How to Prove to Civilian Employers That You Have ‘Social Skills’

How to Prove to Civilian Employers That You Have ‘Social Skills’
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A recent report by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business picked up military media attention in recent days thanks to its less-than-welcoming finding: Research shows civilian employers view veterans as lacking in social intelligence and may be less willing to hire them for jobs that require social interaction.

Or, to be as blunt as the news release that accompanied the report, “members of the public, other workers and even experienced managers showed a tendency to relegate veteran job candidates to roles where they would be working with things rather than people.”

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There are countless reasons to contest the factual basis behind the finding, especially when it comes to servicemembers in leadership positions – especially those working alongside civilians – who are quite familiar with all manner of workplace interactions. And it ignores members with jobs involving direct public interaction that would put some sales-force members to shame, including roles in recruiting and public affairs.

MOAA’s senior director for Career Transition Services, Col. Brian Anderson, USAF (Ret), notes that given only 5% of the civilian population have military experience, employers may have some common misperceptions of the knowledge, skills and abilities veterans can offer to their workforce. For instance, they may believe that a separating or retiring Navy officer may have only been at sea as opposed to serving in a mix of operational and staff tours throughout their career. It is incumbent upon the transitioning servicemember to articulate and demonstrate their value to prospective employers.

Here are four easy ways to counteract some public perceptions and showcase all your professional skills, social and otherwise, during your career search and application process:

  1. Relate, don’t educate: Employers want examples of your problem-solving skills and a proven track record of leadership success. They don’t need full after-action reports or detailed breakdowns of your decision-tree process. Don’t turn cover letters or résumés into PowerPoint presentations.

  2. Attack abbreviations. Unless your next career specifically involves the tactical widget or personnel policy you’re about to reduce to five or six letters, it’s best to spell it out. Even better, describe it in more generic terms that civilian employers will understand and appreciate. It’s tough to build social skills if potential co-workers think you’re speaking a foreign language.

  3. Tailor your materials. Want to fit in to a new work environment? Do your homework: Make your application materials speak to the employer. Generic materials will come off as impersonal, and could play into the stereotypes outlined in the Duke report. (Side note: There is at least one Duke staffer who should know better.)

  4. Expand your network. Get out and connect with a range of people in a wide array of industries and sectors. Join professional associations, participate in LinkedIn groups, attend networking events and career fairs, and conduct informational interviews to build your brand and name recognition. Make it a goal to connect with at least one new person each day who can help accelerate your job search.

Moreover, a recent essay in a national periodical highlighted five qualities hiring managers are seeking when they interview promising job candidates: competency, compatibility, leadership, a willingness to learn, and positivity.

MOAA’s experts offer résumé critiques to Premium and Life members. Learn more about member transition resources, and about how to join or upgrade your membership, here.

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About the Author

Kevin Lilley
Kevin Lilley

Lilley serves as MOAA's digital content manager. His duties include producing, editing, and managing content for a variety of platforms, with a concentration on The MOAA Newsletter and Follow him on X: @KRLilley