Resumes and Cover Letters

How to Translate Military Experience to the Business World on Your Resume

Military personnel have a unique set of skills and experience, which can make them highly valuable assets in the civilian business world. However, all too often, our service men and women struggle to articulate that in their resumes.

They get consumed by military jargon and focus too heavily on their job-specific duties, which are often dramatically different from day-to-day life in corporate America. As a result, prospective employers have a hard time recognizing and relating to the relevant abilities they possess.

If you’re transitioning from military to civilian life, it’s worthwhile taking some time to develop a resume that effectively bridges the gap between these two worlds. An overall strategic change in your approach coupled with a minor shift in language can help.

The Strategic Change

While some military roles have a direct equivalent in the civilian world, not all do. When that’s the case, it’s important to remember that prospective employers need to understand how your military experience translates to the role you’re seeking. They won’t necessarily be able to determine that on their own simply by looking at your duties and responsibilities. So, you’ll need to draw that connection for them.

Your goal is not to downplay your military experience; instead, you simply want to emphasize transferrable skills rather than job-specific skills. Transferrable skills are the capabilities you learned and demonstrated in your past experience that also apply to the new civilian role you’re pursuing. Rather than knowing how to operate a specific type of equipment or weaponry, for example, you might focus on your ability to quickly learn new technology or troubleshoot maintenance issues. Rather than combat experience, you might focus on your ability to prioritize in high-pressure situations or manage crises.

Looking at your previous experience, ask yourself, “What core skills did I demonstrate in this?” Then, match them up to the required skills for the role. At the same time, identify what you achieved by using those skills. For example, did you meet or exceed performance-related goals regarding safety, accuracy, timeliness or regulatory compliance? As much as possible, try to tie your demonstrated skills to specific, measurable outcomes.

Also read: What’s the Absolute First Step of a Career Change?

Shifting Language

Remember that military culture has its own unique language with which civilians aren’t necessarily familiar. You may be well-versed in it, but your prospective employers may see it as foreign and can misinterpret your intended meaning. Do your best to make it easy for them to understand what you’re saying by minimizing acronyms and translating military-speak into business-speak.

For example:

  • Instead of commanding, use directing, managing, supervising or leading
  • Instead of missions, use responsibilities, objectives or goals
  • Instead of combat and war, use high-pressure environments or hazardous conditions
  • Instead of reconnaissance, use data collection, analysis or reporting
  • Instead of squad, troops or units, use team, personnel, staff or employees
  • Instead of deployments, use temporary assignments

While many military terms may seem self-evident, your job is to help ensure clarity and position yourself as a fit for this new environment.

Also read: How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile for a Career Change

Rest assured: The skills and experience you gained in the military are in high demand in the business world. You have a wide variety of technical, interpersonal and leadership skills that will support your success. Just make sure your resume clearly articulates that.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.