OWL at Purdue Logo

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.

Contributors:Stacey Dearing.
Summary:

This resource provides guidance for military veterans who are preparing a résumé for the civilian workforce.

Résumés for Military Veterans

Why a veteran’s resource?

Military Service personnel make up less than 1% of the American population (Hurt, Ryan, and Straley, 2010); as a result, Military veterans have unique educational, work, and networking experiences that can vary widely from those of their civilian peers. Because each branch of the military uses its own terminology, acronyms, and abbreviations, the experiences of veterans can also be difficult for civilian employers to interpret on job applications and résumés. This resource provides strategies for veterans to use while transitioning into the civilian work force.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Though as a veteran you will face unique challenges while translating military jargon, experiences, ranks, skills, and job responsibilities for a civilian audience, much of the general resources for résumés and cover letters will apply to veterans. You will want to prepare material to cover the same basic sections of a résumé as a civilian candidate: contact information, objective, work experience, education, summary of skills, references, professional affiliations, volunteer and other experiences.

As for anyone seeking a job, you will need to consider the rhetorical situation — the purpose, audience, and context — for each résumé and cover letter. These documents should be constantly growing, and shifting, as you will need to personalize a résumé and cover letter for every application you write. If you only send a generic résumé, your documents are less likely to catch the attention of hiring managers and employers. Showing that you have not only taken the time to research the company, the requirements of the position, and the skills needed, but that you can also translate your experiences to make an argument for how you meet those needs, is far more impressive.

Follow the links in the left navigation bar for guidance on adapting terminology and experience for a civilian audience as well as answers to common questions.

Contributors:Stacey Dearing.
Summary:

This resource provides guidance for military veterans who are preparing a résumé for the civilian workforce.

Translating Military Terminology & Experience

Translating Military Terminology

The OWL provides resources describing the sections of a résumé, as well as how to design an effective résumé, but there are certainly unique challenges that veterans face when writing job documents.

One of the most difficult tasks veterans face is translating military experiences, acronyms, and jargon into civilian terms. As you know, the military has its own terms and acronyms for almost everything, including for specific jobs, documents, clothing, operations, furniture, etc. These terms can vary between branches, making even inter-military discourse difficult!

It is important, therefore, that you “civilianize” your job documents, because you do not want prospective employers to misunderstand your résumé. Résumés that are full of acronyms and military terminology may be seen as incomprehensible by hiring managers — who may simply move on to the next candidate after only a glance if they don’t understand your documents.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help you translate your military experiences to civilian discourse.

First, you will need to describe your job in a manner comprehensible to civilians.

Example:

Marine Corps E-2 0311 = Marine Corps Private First Class Enlisted Infantry Rifleman

Civilians who do not understand MOS/MOC codes or military job titles, nor the military pay or rank systems, can at least understand that you were an enlisted member of the infantry who specialized in rifle work. You can then use sub-points to describe your job responsibilities in non-military terms to show how your experiences in the military relate to the civilian work force.

Don’t assume that your audience will have any experience with the military or have any understanding of military terminology and acronyms.

Best Practice: Have civilian friends and family read your résumé and flag anything they don’t understand.

Next, you may want to consult sources that can help you determine the civilian equivalents of your military position. Here are a few resources that allow you to input your branch of service, pay grade, job title, and special training/skills/qualifications in order to either find civilian equivalent job titles, lists of skills, and/or job openings:

Example:

a Marine Corps. E-2 0311-Rifleman Enlisted comes up with the following possible skills:
Advanced First Aid
Firearm Handling and Maintenance
Intelligence Analysis
Logistics Support
Message Processing Procedures
Protective Services
Risk Management
Safety and Occupational Health Programs
Skill with Hand Tools or Power Tools
Surveillance Techniques
Surveying and Mapping Methods
("Military Skills Translator")

While a prospective employer may not know what an E-2 0311 means, they will understand that you have experience with logistics, risk management, and skill with particular tools. This is, of course, not all you must do to “translate” your experiences, but it is an important step.

Translating Job Descriptions

Each entry of your résumé should include a few sub-points that use action verbs to describe your experience in more details. Sources such as the military.com job translator can help you determine what to include in these sections.

