Men and women leaving military service often hinder their transition into civilian employment by describing in their resumes and other communications, strong experience in military terms that many civilians do not understand. Conversely, they often underemphasize the value of their experience when looking for civilian employment. Here are two key points:
- There are few functions performed in military service that are not also performed in civilian employment.
- Most civilian employers can look to military standards and systems for direct guides on how to improve their own operations.
In a nutshell, when well presented to the right employers, your military experience is a definite asset.
How do you crystalize your value?
Analyzing your military experience to determine which aspects of it are most useful to civilian employers is the first step. As you go through this self-analysis, don’t let modesty stand in your way. Dig into your strongest abilities and experience, and then translate them into terms that civilians will understand.
- Militarese: Commander, Commanding Officer, First Lieutenant, Petty Officer, NCO, etc. Civilianese: Senior line executive, operating executive, administrator, manager, supervisor, team leader, etc.
- Militarese: Civilians, officers, enlisted personnel, troops, etc. Civilianese: Staff, crew, team, technicians, task force, etc.
- Militarese: Combat, combat-ready, fighting forces, war zones, etc. Civilianese: Highly hazardous conditions, highly trained personnel, etc.
- Militarese: Military ranking or rating. Civilianese: Avoid using it except under circumstances where it’s a clear asset.
Some more examples:
- Don’t scare civilians with the size of your fiscal accountability if that’s part of your qualifications. Tone it down to fit the size of the job you are aiming for. For example, if you were responsible for a $45 million annual budget and are targeting an operation happy to get by on $2 million a year, “Administered expenditures in excess of $2M annually.” Avoid putting monetary value on military equipment or real estate, such as “As a fighter pilot, managed $1.9M in equipment.” It may feel like it puffs up your resume; but it can create a gap between what you did and what you want to do.
- Think carefully about decorations. Civilian employers don’t typically “decorate” their people. They may give them a letter of praise, a promotion, or a bonus. Shy away from the names of citations that are more or less routinely awarded, like the Good Conduct Medal, etc. Conversely, do mention if you’ve been singled out for exceptional performance. Describe your accomplishment with something like, “Performance described by supervisor as …” (and quote a brief phrase from the citation).
- Nonroutine promotions are best handled by saying something like this, “Selected for special promotion four years ahead of normal date for …” and describe the accomplishment that produced it. Avoid overused terms as “advanced in rank ahead of peers” which falls short of your performance’s importance.
There is a substantial difference between serving your country and serving a company. Your military service has been positioned in pursuit of national goals. In the future, your efforts may be oriented to chasing dollars.
If you prepare appropriately for your job search, you’ll no doubt find that it is a stimulating and exciting challenge – a game of strategy designed to produce the fit you want.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!