When separating from the military, it’s not uncommon for servicemembers to discover gaps between their resume and the civilian job they want.

Worries about putting food on the table can make going back to school, getting on-the-job training, or taking an internship seem like costly ways of filling that gap. Luckily, there’s a way servicemembers can gain the experience required by civilian jobs while still on the military’s payroll.

The DoD SkillBridge Program lets active-duty personnel from all four branches spend the last 180 days of their military service interning at a civilian job with one of more than 500 industry partners.

Participants continue to receive military pay and benefits, whether they’re getting certified by Microsoft in cloud development, learning to weld, or taking advantage of any one of the hundreds of other opportunities available.

As part of the DoD’s requirements, all training programs offer a “high probability of post-service employment with the provider or other employers in a field related to the opportunity,” according to the SkillBridge website.

In his internship with the Global SOF Foundation, retired Navy commander Chuck Neu says he not only tripled the size of his professional network, but also discovered a talent for sales.

“Without that exposure to cold-call sales from doing SkillBridge with the Global SOF Foundation, I likely would have ended up on-base as a contractor or a government civilian, which is really not what I wanted to do,” Neu told Military Times.

The former supply officer now runs his own business, combining his talent for sales with his knowledge of contracts and logistics from 28 years of Navy experience.

But the program isn’t just open to career servicemembers. Personnel of any rank can participate in SkillBridge if they meet branch-specific requirements and receive their commander’s approval. For more information about the approval process, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines can reach out to their SkillBridge point of contact via the program’s website.

When applying, servicemembers should be aware that a SkillBridge internship is what they make of it.

“There’s no real structure to the program. It’s really on you to make the relationships,” said Neu.

For Ryen Macababbad, a former Army specialist, personal responsibility for the program’s outcome was exactly what she needed to succeed.

Macababbad graduated in 2014 from the Microsoft Software and System Academy, one of the better-known opportunities offered through SkillBridge. The MSSA teaches participants both the technical and soft skills required to succeed in technology jobs and offers graduates in good standing a chance to interview with Microsoft upon completion.

“The best part about being in MSSA: I got an opportunity to start learning new languages — computer languages. But the most beneficial part was giving me a leg up. It was getting my foot in the door,” said Macababbad. “I’m very driven to succeed, and I was going to take advantage of every single opportunity that was presented to me. I worked really hard to prepare for that interview. And it paid off.”

Currently a senior identity architect manager, Macababbad has worked for Microsoft since graduating from the MSSA.

SkillBridge is also open to members of the National Guard and Reserve, and commanders can authorize participation in programs more than 50 miles from their duty stations.

If the hundreds of existing partner organizations aren’t enough, servicemembers can also ask businesses to apply to become industry partners and support their internships.

Military personnel nearing their last 180 days of service can visit the DoD SkillBridge website for a complete list of available opportunities and eligibility requirements.

Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.

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