Example:

2007-2011 Marine Corps Private First Class Enlisted Infantry Rifleman

This example incorporates civilian-friendly action verbs such as “managed,” “supervised,” and “instructed,” as well as skills from the military.com recommendations.

It is important to keep each sub-point short and to the point. You should also quantify experiences whenever possible. Employers are interested to know how many people you have managed, how many classes you have taught, and what kinds of budgets, supplies, etc., you have handled.

Example:

“Headed a team” is far less informative than “Headed a team of 5.”
“Responsible for the budget” is less informative than “Managed an annual budget of $500,000”
Contributors:Stacey Dearing.
Summary:

This resource provides guidance for military veterans who are preparing a résumé for the civilian workforce.

Common Questions & Additional Resources

Common Questions

Combat Experience: Should I include it?

Do not hide or deny the experiences that you had in the military. However, as with all of your experiences/qualifications/education/training, only bring up combat experience if it is relevant to the position you are applying for.

Example:

If you are applying to be an accountant, combat experience may not seem highly relevant to this field.
For a position in private security or the police force, however, combat experience may be important to mention.

What else can I highlight from my military experience?  

Employers DO want to hire veterans because of the exceptional skills veterans bring to the workplace. Frame your experiences to address the needs of employers; they are interested in interpersonal, technical, and leadership skills, as well as flexibility and creativity (Fretz). Think about your audience and show them how you can meet their needs. A good résumé shows an employer what skills you bring to the company; an excellent résumé shows an employer how you can solve a problem or fill a gap in their workforce (even if they didn’t know they had it!).

Education: How far back should I go?  

In addition to listing military work and training experiences, you will want to include educational history on your résumé. If you have any college or technical education, you should include the name of the school, location, course of study or degree pursued, and dates on your job documents. You can include this training even if you have not completed a degree—showing that you have done some coursework, technical training, apprenticeship, internship, etc., can show employers that you have taken the initiative to pursue training relevant to the position you are applying for. How much information in this category you choose to include will depend on the needs of the job you are seeking, as well as the kind of résumé you choose to write. However, here are a few general tips:

After you leave the military, you may choose to leave your high school off of your résumé in order to make room for other, more recent, qualifications. This is up to you. If you have the space and feel that including your high school is important, then do so.

You may also want to list any specific courses or certifications you have completed in your education if they apply to the position you are seeking.

Example:

2009-2011 Acres Community College, Associates degree
2010 HVAC Certification
2009 Microsoft Office Certification 

Should I include my disability status on my résumé?

You should not list your disability status on your résumé. You may want to complete a Veterans Preference Form if you are applying for a federal job or other position that uses a numerical ranking system for applicants. If you complete this form, you can briefly note on your résumé that you have done so (Kolin). Essentially, the Veteran Preference Form indicates if you are a disabled veteran or dependent who qualifies for preferential hiring status based on your military experience.

Additional Resources

If you continue to have questions or concerns, consider searching for veteran support services in your area. You may want to contact the VA, or local branches of the VFW, American Legion, Student Veterans of America (SVA or SVO) on local college campuses, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), or other groups for more information on specific resources available to veterans. However, since it can sometimes be difficult to access in-person resources, it is important to note that there are many online resources available as well. Online resources include:

Career One Stop (Sponsored by the US Dept. of Labor & The American Job Center)

O*Net Online (Sponsored by the US Dept. of Labor & The American Job Center)

My Next Move For Veterans (Sponsored by the US Dept. of Labor & The American Job Center)

Linked In Veterans Resources (This site provides access for veterans to free online classes, including one on Translating your Military Experience to Civilian Life.)

Military.com 

Works Cited

Fretz, Eric. “Demilitarizing Your Résumé.” Personal Correspondence. 24 November 2015. Email.

Hurt, Alyson, Erica Ryan, and JoElla Straley. "By the Numbers: Today's Military." NPR Special Series: Those Who Serve. NPR, 3 July 2011. Web. 7 Jan. 2016.

Kolin, Philip C. Successful Writing at Work: Concise Fourth Edition. 4th Ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015. Print.

"Skills Translator." Military.com. Monster, n.d. Web. 7 Jan. 2016.