3 Soft Skills That Vets Have and Employers Want

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A U.S. Army soldier low crawls while negotiating an obstacle course during the first week of Basic Training in Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army photo by Teddy Wade

Veterans often undersell themselves. And they do this largely because they're focused too much on their hard skills -- what they learned in their military occupational specialty or job -- and not enough on their soft skills, such as social acumen and communication.

Many veterans believe that their training doesn't translate well to the civilian world. But while it's true that the nuts and bolts of working as a combat engineer or as an infantry squad leader might not translate directly to a civilian career, the soft skills involved translate perfectly.

Related: To apply for jobs that match your skills, visit the Military Skills Translator.

Soft skills are exactly what the words imply; they are the skills troops needed to learn outside of the technical skills related to their MOS. The military invests a great deal of time in teaching soft skills in tandem with hard skills. Here are three of the most sought-after soft skills that veterans possess and employers want.

1. Grit

Grit can most easily be defined by this simple formula: determination plus resiliency equals grit. There's a reason why the unofficial Marine Corps motto is Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. Veterans know the key to completing a mission requires a combination of critical thinking skills, creativity and refusal to accept defeat.

When faced with overwhelming enemy forces in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, the Marine Corps legend Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller said "We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things."

Faced with their own overwhelming odds and limited resources, service members often find creative ways to complete their mission objectives.

Employers know veterans possess the grit necessary to complete a mission, or project, or company goal.Veteran job seekers would do well to highlight specific times when they used grit to accomplish their task, demonstrating how the examples they offer apply to the job at a prospective company.

2. Servant Leadership

Top companies are looking for leaders. Service members are groomed from boot camp to adopt a servant-leader growth mindset.

"Soldiers can sense when their leaders genuinely care about them, and this builds trust," wrote Cameron Wesson, a retired Army first sergeant, in the NCO Journal. "This trust forges a bond between all and solidifies the team. That bond is all-encompassing. Soldiers know the leader genuinely cares about their needs and the leader trusts that the Soldiers will do what is required to complete the task and get the mission accomplished."

Companies value servant leadership, and it's a skill that veterans have in spades.

Related: Search for veteran jobs.

3. Communication

The third soft skill that veterans have is one of the most important: effective communication. While communicating in the civilian workplace is different than the military (there are fewer acronyms, for one), veterans offer many valuable communication skills that employers want.

Communication and writing skills are in high demand by recruiters and employers. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, written communication is the number three most desired quality overall, behind leadership skills and ability to work as a team member.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

Employers want to hire candidates who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data. Veterans are hard-wired to create an action plan, and after execution, follow up with an after-action report to analyze what went right, what went wrong and how the process could be improved for next time. This is the same model that businesses use in the design and execution process, from the latest tech product to investment finance.

Make your soft skills stand out

When writing your resume or creating your online professional profile on LinkedIn, remember to "show and tell."

A good rule of thumb is, every time you make an abstract statement, like "I'm a good team player" follow that up with a real-life example on how your work as a team player helped complete a mission.

Always think of ways to give concrete examples of your soft skills that can fit inside compact anecdotes or tiny stories. Stories, after all, are the best way to share how your soft skills, learned by trial and error, will make you a welcome and valued addition to any company.

The Next Step: Find the Right Veteran Job

Whether you want to polish your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, Military.com can help. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at sean.brown@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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