Does Your Military Resume Need a Makeover?

Does Your Military Resume Need a Makeover?
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When it comes to writing a civilian résumé, military members and veterans can find it challenging to create one using language that anyone can understand. How do you capture military training, titles, terms, and acronyms in a way that allows the reader to “get it”?


The challenge often starts at the very beginning of the process: It’s critical to look at the résumé through the eyes of the reader – that is, the target employer. Deciding what should go into a résumé hinges on one big question: What specific skills and abilities are required for the job? Answering this question ensures the résumé is tailored to the needs of the target audience. Ensuring your content is relevant will keep you on track and help you easily avoid the common missteps often found in veteran résumés.


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Résumés are not biographies; they are not intended to capture everything you have ever done in your professional life. Instead, the résumé should be laser-focused on the specific skills desired by the target employer. The reader is seeking a solution to a problem – a vacant position requiring a particular set of skills. It takes only a few quick seconds of perusing a résumé to determine whether the candidate is a potential solution to that problem.


Where to begin? Here are some common areas to address.


Military Training

Ask yourself if the training you want to include is relevant to the needs of your target audience. If the answer is no, then reconsider including that training, which could conceivably result in the reader simply reaching for the next résumé in the stack.


This does not mean the training is not important, just that it is not important to the reader. For example, joint professional education may be required to get promoted in the military, but does it have a connection to your target employer’s needs? If the training clearly reflects skills or experiences relevant to the reader’s interests, then include it.


Also consider including a brief accompanying description of the training if it would not be clear to a civilian audience. The reader should be able to understand how it relates to the problem they are trying to fix. A brief one-line statement will suffice.


School and training websites are a great place to start in obtaining the necessary language for these descriptions. For example, the Army’s Command and General Staff School can be described as “a ten-month, graduate-level leadership program for senior military personnel.”


Military Titles

This is an area that typically generates a lot of apprehension, usually while attempting to “translate” military titles into civilian equivalent roles. However, this can be problematic when the comparison is not truly accurate.


A case in point: battalion commanders and commanding officers are not CEOs. While it is true they hold the top leadership role in their military organization, the similarity to the civilian sector stops there. Military leaders do not have the critical responsibilities associated with being a CEO -- generating revenue, setting the strategic direction of the organization, and reporting to a formal board of directors, for example. Additionally, a military unit cannot “go out of business” no matter how poorly the commander may perform.


Still, many military leaders go on to become highly successful in the private sector because they do possess the necessary skills to successfully lead companies/organizations. Those same skills and attributes should be clearly captured in the résumé. A résumé that accurately characterizes the scope and scale of your responsibility and authority will resonate with the reader or hiring manager.


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Don’t forget to include the number of people led or managed, as well as any responsibility for budgets and resources. This provides an immediate picture of your capabilities without the burden of inaccurate “translations” from military to civilian language.


Military Terms and Acronyms

First, assess whether the information is pertinent to the reader’s needs or interests. It can be hard to resist including information for which you are justifiably proud; however, if it isn’t related to the reader’s interests, it won’t have any value to them.


If it is related, present the term in a way that showcases how it helps the reader. For example, a project manager would illustrate skills related to project management, some of which include planning and organizing, decision making, communication ability, influencing and leading, and teamwork. These are all areas inherent in most military functions, so an example is easy to produce.


By starting with an understanding of the necessary skills, you’ll be able to identify and use applicable examples from your military duties. Avoid using military acronyms that are unintelligible to non-military readers, especially if they do not help highlight a particular skill.


It can be tempting to make your reader an expert on military organization and structure. Just remember the overarching intent of the résumé and focus on the specific skills desired by the reader. There will be ample opportunity to go into greater depth during an interview.


How do you know if you have been successful? Give your resume to someone who does not have strong knowledge about the military. If they do not ask you to explain anything, then you’ve hit the mark.


Learn More With MOAA

MOAA career transition services and support include advising transitioning military members on résumés, interview preparation, and salary negotiation, among other career counseling benefits. Learn more about all these offerings at our Transition and Career Center, and join today to take advantage of these member benefits!


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About the Author

Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)
Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)

Cole is MOAA's former Program Director, Career Transition Services