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Military to Civilian Resume: How to Use Your Military Experience

Resume writing | 2017-01-18

5.3 million

 

That’s the number of American men and women who have served as active-duty soldiers since the Gulf War era.

 

Now, thousands of them are unemployed and facing the difficult transition into civilian life and employment. You’re probably one of them.

 

Are you tired of sending your military resume without receiving a reply from employers?

 

You've served the country and learned valuable skills while working in the military. So why aren't you getting interviews?

 

Thousands of veterans like you face the same challenge.   

 

The good news? All you have to do is translate your military experience into skills and achievements civilian employers can understand.

 

In this post, I’ll show you different examples and strategies to:

 

  • Translate military jargon into its corporate equivalent.
  • Avoid awkward conversations about combat experience.
  • Highlight your communication and leadership skills.

 Sample Military to Civilian Resumes

 

1. Here's the Main Problem with Your Military Resume

 

Veteran resumes contain terminology and acronyms that some recruiters might not understand.

 

Phrases like, “Assistant G-3 Training Officer” and “Battery Commander” might be impressive in the service, but don't mean much for potential employers.

 

Below is a military resume sample for a management job from Washington’s government career portal

 

 military experience

 

What does the job experience above have to do with management? It’s hard to tell without speaking to the applicant. 

 

The applicant won’t have a chance to explain her side of the story unless her army resume "wows" the recruiter.

 

That’s why you need to know how to write a military resume. 

 

Need to refresh your general knowledge about how to write a resume? Not sure what to include or what's the best military resume format? Read our guide: "How To Make A Resume: A Step-By-Step Guide (+30 Examples)"

 

2. Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

 

Is writing a military to civilian resume that meets the following criteria:

 

  • Demonstrates the civilian applications of your hard-earned military skills, accomplishments, and experiences.
  • Entices recruiters and HR managers to call you for an interview.
  • Serves as a guide for future job interviews.
  • Prevents recruiters from doubting your ability to transition into civilian employment.  
  • Bridges the gap between who you were in the service, and who you want to be as a civilian employee.

 

How can you write military resumes for civilian jobs? 

 

It might be easy if you’re an army medic or a Marine Corps chef.

 

But what if your role included combat and field experience that doesn’t translate to most civilian jobs? I’ll answer those questions and more in this guide. 

 Military Resume Samples

 

3. Planning Your Career Path Outside the Military

 

It’s hard to figure out what military skills to put on a resume for a civilian job if you don’t have a career path in mind. Strategize first before you start writing a military resume. 

 

Research occupations closest to the jobs you held while on duty. Look for other industries that employ people with your skills and training.

 

And if you can’t decide on one career path, that’s okay. Start by creating a military resume template for yourself that you can use as a basis for different versions of your resume. 

 

Make a master list of your professional merits. Which of your skills, training, military awards, and education are useful for the job you're targeting?  

 

If you’re applying to be an accountant, the award you won in marksmanship won’t do you any good.  Same goes for information about the bases where you’ve worked. 

 

4. The Reality of Moving to a Different Industry

 

It’s hard to accept that the skills it took you years to learn aren’t going to help land your next job.

 

But you have to realize that everyone who moves to a new industry has this experience. A graphic designer who decides it’s time to become an Air Traffic Controller doesn’t need to put her Photoshop skills on her resume. Right? 

 

You will find it necessary to eliminate some of your experience and military skills for a resume. Focus on what’s transferable to your new role. 

 

Not sure what skills are valued most in your new industry? Used LinkedIn to find out and to network with civilian professionals. Not sure how? Read our guide: "How To Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile To Get More Jobs"

 

military to civilian resume sample

 

5. Assume Your Hiring Manager Knows Nothing About the Military

 

Here's the thing. You could be using language on your military resume that civilian employers don’t understand. It’s normal after spending years in the military. 

 

Recruiters and interviewers, who have no background in the military, can’t understand the lingo used in the core. 

 

That's why you’ll need to translate military to civilian terms, so whoever reviews your veteran resume sees your potential.

