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Military veterans: create a professional resume for civilian jobs

Jaynine Howard USMC (Ret), PhD (ABD) Dream Catcher - Business & Career Coaching

I know you are proud of your military experiences and accomplishments. But these often do not belong on the resume. Not because they are not important, but because civilians unfamiliar with the military do not understand what those words or acronyms mean. Do not let your resume end up in the trash because the hiring manager did not understand why or how you were the best person for the job. This helpful advice below will help you prepare a resume for a civilian employer who does not know anything about the military.


Do research the company

Research the company to see if it publicly identifies with being a company that hires military. Look for a logo on the website. If you see a logo or identifier that the company hires military, you will have some flexibility on how you prepare your resume. You still must be mindful not to fill it with military jargon. Some military friendly companies will have a page devoted to helping you translate your skills into jobs that they offer. The railroad industry is just one of them. Find the corresponding job and use the words listed on that website in your resume.

Do research the hiring manager

You should already have your LinkedIn profile completed. Use LinkedIn to find the hiring manager for the company. Review his or her background. If the hiring manager is former military and the company is one that fills military contracts, you will again have some leeway on how you write your resume. But, you will want to pay attention to item number four below. When on LinkedIn and reviewing the company and hiring manager, look for buzz words or keywords that identify the company culture and align yourself with the position you are applying. You will want to use these keywords in your resume.

Do convert your military experiences to civilian language

When you are typing your resume, you must remember that there is no such thing as a generic resume. You must write each resume for each job you are applying. Again, use the information you gathered when implementing tips one and two above. You must know how what you did in the military converts to the civilian world. If you were a heavy equipment mechanic in the military, it probably converts to a diesel mechanic. Administration often converts to an administrative assistant. Take time now to sit down and identify what you did in the military and convert it into civilian language. Now, if the company is fulfilling a government contract you may need to use military jargon.

Do keep it relevant

You are proud of your military experience and you should be, but, the person reading your resume is only interested in skills you have that pertain to the job you are applying. Do not list everything you ever did in the military. Do not list every military school or military correspondence course you took. Only list the ones that pertain to the job. I hate being the one to say it, but no one cares. The employer and hiring manager only care that you can do the job they are hiring. Your job is to make the business money.

Do run spell-check

Please use spell-check. Every computer comes with the spell-check feature. Use it. Do not let typos cause your image to be tarnished.


Do not lie, mislead, or embellish

Be honest about your skills. An admin person in the military often knows nothing about civilian human resource rules or laws. Do not say you are qualified as a human resource specialist or human resource manager if you do not possess the civilian qualifications. This also applies for other military specialties. You must know how your skills translate and be honest about your managerial and leadership capabilities. Leading morning physical training or supervising weekly field day does not make you qualified to be a middle manager or executive level manager.

Do not be in a hurry

Do not rush when preparing your resume. Let it sit overnight so you can view it with fresh eyes in the morning. You will want to proofread it several times to ensure you are addressing each of the items they are seeking. Proof read, proof read, proof read. I know it is tempting to see a job announcement and to immediately want to send your resume, but please, make time to rewrite your resume completely. If the job requires you to provide KSA’s or answer assessment questions, you need to plan on several days to type, edit, and review your answers. Do not assume the person will know what you did based on your resume. They want you to explain in detail and give examples.

Do not make it generic

Each job announcement will have its own lingo for a specific job. You must use the keywords or lingo in the job announcement. Do not be lazy and assume the hiring manager will know that the wording in your resume means you are qualified for the job they advertised. If the job is a psychologist, then use the word psychologist, not psychotherapist. If the job is seeking a heavy equipment mechanic, ensure you use that language and not just say diesel mechanic.

Do not list rank, the fact you retired, combat tours, or awards

Rank, retirement information, and awards are items that can cause someone to make judgments based on what you can do, your age, possible disability status or expected pay. Avoid being stereotyped.

Do not provide your sensitive information

I don’t know why some people put these items on their resume. Do not put them in even if asked by the employer. Protect your social security number and date of birth. They can be used to steal your identity. Your date of birth and marital status may cause someone to discriminate against you. While in the military we all freely gave away the last four of our SSN and our date of birth. We did not think twice when doing so. In the civilian world, you must protect your identity and know what the information will be used for before providing. Some applications may require this information for a background check, but you will be asked for them after you have uploaded your resume and are completing the online assessment. Do not put this information on your resume.

Jumping cartoon

The one resume fits all or generic resume does not exist if you want to get hired. You will have several resumes that you use as the basis for tailoring each of your resumes for each job you are applying. When you research the company, research the hiring manager, know how your skills translate, and follow this advice on what not to include and you will have a resume that gets you hired.

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Photo Credits: Transition article Dec.11 by Flickr: U.S. Army IMCOM; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Jaynine HowardUSMC (Ret), PhD (ABD)

Jerri Jaynine Howard is a well-known business and career coach, author and trainer. Jaynine’s experience as a leader and motivator stems from her 20 year military career where she served honorably in the United States Marine Corps. Jaynine ...

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