread of excellence that exists with each and every one of them.
    My partner Bob Deissig, who is the Recipient of the Silver Star, 4 Bronze Stars, 3 with V for Valor and 2 Purple Hearts for his service to our country and I know that SHRM is the missing link to bring our servicemen and women home to the work that they are entitled to.
    Thank you for bringing our efforts to your members’ attention.
    Carl Blum

  6. This article is great and right on the money! I was recently at a Camp Pendleton career fair and a Corporal walked by my booth. It was slow and he paused to look at our job information. I asked him what type of work was he looking for when he got out of the Corps. He told me he didn’t know, “I am only a grunt” (infantry). I asked him, “If you are a Corporal I assume you had leadership over a fire team?” He said I was correct. I then asked. “If you were responsible for a fire team, that is about 4 – 6 Marines that you had responsibility for?” He said “yes.” I then said, “I assume that you needed to know your mission before going out, have alternate plans if things went south and had to communicate with your team those plans, and back up plans correct?” He looked at me, and said “yes it is.” I then enquired a little more. “So if you are going out on a mission you had to make sure your Marines not only knew the mission but had all the equipment to complete the mission such as weapons cleaned and operational, you had enough dope (ammo), frags, NVGs, first aid, com devices, Kevlar, and other tools necessary for your job?” He said, “Yes, that gear and more.” I then said. “On top of all that you had to make sure the Marines were safe, keeping an eye out for any indication the enemy was near or that IEDs were identified to prevent setting them off. I can’t imagine being 22 years old with that kind of responsibility.” The Corporal took a long look at me and said “I never thought of it like that, I was just doing my job.”

    That is the issue, these Service Men and Woman take what they do for granted as every day stuff, and I suppose for them it is. So when they are asked about it they downplay the importance of it all. That is why it is critical that they outline their job duties with someone who can not only help get it down on paper, but translate the Military lingo into a language that civilians understand.

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