 

What to do:

 

  • Avoid acronyms. Write “Base” instead of “AFB.”
  • Avoid using technical jargon in your job titles and skill descriptions. Write “Supervisor” instead of “Non-Commissioned Officer.” 
  • Don’t use military code. Don’t include base or ship codes, unless it’s relevant to your target job. Use your military job title or a civilian equivalent instead of your MOS designator.

 

Right:

 

Squad Leader or Team Manager

 

Wrong:

 

11B

 

Right:

 

Distribution Manager 

 

Wrong:

 

88H or Cargo Specialist 

 

Not sure about the civilian equivalent of your military job? There are tons of sites available to convert them for you.

 

Check out:

 

 

 

 

 

Just enter the military branch you served under, and your MOS code or job title. After that, you’ll see a list of civilian job titles and in some cases, actual open positions.

 

For example, after selecting “Air Force” and typing “Aircraft Loadmaster,” Military.com showed the following jobs for candidates with an air force resume: 

 military resume samples

 

If you’re not ready to apply just yet, that’s okay. 

 

Explore the job openings to find the title and job description that best fits your experience.

 

Whatever you do, don’t copy anything from these sites verbatim—aside from job titles. Paraphrase and use the power of thesaurus to aid you.

 

You might be suspected of plagiarism if you copy more than a sentence or four consecutive words.

 

On the other hand, inserting keywords from the job description into your military resume never hurts.

 

6. Here's How to Create a Civilian Friendly Career Summary 

 

Michael Richards retired after a stellar 15-year stretch of military service during which he specialized in workforce management and deployment. He's now pursuing an executive position in HR and Talent Development.

 

Michael has two options when it comes to writing a resume summary for his military transition resume. He can focus on who he was in the military or who he wants to become as a civilian.

 

Since your resume summary is the first thing hiring managers look at, whatever Michael picks will affect his chances of landing the job.

 

Option A: Michael Focuses on his Military Background

 

Resume Summary:

 

Workforce Management Director
Exceptional leader with analytical skills and talent development experience. Fifteen years in workforce management and personnel deployment for the United States Army. Assisted several Army staff agencies and commands in optimizing their workforce according to available talent resources and their mission’s priorities. 

 

Option B: Michael Focuses on his Civilian Potential

 

Resume Summary:

 

Workforce Management Director
A workforce and talent development expert with 15 years of experience in sourcing, organizing, and deploying diverse talent to form top-performing teams for the United States Army. Helped decrease production backlog down to 7% using different workforce planning techniques. Created talent development programs encouraging team members to take on more responsibility. 

 

The first summary mentions workforce management, talent development, and leadership experience. 

 

But the hiring manager might have no idea if workforce planning in the army is the same in corporate offices. 

 

Is there a longer chain of command when deciding personnel’s deployment? Is there a more red tape? What tools are used? 

 

It also lacks keywords from the job description that hiring managers want to see.  

 

Try to anticipate what questions a hiring manager might have after reading your military to civilian resume. Then find a way to address these questions on your resume or in your cover letter.  Addressing these questions is crucial for military resume writing. 

 

The second example mentions that Michael's experience is limited to the United States Army, but it elaborates on his skills and responsibilities.

 

Pro Tip: You need to add keywords from the job description. Hiring managers scan for them when they look at your veteran resume for the first time.

 

Don't know how to tailor a military resume to a job description? Want to know what keywords are the most valuable? Read our guide: "6 Proven Tips On How To Tailor Your Resume To The Job Description

 

military resume cover letter

 

7. Demilitarize Your Work History and Skills

 

Don’t limit your experience to the core functions of your role. Think about other experiences and skills you gained as part of the job. 

 

Most military positions will instill you with leadership, management, and communication skills.

 

Attention to details and the ability to work under duress are part of the package too. You just need to emphasize them.

 

Below is a sample navy resume, from Timothy Stergiou-Allen, Veteran Naval Officer from the UK.

 

You’ll notice it’s stripped of military jargon. If “Royal Navy warship” and “NATO deployment” wasn’t mentioned, this military resume example could be mistaken for the resume of a civilian PR professional. 

 military to civilian resumes 

Aside from specific accomplishments (highlighted in yellow), the sample military resume also explains Stergiou-Allen’s transferable skills as a PR officer and COO (highlighted in red).

