Transferable Skills Veterans can use for a Successful Writing Career

My father left the Marine Corps after 17 years of service. Honorably discharged, he set out to pursue his dream career.

Months passed. An uncomfortable chorus of crickets ensued. My dad ended up working at a box factory to help make ends meet. It was tough. And he wasn’t alone.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18.8 million women and men in the workforce are veterans. And according to LinkedIn, about a third of veterans are underemployed.

But why? In short, it’s complicated. There’s a mixture of not understanding and undervaluing skills veterans acquire during their service. To top it off, veterans may face harmful stereotypes like lacking emotional intelligence (a skill critical for many careers) or being inflexible.

But the thing about stereotypes is that they’re not true. Veterans have tons of great skills that make them well suited for many careers. Including writing, which is what we’ll be focusing on here.

Here’s a few skills from your time in service that can be transferred to your new writing career:

Time Management

If you’re a writer, especially if you’re freelancing, you need to master time management.

As your own boss, you’re in charge of consistently meeting deadlines, invoicing clients, and pitching new projects.

And if you’re not a freelancer, you’ll still be a on a tight schedule. The world of writing is fast paced one. Doesn’t matter if you’re a content writer, freelance journalist, or grant writer. You’ll be juggling multiple tasks and competing deadlines that demand your attention.

Whether you’re freelancing or writing for a company’s marketing department, one of the most crucial elements to a writing career is to submit assignments on time.  If you can do that, you’ve already got a jumpstart on your new career.

Collaboration

So-and-so is a Democrat so I can’t work with him. She’s a Republican, how can we be on a team together? Or unaffiliated, does she just not care? Even at the highest levels of authority, we hear instances of people not only disliking each other, but refusing to work together because they disagree.


You don’t need me to tell you that in the military that wasn’t an option. People of all different backgrounds, rankings, and opinions worked together in your squadron or unit. Your lives and your country depended on it.

This is a great skill for a writing career. You must be diplomatic and savvy enough to work with people who don’t think like you.

I’m not saying that as a vegan you need to work at a meat packing plant or something else that fundamentally goes against your values. But you need to be able to work with people of different backgrounds, personnel levels, and varied opinions.

You might be meeting with the director of a company to talk about the social media calendar for the new year. Or maybe you’re writing grants for a bipartisan think tank and have to meet with people on both sides of the political spectrum.

Either way, no matter how your opinions align, you need to be diplomatic to work on a team or provide exceptional customer service to clients. And those are definitely skills you bring from your time in service. No matter your rank. No matter your branch.

Communication

You might be rolling your eyes because this is the most obvious one. Thinking back on my dad’s service, I can’t think of an instance where clear communication wasn’t needed. It was certainly the case as a pilot in Somalia. Or doing training exercises in a desert.

As a writer, you need to clearly communicate with your team and your clients. If you can’t begin your part of the project without a teammate submitting theirs, tactfully let them know.

If you’re freelancing, you’ll need to lay out clear timelines and answer any questions from a client or potential lead.

And you need to be able to write in a way that the reader or target audience can understand. Think less William Shakespeare and more Hemingway or Rowling.

Even if your specific job or duties didn’t entail writing 20 pages of reports, chances are you used communication skills daily. And that’s a soft skill with a big payoff for writing careers.

Problem Solving

As our school’s geology department said, shift happens (okay, they didn’t, but you fill in the blank). And when writing…. stuff definitely happens.

Suddenly, a team member ghosts you 3 days before a big project is due.  A client who loved your grant application yesterday suddenly hates it today. And has, in fact, changed it to something you know is bad writing. Or there’s a global event and you suddenly need to write a press release for your company in less than an hour.

As I said earlier, the world of writing is a fast one. And you need to be able to make smart decisions quickly on your feet. Problem solving is going to be the bane of your existence as a writer.

And you’re probably nodding your head. Because it was also the bane of your existence in the service. Whether you were in charge of inventory, carrying out a mission in real time, or doing an exercise in the officer’s academy, you have problem solving skills. You had to take a situation, analyze it, and quickly determine the best solution.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few skills that you bring from your time in service to the writing field. And there’s probably even more than you realize. Sit down and make a list of everything you’ve accomplished. Think of all the skills you used to make that happen.

All of those accomplishments are things you can transfer to your civilian writing job. You will have to take time to clearly translate it. To spell it out so it seems overly obvious.

 It’s frustrating, I know. Because you have so much to offer, and for some reason, people don’t seem to see it. But you know it, and I know it. Have patience, be persistent.

And if an employer is truly giving you grief about your military service, know that there are laws that protect you from job discrimination. Whether you’re pursuing writing or something else, know your rights, and report discrimination to the appropriate authorities.

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