Are you retiring or thinking of retiring from active military duty to engage again as a civilian?
Well first, we would like to sincerely thank you for serving our country.
But more than that, we would like to help you.
The writing of a civilian resume is a key part of your transition. Without an effective resume, your chances of landing an interview are greatly reduced.
The best advice on how to write an effective military to civilian resume is:
- Choose a career path.
- Eliminate military jargon.
- Be clear about your accomplishments.
- Sell yourself.
- Keep your resume to a maximum of 2 pages.
This article will give you all the resources and information that you need to create a great civilian resume for your job search. However, if you would just like to dive right into creating your resume with a template, we have provided one for you here:
For those who would like more information about writing your military transition resume, keep reading!
Whether you want to work in the public sector or work in the private sector, the advice that we have for you will prove to be pivotal.
1. Choose Your Career Path
You can start planning ahead long before you retire from active military duty.
Communicating with recruiters and companies will get your foot in the door, which will give you a headstart on others.
You can use the time prior to retirement to determine exactly what and where fits you best.
By the time you are pulling your civilian resume together, having a narrower focus on your career path will help you select the skills to highlight.
You should tailor your resume to each individual job posting, but if you choose a specific career path, fewer modifications will be needed to be made to this first draft.
It initially seems a bit counterintuitive to think that ruling out some options increases your chances of securing a job, but it does. It helps you focus your energy in the direction you should go, instead of spreading yourself thin.
If you need some assistance, CareerOneStop provides a Veterans Job Matcher where you can enter your MOS code and see civilian jobs that are similar to your military occupation. The results show salary information, education requirements, career outlook, and a link to find jobs.
2. Understand That Recruiters May Not Understand Military Jargon
You are going to have to spell out your military experience on your civilian resume. And you are going to have to do so in a universally understandable way.
There is a lot of gratitude for your service, but that does not mean that the average person is particularly informed about the ins and outs of military life.
A military resume is very difficult to understand if the reader is not familiar with military language.
Terms that might be impressive and useful to those who understand them might go right over the head of a hiring manager.
As an example, you might list your previous role as “Sergeant Major.” What if the hiring manager has no idea what responsibilities are held in such a position? You are better off saying “Senior Advisor.” That’s clear and understandable to all recruiters.
That was a simple example. Imagine outlining an achievement that you reached with a certain team. You’d need to get that thesaurus out real quick. Otherwise, you risk your resume getting placed to the side, no matter how good a fit you are. Because the hiring manager is not going to take out a thesaurus.
Don’t let your aptitude be negatively influenced by something like that.
Consequently, spell it out. And remember that humility very much has its place, but not here.
3. Translate Your Military Experience
As was alluded to above, the solution is to put all the jargon from your previous profession into layman’s terms.
This applies across the board whenever anyone is changing paths.
But it is especially difficult for military professionals transitioning into the civilian world. Why? Because the verbiage is so unique in the military. It is nothing like the corporate world!
There are even expert military to civilian resume writers who specialize in translating military terms to civilian. But don't worry, we'll teach you what you need to know!
Words like “Sergeant”, “Officer”, “Major”, “Subordinate”, “Unit”, “Reconnaissance” and so on may be rather self-explanatory to you.
But the hiring manager even having to pause for one second to process any information puts you at a disadvantage.
You have the tools at your disposal to turn these words into those that can be easily understood.
You have to assume that the resumes that yours is up against are clear.
The company that you are applying to may indeed be missing out on a fantastic candidate by not considering you, but that is part of this process.
Even if the hiring manager does understand the jargon, it can still be a turn-off. They may think that your abilities do not extend beyond the military.
The issue of jargon is completely in your hands. See the section below for military to civilian resume translators.
Top Tip: Once you think that you have cut all the jargon out of your resume, you can test it! Show your resume to friends and family, it won’t take long for someone to spot a detail that they don’t understand.
4. Choose the Best Resume Format for You
With several resume formats to choose from, it is anything but just going with a random format. There will be one that fits your experience and skills best, so use that one!
- Chronological Resume Format
The chronological resume format is the one that is the most used at present.
It provides an extensive look at your work experience, in reverse chronological order.
If you have a lot of experience in the field that you are applying to, then this may be the format for you.
Because this format strongly expresses work experience, this is not the best fit for many veterans.
If your military experience and training don’t match your new career goals, then this format will actually highlight your inexperience.
- Functional Resume Format
Do you feel that using the chronological format would expose your inexperience?
Instead, you may go with the functional resume format. This is the second most frequently used resume format.
Emphasis is placed here on the skills that you possess, rather than your work experience.
You specify your skills and qualifications that are most relevant to the job that you are applying to.
Instead of exposing your inexperience, you highlight exactly what skills you bring to the table.
This is ideal for a lot of veterans who have lots of skills that they can offer, but little experience.
- Combination Resume Format
The combination resume format is also referred to as the hybrid format.
