Even after serving 20 years in a military career, someone leaving the US Armed Forces might only be in their late 30’s or early 40’s. Most people at that age are looking to advance their career, not enter “retirement.” If you are departing the military at that age or younger, you might find it challenging to transition from the Armed Forces to civilian work.
I’ve worked with several clients with a strong military background that just don’t know how to translate all those military responsibilities and jargon into something that makes sense to a civilian hiring manager. I know recruiters and coaches who say that ex-military tend to end up “under-employed” for this reason. This article will highlight some of the ways someone making this transition can promote their value to a hiring manager and showcase their achievements on their resume in a way that creates a positive impact.
Military Equipment Equals Asset Management
Many people know that jet planes are expensive, tanks cost a lot of money, and even machine guns aren’t cheap. Anyone who has served and owned accountability for any of these items understands their value. What most military personnel don’t understand is that hiring managers are often looking for someone who knows how to responsibly manage physical and capital assets. It doesn’t take much to translate this work into a bullet point that can make a strong impression on a reader.
A logistics NCO in the army might have been responsible for dozens of M-16 rifles and ammo. A member of a flight crew in the Navy may have ensured that six fighter planes were ready for action each day. Those individuals probably just think they were “doing their job,” but the actual scope of those responsibilities can have a much greater impact than you may initially think. Consider the following bullets:
- Managed millions of dollars in arms and ammo supply for a group of 30+ US Army personnel; conducted regular inventories and owned responsibility for securing assets on a daily basis.
- Evaluated and assessed billion-dollar aircraft each day to identify any issues that could interfere with scheduled and unscheduled flights; coordinated with maintenance crews if aircraft was in need of repair and reported any issues communicated by the pilots during their missions.
The Military Trains Leaders
Most civilians think of soldiers as followers, not leaders. However, it doesn’t take anyone a long length of service to achieve some sort of leadership position in the military. Rather, you are a squad leader in charge of a handful of people or a high-ranking officer in charge of hundreds of personnel. It is fair to say that you have cultivated some leadership skills at some point in your military career.
Hiring managers are looking for people who know how to both lead and follow. If you can communicate that you were responsible for the development of any team size, that will benefit you on your resume.
Knowing What Military Training Matters
The longer you are in the military, the more schooling you will complete. Some of them can prove invaluable to a hiring manager, while others just aren’t that important. Did you complete management training? Great. Did you go to air assault school? Not so important.
I know the military affords its members plenty of educational opportunities, so list degrees (be it associate or bachelors) that you completed first in your education section. You can also list schools that might be relevant to the type of job you are applying for. Also, foreign language skills and computer training are always valuable.
What you might want to omit are basic and advanced training schools. Certifications in areas that you are not pursuing in the civilian world. You can list these things on your LinkedIn page, but having them on a resume could lessen the impact of your degrees or certificates that are more relevant.
Explaining Military Awards
While I understand that a chest full of ribbons and medals is a sign of pride in the military and looks great on your performance evaluation for promotions, most of them don’t mean much to a hiring manager. For this reason, I recommend against listing your military awards on your resume. Again, you can include them on your LinkedIn page.
When you do want to include an award, you should explain why you received it. You may or may not want to list the medal you received because the important element of the achievement is what you were recognized for. Consider:
- Recognized by inspecting general for excellence in preparation and management of supply room and general logistics functions; achieved top scores in the entire battalion.
Awards that have recognition can be listed without extensive explanation in a career highlight or job description section. Those can be simply stated as:
- Received the Navy Cross for valor during military service in Afghanistan.
Minimizing Acronyms & Military Jargon
The military loves using acronyms, but those weird combinations of letters rarely mean anything to the outside world. Much of the time, it will just be better to explain what the acronym means in general terms so that a hiring manager can understand. If you can’t do that, at least spell out the acronym on first use in the resume.
It might be a good idea to also cut down on military jargon and terminology in general. For both the purpose of clear understanding and to ensure the hiring manager thinks of you as a potential employee, not a soldier, you want to use more “business” terms than “military” ones. Consider:
- Use the words soldier, sailor, or airman as little as possible. While you might not think of yourself or your teammates as employees, you can use words such as “staff” and “personnel.”
- Try not to use words such as “deployment,” “missions,” or “theater.” Instead, describe your “assignments” or “projects” when applicable. Rather than say you worked in “hostile” areas, describe your work as “overcoming obstacles.”
- Don’t use words such as “squadron” or “platoon” as a civilian might not understand what those terms mean. Instead, try saying unit, group, or department when applicable. “Team” is always a good word to use (accompanied with the team size when possible).
Security Clearance is a Bonus
If you currently hold or previously held a security clearance of any kind, be sure to list that on your resume. I typically include that in the education/ credentials section. Including this shows a hiring manager that you can pass almost any security/ background check they could demand of you.