June 8, 2021

Translate Your Military Experience into a Successful Civilian Resume



Writing a resume can feel uncomfortable and off-putting. Marketing ourselves is hard, and it’s defeating when we go out on a limb and earn little response for our efforts.

This feeling of discomfort and stress around resume-writing is common among job seekers. It can be especially daunting, though, for military professionals aiming to transition back into civilian life. Here’s how to get your mind around the project and write a resume that gets noticed.

Nail Down Your Timeline

Start by thinking through your job search timeline. Pew Research writers Kim Parker, Ruth Igielnik, Amanda Barroso, and Anthony Cilluffo explain: “One-in-four veterans say they had a civilian job lined up after they left the military. About half (48%) say they didn’t have a job lined up but looked for one right away, 21% looked for a job but not right away, and 5% did not look for a job at all or retired from working.”

Consider building your job search into your transition rather than saving your search for after you’ve transitioned. This way, you’re less likely to find yourself without an existing structure in your life. It can be hard to fuel a transition without a routine. 

“When I left the military, I think it was extremely hard for me to find a position because I lacked the knowledge of how to translate my military experience into the civilian workplace. I also don’t think I started looking for a new job soon enough. I recommend anyone leaving the military to start at minimum six to eight months before your last day.” Explains Nick Francioso, Army Veteran, mentor to career transitioning veterans, and founder of the resume optimization tool SkillSyncer.

Another factor to consider is where you’re currently located and what location you’re targeting. Relocation adds complexity to a job search. Francioso explains: “I was in Hawaii and moving across different time zones to Florida which also presented its own challenges in getting in contact with recruiters and hiring managers.” Factor in these logistics as you build your timeline.

Translating Military Experience on Your Civilian Resume

Military experience tends to be well-regarded in the workplace. Parker, Igielnik, Barroso, and Cilluffo point out: “a majority (61%) say their military service helped their ability to get their first job following their time in service, including 35% of veterans who say it helped a lot.” Likewise, the Pew Research writers note: “Six-in-ten employed veterans whose coworkers are aware of their military service say people they interact with at work generally look up to them because of their military experience.” The professional skills that you’ve amassed in the military tend to be valued and welcome in the civilian workforce.

But articulating your skills and experience via your resume can be difficult. Francioso shares: “I believe all military professionals have this challenge and I believe the longer you are out of the civilian workforce the harder it becomes. In the military, we are taught to speak almost a different language and are so used to using those words or acronyms that we even forget we are doing so. My best advice is to widen your career path after leaving the military and regardless of what your military occupation was, do not feel restricted to one type of job or career. Additionally, search for military-friendly employers or work with military placement firms that specialize in military-to-civilian transition.”

Francioso notes that LinkedIn has a free one-year membership for veterans. He recommends building a profile and network immediately.

A Successful Resume

What does a successful resume look like? Francioso advises: “A successful resume is one that doesn’t contain military jargon/acronyms and focuses on what results you achieved, and why your actions mattered to the military. Creating and sending one single resume is also the biggest mistake you could make. Each resume should be tailored for the position you are applying for to ensure your experience matches up with the requirements of the job.”

When you write your resume, you are making the case for your employment. You’re demonstrating for each potential employer that you have done relevant work based on what they say they need in their job posts. It’s on us, the job seekers, to make that case for each job we target.

Hiring managers have a stack of resumes to sort through. They are not going to make our case for us or deduce that because we’ve done one job, we may be a fit for another. That’s our responsibility as resume writers.

Keep in mind, too, that your resume does not have to be an exhaustive timeline of your employment history. When you tailor your resume, as Francioso recommends, focus the reader’s attention on the roles you’ve held most recently. You’re trying to demonstrate why you’re a fit for the open role, do that by showing your most recent, relevant work history.

Use Key Words

Key words appear in job posts to explain what the employer is seeking. Focus on these to make your case. If the employer needs an SEO writer, for example, and you’ve done that work, write it that way.

Most resumes are sorted through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), before any human sees them. The system looks for keywords. SkillSyncer’s website explains: “A keyword can be any word or phrase that describes your experience. It can be a single word like 'Technology' or a phrase like 'Agile Project Management'. The more keywords your resume matches with the job description, the higher chance you have of being noticed.”

A Military Professional’s Experience

Francioso explains how he came to understand and succeed in the job search process:

“When I transitioned out of the Army, I applied to over 100 jobs and maybe heard back from one of those. I got desperate and started applying for anything . . . I remember in one of my transition classes our instructor taught us how to highlight keywords from a job description and the proper way to include them into our resume. I thought this was so tedious of a task that there must be an easier way. Tapping into my education from my Computer Science degree I taught myself how to implement a Natural Language Processer in the python programming language to extract key words and skills from a job description and then cross reference those to my resume to see if I already included them or not. Once I started to use this process on every job submission, I noticed a dramatic increase in responses from recruiters. It was like night and day. Over the last few years I slowly improved the keyword algorithm and eventually became an entrepreneur by starting my first company SkillSyncer.”

The skills that you’ve honed in the military leave you well-prepared for the civilian workforce. Creating a resume that highlights those skills positions you for success.

Disclaimer: HigherEdMilitary encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and don't imply endorsement by HigherEdMilitary.

Article Topics

Republish this article for free. We want to make it easier for you to share knowledge and creativity, and encourage you to reuse our articles under a Creative Commons license.


If you have suggestions for how we can improve HigherEdMilitary or topics we should cover, let us know.

This website is part of the HigherEdJobs network.