Maybe you do have a bit of experience but would still like the focus to be on your skills. A third option is that you prepare a combination resume.
It is as the name suggests. You combine a chronological resume with a functional resume.
You talk about your skills first and foremost, but employment experience is also covered.
It can be difficult to find the right balance between skills and experience in such a short document.
But if you get it right, it can be the best of both worlds.
(For more information about these resume formats, as well as samples of what they might look like, take a look at The 5 Best Resume Formats.)
5. Keep it Simple
It goes without saying that you want your resume to yield positive results.
But imagine if the document was 4 pages long with loads of extraneous information?
It wouldn’t do you any favors.
Instead, keep it short. Two pages long is a maximum, but nothing is wrong with keeping it to 1 page.
Carrying on about every little achievement that you have may be tempting.
But focus more on big ones. Quality beats quantity every time.
What about your skills?
Again, keep it simple. You don’t want a potential employer to read a long list of boring skills, with few of them actually transferring over into the work environment.
Highlight only relevant skills that will help show that they need you.
Also, format your resume to be an attractive read.
From the font to font size, to margins, to white space, to colors and so on, there is a lot that needs to be planned out well.
(Read our article 9 Best Fonts for a Resume for full guidance on your resume formatting.)
6. Tailor Your Resume to the Job You Are Applying To
So you have loads of skills. Which ones do you put on your resume?
When talking about your skills, do your best to highlight applicable skills to that specific job.
In military service, you will have gained or polished many skills: from communication to observation, from leadership to teamwork, and from risk management to critical thinking. The list goes on.
You can tailor your skills and qualifications to line up with the job you are applying for.
Applying to become an accountant? Being organized and fantastic with numbers is a great start.
Applying to start training to become a nurse? Highlight your communication, empathy and observation skills.
Applying to become a laborer? Address developments in the military that you were involved in. Highlight your relevant strengths. And that includes strength.
Show that you know the needs for where you are applying and that you meet that need.
Learn precisely what they are looking for, and then state that you possess these qualities.
Remember that if you have any special, uncommon skills, those are definitely worth mentioning as they will help make you stand out.
Top Tip: The job description of the position you are applying for is like a cheat sheet to help you tailor your resume. Use keywords from the job posting to outline your skills for the job.
7. Make Your Resume Easy To Scan
Your resume should be easily scannable by both Applicant Tracking Systems and hiring managers. If a recruiter spends 6 seconds on your resume before making a decision, you'll want your information to be organized and found easily.
- Have clear sections and headings. You do not want your resume to blur into one big wall of text. The ATS and hiring managers won’t find that to be enticing. An ATS will scan your resume for keywords within your headings so your information needs to be easy to find.
- Check for spelling and accuracy. A stray "0" that isn’t meant to be in a number can change the entire tone. You want to ensure that you mean everything that you say. Also, getting rid of typos is just good practice in general. You don't want the hiring manager's attention to be on your mistakes.
- Provide numbers where you can. Adding a number to something quantifies the achievement. “A lot” is good and all, but “increasing by 50%” blows it out of the water. Numbers are easy to see on a resume. As a recruiter is scanning your resume, their eyes will be drawn to your numbers and accomplishments.
8. Avoid These Mistakes on Your Resume
For the last tip, we will look at some final things that you need to avoid while creating your military to civilian resume.
- Avoid irrelevant information. You don’t need to mention your religion, height, weight, marital status or favorite flavor of ice cream. It is not relevant, so it wastes space.
- Avoid limiting your skills. You have narrowed down your options and determined the best skills to include on your resume. Don’t state them with limitations. You aren’t a good analyst provided you aren’t distracted, you’re just a good analyst.
- Avoid discussing conflict. Issues such as PTSD and depression may come to the mind of the recruiter. That may make them more hesitant about considering you.
- Avoid being blunt. Word choice matters. If you state things too bluntly, you risk looking insensitive or unprofessional. Instead of stating that you "killed the enemy forces," state that you "accomplished objectives." Instead of saying “hostile environment,” say “complex environment” (no matter how hostile the environment really was.)
Knowing what to leave off your resume is as important as knowing what to include.
(For more resume writing tips, see How To Make a Resume That Gets Past the Bots.)
As explained above, the problem phrasing your experience and accomplishments lies in the fact that the words used in the military are not frequently used elsewhere.
Imagine telling someone the ingredients and guidelines for how to make your family’s famous soup, but doing so verbally in Shakespearean English.
You wouldn’t expect them to create the same results as if you spoke to them in a way they would understand.
The average resume only gets looked at for a matter of seconds before the hiring manager decides whether it is worth their time.
They’re not about to bust ye olde Google out for every sentence you write. Your resume will just get placed to the side.
But fear not!
See below for military terms put into civilian lingo.
Translate Military Job Titles
You want the titles and positions specified on your resume to be clear. That does not mean to lie about the titles. Just phrase it in a way that can be universally understood.
