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From Soup to Salary – Simple Steps to Translating Military Experience to Civilian-Speak


Well, now you’ve done it. You’ve gone and figured out what you want to do when you exit the military. You know the next job you want. You know the company or organization you want it with. And you’re ready to go after it. There’s just a teensy, weensy thing standing in your way, and it’s keeping you up at night: Your Resume.

How in the heck does somebody take a page (or three, or five) worth of experiences that – to most of the world – read like martian alphabet soup and make it persuade a potential employer that you are the best person for the job?

Start with the end in mind – the job you know you want. What are the qualifications for this job? What does the job description include? Print or list the job description, qualifications, or any other key attributes of the prize position.

If you have a military resume, print it out and literally do a side-by-side comparison. Circle the experience or training you’ve had that supports your case for why you should win the job you want. For example: You were a Field Artillery Battalion Operations Officer. You want to be an Operations Manager. Focus on the things you did that demonstrated your ability to get things done

This is where good translation is important. Use language that lets a civilian reader comprehend exactly what you can contribute to their organization. At the risk of sounding crass, choose words you might use when going to an eighth-grade Career Day event: not too technical or precise but very vivid and results-oriented. Take your cues from the job description itself. Here is a sample job description, using the Operations Manager title. I’ve highlighted key words that should carry through the resume.

Operations Manager job description:

Southern region based manufacturer seeks motivated and driven candidate to fill an opening for an Operations Manager in one of our manufacturing facilities. We seek the one exceptional candidate who has the communications skills and management background that can also effectively manage and implement change.

Are you a leader who is comfortable with a fast paced, complex and dynamic environment? Some of the key responsibilities and functions are included but not limited to:

  • Oversight, enhancement and assertive emphasis of an effective site safety program and compliance with company policies and state and federal laws.
  • Actively plan, deploy and manage strategic initiatives to meet company performance goals.
  • Manage production and coordinate production schedules to optimize output and provide quality and timely service to all customers.
  • Assure proper inventory management of all manufactured and bill of material items.
  • Instill an expectation of preventative maintenance and actively address maintenance issues.
  • Track actual performance versus budget for production, projects and defined metrics.

The challenge is that you have been trained to be specific, accurate and precise – which is exactly what your new employer will need – but if you are too specific, accurate and precise in your resume, civilians won’t know what you are talking about. Vague it up a bit and write to the overarching success – “ Managed $1.2M critical inventory across 6 units and 3 continents,” “Maintained oversight of 300 employees' training schedules,” or “Led strategic development of new campaign exercise.” Your goal is to get them to interview you. You can provide relevant details in the interview.

A word of advice – although you are certain to have a load of incredibly valuable experience and skills, don’t make the mistake of listing every single thing you’ve ever done on your resume. Tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for. If an experience or skill isn’t directly relevant to the job you want, don’t list it.

The bottom line is this: When you know what you want, take the time to clearly articulate how what you’ve accomplished in your military career makes you The Best Candidate. If words escape you, use the job description (and a good thesaurus) for inspiration. You can do it!

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