Why Your Most Marketable Skills Are Not What You Think

vintage cartoon of marketable skills

Ask a transitioning Marine, soldier, sailor, Coastie, Guardian, airman or spouse for a list of their five most marketable skills, and I guarantee you stunned silence. You can see their brains churning as they sort through the thousands of things they are capable of doing. They are wondering what you really want -- transferable skills? Hard skills? Soft skills? Keywords? What are these marketable skills of which you speak?

What do they mean by marketable skills?

I think one of the biggest problems on the job hunt is that few people really know what employers mean by these terms. Hiring managers know. Recruiters know. Sourcers know.

Military job candidates don’t usually know what is being asked for and why -- and it shows. By not understanding what the hiring manager is looking for, veteran job hunters give the wrong answers to questions and then wonder why they did not get the offer.

In my work as Military.com’s transition master coach, I see this all the time. When I ask someone in transition to tell me about their marketable skills, I am expecting them to tell me the five skills they have that someone will pay them to do.

Instead, they tell me they can do anything, which is probably true, but not helpful in getting a job. Or they send me a copy of their resume, as if it was the menu at Cheesecake Factory -- hundreds of things I’m supposed to sort through (when all I am really looking for is the ahi tuna.)

Getting these terms straight and knowing exactly what the recruiter is asking for not only helps you with your resume and applications, but it also helps you nail the interview. When you use their words, you give them confidence you can do the job. Looking like an insider is just as important as being an insider when you want the job offer.

Do you know what employers really want from you?

Let’s look at the terms employers, recruiters and career coaches use so you can organize your skills in a way that will help you get the job you want faster.

Hard skills

Think of hard skills as the things you do or have done. These are the skills and tools you learned to use on the job that make up the majority of the day-to-day work. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, hard skills are what get people hired.

Think of hard skills like coding. Aircraft or vehicle repair. Data analysis. Program management. Welding. Customer relationship management tools (CRMs). Acquisition. Contracts. Programming languages. Foreign languages. To get an idea of the current market, here is a list of the most sought-after hard skills for 2021.

Soft skills

Think of soft skills as the things you are -- habits and personality traits that are so natural to you that you cannot help but bring to work. Some of the most common soft skills are:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Integrity
  • Effective communication
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving
  • Adaptability
  • Organization
  • Empathy
  • Work ethic

Soft skills are tricky, veterans. These terms usually do not appear on your resume or in a job listing, but they can be featured in the interview. You can help yourself by picking three that sound the most like you and then thinking of an example of how you used these skills on the job.

Soft skills are also most important when it comes to keeping your job. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 89% of recruiters report that when a hire doesn't work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills.

Transferable skills

Think of transferable skills (or portable skills) as the things you learned in the military that can be used at any job. According to the Department of Labor, transferable skills are supposed to be general, technical or role-related.

When it comes to the veteran hire, however, this term usually refers to whether soft skills like problem solving, critical thinking or analytical reasoning make the military a good fit for civilian work. This is my least favorite term because veterans do not get hired because they are veterans with transferable skills. They get hired for hard skills and marketable skills.

Marketable skills

These are the hard skills you already have that employers want most. Marketable skills are not necessarily the five things in which you have the most experience. These are five hard skills you have that are the most desirable to employers right now. The only marketable skills that matter are the skills you find in the job listing you are applying for.


When job coaches and veteran service organizations use the term “keyword,” they mean the hard skills featured in a job listing and planted in your resume.

Now that you recognize what hiring managers are asking for when they use these terms, take a minute and jot down a list of your current hard skills, your five most marketable skills and the three soft skills you will emphasize in interviews to demonstrate you are a good fit for the job.

 Finding any job is not that much of a problem in this economy. Finding a job that fits your impressive skill set comes down to using the right words at the right time.


Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project

To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

Jacey Eckhart is Military.com’s transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.


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