How to Translate Your Military Background into a Civilian Resume

The resume. For a military veteran transitioning to civilian life, it can loom as a source of stress and worry. Where do you start? What do you say? Will they understand what you did? But converting military experience to a civilian resume is not as hard as it seems.

Before moving over to civilian life, many veterans take a resume writing course taught by the military. That resume serves as a good start; it’s your basic resume. Follow these guidelines to build the resume you need to find the job you want.

  1. Research the industry you’re applying to. For example, if you’re applying to a company that makes parts for electronic devices, be sure you know everything you can about electronics manufacturing. Google companies in that field; read industry journals; check out LinkedIn interest groups; join chat rooms; talk to someone (maybe a friend of a friend) who works in the industry.
  2. Read the job description carefully. You’ll need to tailor your basic resume to the specifications of that job. As you review the job description, search out the key words –the words that tell you what the tasks of the job are. Those exact same words – in the exact same sequence – should appear in your resume. Also include industry-wide phrases and key words that highlight how your skills match the job description.
  3. Make use of your military evaluations. Throughout your military career, supervisors constantly wrote evaluations of your work. These can be a mother lode of information for you. Many of those evaluations contain bullets points that qualify and quantify each job you’ve done. Use those bullet points (no more than 4 or 5 per position) to provide specifics about your accomplishments: for example, how you saved money on a project or supervised a team.
  4. Include all your technical training. As a veteran, you probably have months and years of technical training and experience. You may have spent 9 to 12 months in technical school before your first duty. When you got your assignment, you used that training for 10 or 12 hours a day, sometimes under austere circumstances. And be sure to include experience that seems unimportant, such as 5 weeks working on air conditioning units.
  5. List your awards and recommendations. Place these near the end of your resume. These accomplishments show that you did more than just your routine job, going beyond what was expected. Awards and recommendations demonstrate the type of leadership that HR people look for.
  6. Avoid military acronyms and jargon. Since civilian hiring managers often will not  understand military language, they may not completely understand how your military experience translates to the available position. For example, a first sergeant translates to a first line supervisor but that may not be clear to a civilian. Website translators are available that can translate military job titles to civilian job titles and military language into civilian language. A military transition recruiter can also work with you on this.

As you shape and polish your resume for the specific job you’re applying for, always be clean, clear and concise about what you’ve done in the military. If you follow the steps outlined above, you’ll discover you have more marketable skills and experience than you think.


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