Your Civilian Resume: Communicating Your Military Experiences to a Civilian Audience

Your Civilian Resume: Communicating Your Military Experiences to a Civilian Audience


By Marcia Powers
Career Coach at American Military University

Transitioning from the military to civilian employment is no easy task, especially when it comes down to writing your resume and communicating your military experiences. If you are a transitioning veteran or active duty service member looking for civilian employment, heed the following advice to help you better communicate your qualifications on paper and rise above the competition.

Understand the purpose of a resume in the civilian sector.

Writing a resume is most frustrating for those who fail to grasp its purpose. The purpose of a resume is to simply convince the employer that you are qualified for the position and deserve a chance to interview. It is not intended to be a full, comprehensive account of your entire military or employment history. The information on your resume should be relevant and concise, illustrating your most important qualifications and skill sets pertaining to the position you are seeking. This means that a one-size-fits-all resume isn’t going to cut it, and you’ll need to tailor your resume for each position you apply.

Communicate your experiences in a way that civilians can understand.

Civilians are not always familiar with military lingo and acronyms. Before listing any military jargon in your resume, ask yourself whether or not the hiring manager will know what you’re talking about. More often than not, civilian hiring managers will not be familiar with specific military terminology, nor will they be able to quickly identify its relevance. This being said, it’s best to avoid military jargon altogether. When describing your employment history on your resume, explain your experiences and responsibilities in a way that a civilian can understand. This includes how you choose to list your position titles as well. For example, instead of stating that you were a 27D in the Army, indicate that you were a Paralegal Specialist.

List only military awards and training which are relevant to the position.

Your awards and training achieved through your service are extremely meaningful to your military career; however, some of these awards or training will not be relevant to your civilian career. Be selective about what you choose to include on your resume. It’s best to only include the awards and training which a hiring manager can easily identify as relevant or significant to the position.

Focus on your transferable skills if your military experience does not directly relate to the civilian position.

 True, not all of your military duties and experiences directly relate to a typical position in the civilian sector, but many of your skills acquired through the military do. When your military duties seem to be unrelated to your target job, focus on your transferable skills which do relate to the position instead.

Transferable skills are not specific to any industry, but are valuable in a variety of environments and to many different employers (such as good communication or research skills). To help you identify some of your transferable skills, think about your day-to-day duties from the military which a civilian employer would find to be valuable. For example, have you ever had to file or write reports? Have you solved a difficult problem quickly while under stress? Do you excel at analyzing information or communicating complex ideas to others? If you possess transferrable skills which relate to the position, be sure to list them!

Remember, you have many important skills and experiences from the military which civilian employers find to be valuable. Creating a well-tailored resume that exemplifies your relevant experiences is one of the best ways to grab their attention and get noticed!

About the Author

Marcia attended the University of Minnesota – Duluth where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in History. After graduation, Marcia decided to serve in the AmeriCorps where she discovered her passion for helping others achieve their academic and career goals. Deciding that Higher Education was the right path for her, Marcia gained experience in Admissions and Financial Aid before transitioning to Career Services at American Public University System (APUS). As a Career Coach at APUS, Marcia’s industries of focus are Emergency and Disaster Management, Homeland Security, Criminal Justice, and Security Management. Marcia currently resides in West Virginia and enjoys spending her free time hiking, fishing, and camping with her family and friends.