Instead of saying:
“Nourishment consultant and provider at a center for education.”
You’d expect someone to say “School Cook.”
Even if you can understand the words, it is faster and easier to just present it to the recipient in the most understandable way possible.
Below is a table of military job title examples, and what you should say on your resume instead:
Instead of This:
05 & 06
CEO or COO
07 and above
Chairman or Senior Director
Chief or Commander
Director or Senior Manager
Company Grade Officer
Deputy Director or Associate Director
Manager or Executive
Personnel Supervisor or Manager
Marines, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors
Supervisor or Instructor
Coordinator or Supervisor
Colleagues or Personnel
Employees or Coworkers
Technical Manager or Specialist
See the difference that can be made simply because of your selection of words?
Be sure to use the same word throughout your cover letter and resume for the same military term so as to not confuse things.
Translate Military Acronyms
It would be quite the turn-off to be hit with a lot of acronyms that you don’t understand.
That’s like this article telling you that the secret for veterans in a job search is to TPE the NLQD until you successfully reach CE to accomplish NOPE.
Not descriptive or remotely helpful, is it?
Not unless you understand it.
Assume that the hiring manager doesn’t.
Instead, see what you can say in place of these acronyms:
Instead of This:
Headquarters or Corporate Office
MOC or MOS
OER or NCOER
Supervisor or Manager
TAD or TDY
Instead of the hiring manager being completely clueless about an NCOER that went well (which they could think means anything), they read that your performance appraisal went well.
Well, that’s good!
Translate Military Classroom Terms
So there are ample military courses and qualifications available.
While the titles are fairly self-explanatory, they can still be simplified.
Simplifying is good.
Because of that, we have gathered the names for a number of courses and training and have put them into words that are very resume-friendly.
Instead of This:
Advanced Individual Training
Advanced Skills Course
Advanced Leader Course
Advanced Leadership and
Basic Officer’s Course
Entry Level Leadership Course
Basic Skills Course
Combined Arms Staff College
Command and Staff College
Officer Advanced Course
Officer Career Course
Senior Leader Course
Senior Level Leadership and
Advanced Leadership School
Warrior Leader Course
Basic Leadership Course
Using an actual course title is not a deal-breaker by any means. This is the least significant of all the military terms that need to be put into civilian speak.
However, it still helps you to ensure that your resume is as clear and digestible as possible, and this accomplishes that.
Translate Mission Titles & Miscellaneous Terms
So what about the other words that may crop up on your resume?
As with every other group of terms, there is a civilian-friendly way of saying almost anything.
Here are some remaining military terms and their civilian resume counterpart:
Instead of This:
Agency, Department or
Combat or War
Military Personnel Office
HR or Human Resources
Personnel Action Center
HR or Human Resources
Recon or reconnaissance
Data collection or Analysis
Guidance or Policy
So now you are prepared to put your experiences into words that can be universally understood.
Your service is greatly appreciated and valued. So translate your service in a way that is understandable to the hiring manager.
(If there is anything that you are unsure about, refer to TAOnline for more guidance.)
So in addition to a resume, you may be sending a cover letter as part of your job application.
Discuss Both The Employer and Yourself
Express why you are interested in the position that you have applied to. Highlight that your skills make you a fantastic candidate. Talk about the specific job as well as the company as a whole, but don’t go on for too long.
Also, mention your transition away from the military and back to civilian life.
Here is an example as to how you can write that:
I am just finishing ten years of service in the United States Army, serving in the military police. In the time I spent there, I polished skills in observation, risk assessment, versatility, and critical thinking, which are all vital skills in [Job] at [Company]. I was handpicked to represent our branch on several occasions, so responsibility was something that was very much valued, and all of these skills are transferable. I would love to have the opportunity to use my skills and responsibility to add value here.
Compliment What is on Your Resume
It would be a huge turn-off for your cover letter and resume to both cover the exact same information. You risk sounding like a broken record.
Instead, provide information that is complementary to what you have included on your resume, but not exactly the same.
Does your resume state that you spearheaded an initiative that saw training time be reduced by 10%?
Maybe your cover letter can address what was accomplished with all that extra time.
Follow the Same Tips as Your Resume
Imagine being so careful about avoiding the common mistakes on your resume just to find that you made these mistakes on your cover letter?
Be careful here too, and you give yourself the best chance to advance to the interview stage.
(For more cover letter advice, see our article How To Write An Amazing Cover Letter.)
Writing an effective resume is extremely important. Your entire job search is based on how you present yourself on paper.
- Tailor your resume to where you are applying.
- Translate all military terms to be universally understood.
- Always remember to prioritize quality over quantity.
- Keep your resume easily digestible.
We understand that the process can be quite stressful and hope to have eliminated some of that stress for you.
Once you are ready to get started on your civilian job search, check out: Jobs for Veterans & How To Find Them.
Thank you again for what you have done for our country, we wish you the very best for your future!