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How to Format a Military Resume for Civilian Positions

by Ellie Williams

The transition from military to civilian life involves more than hanging up your uniform and leaving the base behind. You’ll also find yourself once again in the workforce, competing for job opportunities against other candidates with years of more directly related experience. With a little customization, however, you can craft a resume that outlines exactly how your military experience qualifies you for the position and how your background will benefit the organization.

Eliminate Jargon

You probably relied on highly technical military language as a kind of shorthand when communicating with your fellow soldiers, but in the civilian world this jargon can work against you when applying for jobs. Most employers won’t understand military terminology, so you’ll need to translate it into civilian-friendly language when describing your previous job duties and your professional accomplishments. Ask several civilian friends to review your resume and point out language that’s unclear to a non-military audience. Review the job ad for keywords you can substitute for technical language that might distract a lay reader.

Summarize Your Strengths

Lead your resume with a strong statement describing what kind of position you’re seeking and why you’re a good fit. A professional summary can distill your most notable accomplishments and skills and quickly grab an employer’s attention. You can also use this strategy to highlight the career direction you wish to pursue. If you’re seeking a human resources position, you might title this section “Human Resources and Management Executive.” Point out several key qualifications in this area, such as having supervised a division of 50 people and managed a budget of $100,000.

Tailor It

No matter how proud you are of your military experience and accomplishments, you’ll need to omit some of this information when applying for civilian positions. Consider the employer’s needs when deciding which material to include. If something doesn’t speak directly to how you’ll benefit to the organization’s success, leave it out. For example, most employers don’t need to know that you possess excellent marksmanship skills or that you piloted a specific type of helicopter.

Emphasize Transferable Skills

Whether you spent your time at a desk or in the battlefield, you likely developed several skills you can apply to a civilian setting. When describing these skills, look beyond your job titles or the military impact of what you did. Instead, focus on the core competencies these tasks required. If you held an officer position, for example, perhaps you supervised several employees, managed resources and liaised with other units -- all skills you could showcase as qualifications for a management position.

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