 

Adding peer development and training coordination suggests he knows how to mentor others and conduct training sessions. Releasing stories via digital and social media channels means he’s familiar with the tools used for digital marketing. 

 

Here’s another military resume example:

 

Security Specialist – U.S. Marine Corps 2008 to 2011

 

  • Led and mentored a diverse team of 25 people, attaining a 5% increase in promotions and 20% decrease in turnovers.
  • Received recognition for reporting and documentation accuracy. 
  • Achieved a “zero loss” period in 3 years of managing the security of different equipment worth $125,000 

 

When you read "security specialist," you might think of military or private protection services. 

 

But that’s not the case.

 

Transferable skills, such as mentoring, documentation, and security management, are good candidates for financial and management jobs. That's because integrity and accurate reporting are mandatory.   

 

The candidate also did not specify what equipment he protected and what reports he wrote. Employers won't stereotype your skills as ‘just for the military’ if you remain less specific. 

 

Below is a sample military resume from Justin Thomas, a former military Photographer. 

 

You can see how Thomas explains his skills in photography and image management in a concise way while mentioning his competency with the expected skills and tools for the job. 

 

Want to know how to put skills on your veteran resume? Not sure which skills recruiters find the most valuable? Read our guide: "+30 Best Examples Of What Skills To Put On A Resume (Proven Tips)"

 

 examples of military resumes

 

8. What About Front Line Jobs With Combat Experience?

 

Below are two before and after examples of how to add military experience to a resume: 

 

Before: 

 

  • Led a 15-man team in combat missions.
  • Provided technical and tactical guidance to help both commanding officers and subordinates in completing several missions in Iraq.

 

After:

 

  • Led a 15-man team in completing different operational goals.
  • Provided strategic advice to subordinates while completing challenging tasks, and assisted several superiors in cross-department goals.

 

What’s the difference? 

 

In the first "after" example, the phrase "combat missions" is replaced with "operational goals." Your assignment might’ve been to save people and defeat bad guys, but combat missions aren’t used in a civilian setting. 

 

"Operational goals" can loosely refer to fighting terrorism but it’s more subtle, and is also applicable to a variety of corporate goals.

 

Right:

 

Operational goals

 

Wrong: 

 

Combat missions

 

In the second example, “Technical and tactical” guidance is replaced with “strategic advice” to emphasize leadership skills. The change prevents hiring managers from thinking that your mentorship skills are limited to battle plans and military exercises. 

 

Right:

 

Strategic advice

 

Wrong: 

 

 Technical and tacitical

 

Your choice of words can affect the way potential employers see you. Whether that’s a positive or negative image is up to you.

 

Writing an effective military resume isn't all about avoiding jargon. Want to know what action words will give your resume a boost? Read our guide: "+80 Examples Of Resume Action Words For Every Profession"

 Military to Civilian Resume

 

9. How to Spotlight Accomplishments on a Military Resume

 

Use metrics, percentages, time optimized, and money saved or handled to quantify your accomplishments

 

Here's a sample achievement from an air force resume:

 

“Trained and managed the workload of 10 personnel in aircraft maintenance, resulting in a 27% decrease in unexpected repairs.” 

 

Doesn’t that sound impressive with all those numbers? 

 

Sometimes, an achievement can’t be tied to a number. In that case, it's best to give your accomplishments some context. Write a sentence or two explaining the significance of your achievement to emphasize the impact you made.  

 

Here's a military resume example of an accomplishment:

 

Let's say you were selected to train new aviators to use the weapon systems and navigation equipment of different aircraft. 

 

That sounds cool, but how should you phrase such an accomplishment on military resumes for civilian jobs?

 

Focus on the fact that you were hand-picked to train people. 

 

Here’s how to write an accomplishment for a post-military resume:

 

“Developed my classroom and hands-on training skills after being selected to guide new aviators in using weapons systems and navigation instruments for different aircraft.” 

 

Want more examples of how to put achievements on your transitioning military resume? Read our guide: "Achievements To Put On A Resume - Complete Guide (+30 Examples)"

 

10. Here's How to Put Job Training on a Veteran Resume

 

Military training can be transferable to civilian employment. All you have to do is list the training events and courses you attended followed by a short description. 

