Career Counseling Active-Duty: Bridging the Experience Gap through Credentialing

By Jacob Dodderidge

Every year, approximately 200,000 men and women leave the United States military service and return to life as civilians, a process known as the military to civilian transition (United States Department of Labor, 2021). For many career counseling professionals, working with veteran clients at career centers or in a private setting is typical, however many professionals are unaware of career opportunities directly with the military itself as a civilian. Many veterans will look to switch from their military occupation to something new. This is because many service members have military occupations which do not align with their civilian career interests. So, what about active-duty service members with skill, and occupational backgrounds which translate in the civil sector?

Unique Population Served by Career Counselors

Career counseling educators prepare their students to work with clients from different backgrounds. In their practice as a career counselor, they are likely to serve clients who have served our country. Many active-duty service members will look to career professionals in hopes of finding support breaking into civilian careers. Understanding the unique career paths of each individual service members can be useful in developing career plans.

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Career counseling educators prepare their students to learn about their client’s needs, fears, strengths, interests, and beyond. During the interactive process with active-duty service members, it is important to find out their occupation within the military, and see if their specialty aligns with their civilian career interests.  So how can we do this for our clients? Within each branch of service, the Department of Defense (DOD) offers free Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) based on one’s professional experience. Each service understands the vital role occupational credentials have regarding employment opportunities and understand the critical role credentialing has on bridging the gap from military to civilian work experience. Furthermore, by professionalizing the military occupation through credentials, service-members strengthen their ability to transition into careers that prefer specific years of experience and request certifications (Department of Defense, 2021).

More than one out of four workers of the employed population obtain a license or certification on top of any academic degree they may hold. In a survey, 94% of survey respondents reported that their certification team members brought added value to their workplace (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2018). In career fields that value certifications, a significant salary premium (as much as 18% in one sample) is achieved by holding a credential (Burning Glass Technologies, 2017). Additionally, 4 of the 5 most requested certifications in America are available for free to service members with military experiences matching the credential. For example, military network and database administrators work at sites with computers and develop, install, operate, and maintain the Military’s computer networks and databases. These experiences qualify them for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) which is the fifth most requested certification in America. They could also qualify for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential which is the third most requested certification in America. Professionals with these certifications in the workforce receive anywhere from $5,350-$12,310 more in pay annually. For leaders in the military with mid- to high-level rankings, individuals can take a test and receive the Project Management Certification (PMP) which is also the number two most requested certification since 2015.

While there are amazing opportunities to obtain credentials and certifications for our active-duty clients the truth is, many of our clients are unaware of these resources. There is a major need for counselor educators to make sure their students are aware of this information. While education centers at bases can provide this information, oftentimes, service members are overseas, in training, and under intense stress which leads to a lack of time to research their future. So how can civilian career counselors help?

  • Ask about occupational specialty
  • Research potential credentials that match the specialty
  • Visit the DOD COOL website
  • Pair client experiences with certifications available
  • Download free study material from the website
  • Have client complete the voucher
  • Encourage clients to prepare for the certification test

Being a Prepared Counselor Educator

Certifications can validate soft, baseline, and essential skills in the workforce. Additionally, they can provide a specific screening tool to identify talent which matches an employer’s preferred qualifications. Counselor educators who are prepared to work with service members transitioning to civilian employment will have knowledge of credentialing. This support provides service members the opportunity to discover the value of their military experiences, by bridging the experience gap through credentialing leading to greater career development possibilities in the future.



Burning Glass Technologies. (2017, October). The narrow ladder: The value of industry certifications in the job market. https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/BurningGlass_certifications_2017.pdf

Department of Defense. (2021, September 1). About COOL. https://www.cool.osd.mil/about-cool/index.htm

National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2018, July 19). The value of certifications. https://www.nist.gov/system/files/documents/2018/07/24/nice_value_of_certifications_7.19.18.pdf

United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Transition assistance program. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/tap


Jacob DodderidgeJacob Dodderidge, Career Counselor, Department of Defense, Marine Corps Community Services, M.S. (Counseling). He can be reached at jdodderidge@gmail.com

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1 Comment

Debra Arviso   on Thursday 11/04/2021 at 12:21 AM

Great article! I will definitely check out the COOL web site.

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