Transferring Your Military Service Duties to the Civilian Sector

Translating Military Service to Civilian Workforce

By: Mike Powers - TEKsystems; Veterans and Disabilities Outreach and Iraq Veteran

There is a sea of information relating to how service members can translate their skills to the civilian workforce and improve their resumes. The information can be confusing and conflicting; colleges, employers, and placement advocacy entities all have different, if not contradicting, information.

As an IAVA veteran and civilian recruiter of seventeen years, working at the largest IT staffing company in the US, I’ve worked on both sides of the employment fence.  I have hired and placed people for hundreds of clients over my career across a variety of industries, including government, healthcare, manufacturing, and automotive. Through my experiences, I have received feedback and opinions from client managers, internal company executives, coworkers and former employees, peers, and active and retired military peers, all trying to enter the civilian work force. 

First, I will start with simple resume mistakes I see. This does not apply to federal job applications as that is a specific process with steps that are very different from corporate hiring practices.  

The first mistake is acronym usage.  While the term “MP” is synonymous with military police to veterans it is not to civilians.  Additionally, acronyms do not reflect strong written communication which, most positions seek or require.  Grammar, spelling, and articulation are lacking when acronyms fill a resume. Spell out words and phrases and ensure proper grammar and spelling.

The second mistake is that veterans often switch between first and third person vantage throughout the resume.  There are different schools of thought on which is most appropriate, but above all be consistent.  It is less confusing and this reflects the communication ability of the candidate.

Third, veterans need multiple versions of their resume.  When posting a resume online, the format should be extensive and include every school, role, and training (even down to combat life saver), and it should be updated often. This is because many recruiters and human resource workers type in search criteria. In order to help narrow the field they put in search terms specific to an industry or duty.  The more your resume elaborates, the more the search terms (buzz words) line up.  Additionally, the more the terms align, the closer to the top, your resume will return on their results page.  When applying directly, the resume should be tailored and aligned to the company or specific role.

When translating skills and writing a resume, the most important improvement veterans can make is to articulate their daily duties and interactions as opposed to only expressing a bullet point about their duty or just giving a title for their role.  Walking the other person through your day helps the soldier think through their duties more in depth and in turn, their skills will translate better to civilian workforce roles.  Some of the standard skills that translate have been mentioned countless times in other articles and they are as follows:

  • Leadership,
  • Handling adversity,
  • Working well within a team, and;
  • Sacrifice for a greater cause.

What are often lacking are specific examples of the aforementioned traits.  Again, updating your resume often when new duties, rank, or roles are assigned will promote accurate and specific details that may be forgotten if updates only occur when you are seeking work. 

Leadership is often expressed in a bullet point as a battlefield decision.  I rarely read daily examples of leadership that are more applicable such as daily interactions.  These show consistency and motivation outside of extreme situations.  Some examples would be:

  • Articulating the daily mentoring of junior soldiers behind on fitness,
  • Problem resolution to personal and work related issues among team members,
  • Constructive suggestions to senior leaders as opposed to complaints, and;
  • Seeking answers.

Additionally, spending time while you were busy to engage superiors regarding pay or promotion paperwork for your team members when they were not able to get an answer, is another example of problem resolution and maintaining a professional working relationship with your superiors and peers even during disagreement. Learning the role of your superior through proactive methods while completing your own daily work is another example of leadership.  Seeking to know the role above and below your rank reflects ownership and professionalism more than an award mentioned in the resume. 

Handling adversity can be better expressed by pulling from specific conflicts such as, personal conflicts amongst your team or disagreement with a superior.  This allows more vivid and specific wording of handling adversity.  Some examples to elaborate upon are:

  • Fitness issues with team members and coaching them through it or working with a superior that is not equipped for their role or;
  • Completing a task in the field when equipment or facilities were not present. 

These specifics express handling adversity and translate to corporate work better than mentioning combat adversity in a bullet point.

During both interviews and resume creation the soldier needs to slow down and express specifics and not just terms such as readiness NCO. 

  1. What computer software and systems did you use daily?
  3. How many different entities did you have to coordinate with to complete your daily work?
  5. What tasks were handled concurrently and how did you manage your day to avoid overlooking priorities?
  7. How did you prioritize tasks?

Again, not combat tasks but your daily work routine. This is what will relate to the employer. Supply techs can speak to the multitude of systems used concurrently to track equipment and the amount of daily verifications and orders to manage.  An aviation mechanic can give specifics to the amount of updates and best practices that had to be reviewed, daily tool check to assure safety, and the task delegation performed to allow a team to complete maintenance on several aircraft concurrently.

One of the strengths of your military experience is having worked in a very diverse setting. The military consists of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, geographical backgrounds, age, gender, and ethnicities.  Working in this setting has allowed you to absorb different vantage points, methods, and experience of those around you.  You have learned to work in a setting where those around you have different opinions and everyone had to learn use those differences to better the group as whole.  Your training in the service probably included sensitivity training, sexual harassment training and social media training.  All of these experiences and training make you more attractive to an employer and help reduce their risk of hiring an employee that may not integrate into the company.  Express all of this training and experience in diversity in your interview and resume.   

In conclusion, when interviewing and writing, keep the mindset of explaining what you accomplished during the day.  Titles and rank are not what you accomplish between 8 and 5.  Did you explain your role, your additional duties were assigned, your training class or online work, the problems occurred and how did you resolved it, and improvements you made professionally and personally?  Explain your work hour by hour while keeping in mind that the person has never been in the military.