How to Translate Military Skills Onto a Resume

| Evan Thompson


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Veterans earn many valuable skills that translate well in the workplace, but they can struggle to explain their experiences to civilians.

It can be even more challenging to explain these skills in a resume, where space is limited.

"Veterans often have a difficult time translating their military experience into civilian language, especially when it comes to highlighting soft skills," said Carla Miller of Hiring Our Heroes, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition to the workforce.

The main goal when writing an effective resume is to help employers understand your potential as an employee. That's tough to do if your resume is filled with military acronyms and excerpts from performance evaluations that don't make sense to people who have never served.

Here are some tips for explaining your military skills, experiences, and qualifications on a resume in a way that will help civilian employers and recruiters understand and recognize your value.

Use the PAR Method

Great accomplishments can be difficult to boil down into a few words on a resume. But being concise is the key to a good resume.

Elena Comperatore of Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit that helps veterans with job search skills, recommends the "PAR" method — problem, action, result. The PAR method is a helpful technique for writing brief, accomplishment-oriented bullet points that quickly summarize your military experiences. The simple formula works like this:

  • Problem: Identify a problem/task/issue.
  • Action: What did you do about the problem?
  • Result: What was the result of your action?

Once you've come up with a problem, action, and result, Comperatore said the next step is to fine-tune what you've written until it's only 1-2 lines long. Using statistics also helps, she said.

"Revise it so it reads well and is easy to view," she said. "The addition of numbers and other values will help it stand out."

You don't have to write the problem, action, and results in any particular order. Consider these examples of how to use the PAR method in practice:

Example 1

Initiated, wrote, and edited the first training manual for the company's data-tracking system, which cut the training period in half, was adopted across the team, and is still in use today.


Example 2

Trained 40 personnel on maintenance production techniques to streamline equipment usage, resulting in a 30% decrease in equipment downtime.

Use Relatable Terms Instead of Military Jargon

Military jargon might make sense to you, but it will likely confuse whoever encounters it on your resume. When writing for civilians, it's best to avoid military jargon — acronyms, specific duties, job titles — altogether.

But that poses a problem: How do you explain your military service without using those words? You need to find relatable terms that anyone can understand.

Military Speak Fit for Resume
AFB Base
Brigade operations NCO Operations manager/supervisor
Platoon sergeant Personnel manager
Company Department/section
Mission Task/function/objective
Reconnaissance Data collection and analysis
Regulations Policies/guidelines

"Being able to explain your military experience and how it directly relates to the position that you are applying for is vital," said Eric Putt, senior program manager with Hiring Our Heroes. "This is how you inform your potential new employer that you possess the basic skills and requirements of the position you have applied to, and the employers want to ensure you meet the minimum requirements of the position."

If your resume is filled with military jargon, it will be tough for recruiters or employers to tell if you're qualified for the position. Instead, think of using relatable terms as a way to bridge the gap between the military and civilian worlds.

Simplify Descriptions of Key Skills

It's important to filter out non-essential information from your resume. Your first instinct might be to write exactly what you did in the military, but some details are better left out.

For example, going into too much detail about the specific purpose of a vehicle might be confusing. A former Army mechanic doesn't need to say they "repaired mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles" when "repaired $10 million in vehicles" would suffice.

Comperatore said resumes need to strike a balance between being meaningful and being relevant.

"Veterans should focus solely on what is relevant or what would create a meaningful talking point if interviewed," Comperatore said.

Putt added: "If those accomplishments are not related to the position that you are applying to, then it is wasted time, space, and energy to add it to your resume."

Below are a handful of examples of how to simplify your descriptions of key skills:

Leadership

Before

Helped supervise a team of mechanics repairing MRAP vehicles.

After

Helped lead a team of six mechanics to repair and maintain $10 million in vehicles.


Teamwork

Before

Skilled at working with a squad to capture and seize objectives for small and large military missions.

After

Skilled at working with team members to meet evolving performance demands while contributing to important objectives.


Dependability

Before

Able to consistently follow orders given by squad and platoon leaders, never failing to complete a mission.

After

Able to complete various duties and tasks, earning the trust and respect of superiors and peers.


Accountability

Before

Promptly obey orders, regulations, and other obligations while being willing to report any failures to uphold lawful orders.

After

Promptly follow policies and guidelines set by superiors while holding myself and others accountable for carrying out assigned tasks.


Work Ethic

Before

Always put the mission first to meet company demands.

After

Earned high praise for having a "can-do" attitude for each and every task.

Conclusion

Translating a veteran's qualifications, military experiences, and skills in a way that someone without military experience can understand is challenging. Using these techniques can help you bridge the gap between the military and civilian worlds when job hunting or applying for graduate school.

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

Header Image Credit: Narisara Nami, adamkaz | Getty Images

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