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Translating Your Military Career to a Resume

Not sure how to take those important next steps to go from soldier to civilian worker? Here's what you can do to ease your transition!

Okay, you’ve made the decision that it’s time to transition from military service and start a new adventure in the “civilian world,” but how do you translate your military career into a language and skill set that is clear and understandable to prospective employers?

Whether you are exiting military service after your initial service obligation, or retiring after 20+ years of dedicated service to the nation, translating your career skills to a resume takes a well thought out approach, but we’ll get you there with some great tips as you move forward.

#1: Gather All Your Personal Items

If you have an “I Love Me” book with all your awards, promotions, training certificates, and evaluations, you are off to a great start! You will need these to reflect upon what you have accomplished during your career, as well as build a timeline of assignments and responsibilities to communicate your experiences.

#2: Translate Personal Evaluations and Assignments

Review your personnel records and performance evaluations, as this will help you not only build a timeline, but scope the duties you want to highlight on your resume. What was your job title? What level of command did you serve? How many personnel were you responsible for managing? Also, reflect upon your leadership experiences to highlight how you helped others achieve success through training, mentoring, and counseling.

While “Squad Leader” or “Shift Leader” doesn’t easily translate into civilian employment, “supervised training and resources to employ a 10-12 person security force” does have application and understanding. There are great tools that can assist veterans with translating their military occupational specialty to civilian jobs. It’s more complicated than this, but you get the gist of it!

#3: Training, Certifications and Education

Today, many of the training courses have civilian equivalents, or are actually accredited by professional organizations that are known to civilian employers already. For example, technical skills like communications technician, health care specialist, human resources, and financial management, dental hygienist, and vehicle mechanic translate into civilian career opportunities. If you have professional certifications, that is a bonus, and one you can highlight for your employer.

Civilian education is straightforward, so if you have a degree or certification from a university, college, or professional trade school, it goes on your resume. Include the name and address, degree obtained, major or specific skill, date of completion, and if you were recognized for academic performance (i.e., summa cum laude, national honor society, honor graduate, etc.). Employers like to know they are hiring quality people who excel academically.

#4: Honors and Personal Accomplishments

While military awards like the Congressional Medal of Honor, Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and Purple Heart are more recognizable, most American military medals, ribbons, and badges don’t easily translate into the civilian sector. But that’s okay because many of your professional and personal recognition—i.e., distinguished honor, honor graduate, or performer of the quarter/year—do have an application in business or other civilian sectors. If you and your team received an award from the military or professional association, or won a competitive competition, you can highlight this accomplishment. It demonstrates that you can be part of a high-performing team.

If you have been published, professionally or personally, highlight this fact as it demonstrates a willingness to advocate for your profession, or contribute through writing and research.

Being humble is one thing and a great attribute of our military service members, but remember it ain’t bragging if it’s the truth!

#5: Keep It Simple, Use Plain Language

You are “institutionalized” by your military service from the moment you step onto the yellow footprints, and you’ll be challenged to communicate in simple language. A well thought out resume will represent you well, and help prospective employers get to know you upfront. Keep it simple, direct, and to the point!

As you write your resume, first, lose the acronyms immediately, as they don’t always translate across civilian—military communities—let alone across military services. Then review your resume, and the job you are applying for to ensure you use “keywords” to communicate you are a match for the job being advertised. And lastly, check and double-check your resume for grammar and spelling errors to present the best “written” persona possible.

#6: Personal Security Clearance

If you have a security clearance, highlight this fact so prospective employers know you are vetted for access to classified materials at the SECRET, TOP SECRET levels, or have had a Counterintelligence Polygraph. These are important and highly marketable certifications, especially if you seek to work in commercial industry, government contracting, or government services. Keep it current, which means it must have not exceeded its 10-year expiration past the last single scope background investigation or SSBI. Check with your local unit security manager to confirm the date in the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS).

#7: Personal Interests

It’s important to let people get to know you, and possibly make a connection with your future employer. While you don’t have to go into details about your family, communicating your genuine interest in academic research, professional organizations, outdoor activities, and collectibles can let an employer know you do more than just work. Make a connection, but be honest so you can hold a conversation if during an interview your personal interests come up in conversation.

#8: Security Classification Review… Just in Case

A reminder, and not for everyone, if you were assigned to a national intelligence agency (i.e., National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial Agency), you will want to highlight these assignments on your personal resume. Remember you have a lifetime obligation to not share classified information, or specific details about these agencies. If you are unsure, it’s a good practice to submit for a pre-publication review, and ensure you are safeguarding classified or sensitive information.

Lastly, once you have completed your resume, and you have had others review it, you can use LinkedIn, USAJobs, and other web-based forums to publish your resume, and get the word out that you are transitioning, and ready for the next adventure in your life.

Best of luck and happy hunting as you go forward with your life! And, for a grateful nation and the American people, THANK YOU for your dedication and service to the nation!

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