 

Not sure how to describe your training?

 

Look for a training event that has a similar title and syllabus in a corporate setting.

 military resume cover letter 

For example, a Google search for aviation leadership courses led to this training course from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Harvard Business Publishing.

 

Just compare the examples you find to the training you had in the military. What skills do both training courses have in common?

 

In the example above, "leadership," "collaboration," "setting high standards," and "building relationships"’ are themes that match the following Airman Leadership School example.  

 

You don’t have to write the description verbatim. Choose a couple of common keywords and summarize the course description. 

 

Here’s an example from a military pilot’s resume:

 

Airman Leadership School (ALS), Community College of the Air Force        2012

 

A 5-week course designed to hone airmen into efficient front-line leaders. It develops the participants’ communication, leadership, and management skills while giving them a broader understanding of the military.

 

The Profession of Arms, International Security, and Warfare Studies courses were also included in the training but the candidate did not include them on their military resume to avoid drawing attention away from the leadership material. 

 

Here’s another example showing education and training from a military to civilian resume in engineering:

 

military resume for civilian job

 

Without a description, it’s easy to conclude that the candidate’s training doesn’t have other applications. Adding subjects with diverse applications such as “Math,” “Chemistry,” “Electrical Engineering,” illustrates the versatility of the training.

 

11. Highlight Your Security Clearances and Certifications

 

Security clearances, even for non-sensitive and not so top-secret access, show proof of your accountability and responsibility to employers.

 

A Top Secret (TS) clearance can cost thousands of dollars, so companies would rather look for someone who’s already undergone the background investigation and training required to get it. 

 

Justin Thomas says,

 

“If you’re applying for Boeing or Lockheed Martin, and similar companies, put your security clearance at the top of your resume. It helps recruiters decide whether they want to take a chance on you.”

 

Examples of Security Clearance and Certifications on a military resume:

 

  • Secret Security Clearance
  • Weapons Certification
  • First Aid Certification
  • Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information Clearance (TS/SCI)

 

Do you have licenses, awards, or publications that should go on your military resume? Do you know where to put them? Read our guide: "What To Put On A Resume To Make It Perfect [Tips & Examples]"

 

how to write a Military Resume

 

12. Be Cautious When Adding Active Combat Details

 

“Most frontline troops look into private security or law enforcement. In this case, combat experience is incredibly relevant,” says Allen.

 

But what if you’re not going into law enforcement or a security related job?

 

In that situation, adding details about your active combat experience is a bit of a coin toss. 

 

Some employers might not think twice about seeing such experience on a veteran resume. On the other hand, Thomas says:

 

Some might think you’ll have mental problems like PTSD because of your experience.” 

 

Defending your country and its people is an admirable career. 

 

The unfortunate reality is that many returning troops suffer from depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses.

 

These ailments, while obviously not applicable to everyone with combat experience, may make some employers hesitate to hire you

 

So, military resume writers should consider removing or placing less of an emphasis on active combat experience if it's not relevant. 

 

13. Don’t Forget to Write a Military to Civilian Cover Letter

 

Yes, you need to write a cover letter. Hiring managers often scan resumes for information to decide if you're documents are relevant.

 

After, they'll check your cover letter to get a fuller image of you. Don't repeat what you've written on your military resume.

 

Instead, use your cover letter to complement the information you've provided. 

 

Your cover letter is the place for providing explanations and fleshing out information you kept brief on your veteran resume.  

 

Not sure how to write a military resume cover letter? Need advice on what to include? Read our guide: "How To Write A Cover Letter [Complete Guide With Examples]"

 

Key Takeaway

 

Let’s recap. To write a great military resume you should:

 

  • Choose a career path before putting your military experience on a resume.
  • Translate your military skills, accomplishments, and work history into layman's terms.
  • Include relevant training and education.
  • Emphasize your security clearances.
  • Be careful about including information about active combat. 

 

 

 

Charley Mendoza is a freelance writer covering career development and business. She's an expert in resume writing, interviewing, and negotiating, a topic she covers in publications such as Tutsplus, Business Insider, Brazen Careerist and more. 

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