Historically Underrepresented Groups

Describing Military Experience on a Civilian Resume

When you’re in the military, all you need to do is put on your dress uniform, and your colleagues will know a lot about the sort of work you do. But in civilian clothes, you’ll need to have some marketing tools to help you impress potential employers with your abilities, experience, and skills. You need a resume.

No matter what your background, writing a resume takes work. But if large parts of your background are from military experiences, you have an additional step to take.

Use of the military’s initialisms and jargon becomes second nature to people in the service, but most employers in civilian organizations (except perhaps those in the defense industry) don’t understand “military speak,” so you need to translate it into “English” for non-military recruiters.

Here are a few short examples of how that translation might look.

MilitaryCivilian
  • NCO
  • Medal
  • Mission
  • Squad
  • Subordinates
  • Soldiers/Airmen/etc.
  • Reconnaissance
  • Supervisor or Manager
  • Award or Recognition
  • Task or Objective
  • Section
  • Employees, Staff, or Personnel
  • Individuals, People, Staff, or Employees
  • Data collection, Survey, or Analysis

A very useful tool in building a civilian resume out of military experience is O*Net – a very large database of attributes and characteristics of various jobs developed by the US Department of Labor. O*Net’s “Crosswalk” option lets you enter your military occupation code (MOC) and returns a list of equivalent job titles from the civilian world. Best of all, the O*Net lists of equivalent civilian jobs include the tasks, knowledge, skills, activities, associated with those jobs – all in civilian language. Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Go to http://online.onetcenter.org/crosswalk/
  2. Select the Crosswalk Search option
  3. In the MOC text box, enter your MOC to find matching standard (civilian) occupations.
  4. Read through the information about standard jobs that are equivalent to your MOC to see if there is information listed that you can adapt for your civilian resume.

Once you’ve gotten good at restating your military experiences into civilian language, your job is to focus your resume on your desired job, remembering that employers will give you 10-20 seconds of their attention as they look at your resume. Pay close attention to your resume’s objective (whether you choose to actually put it on the document or not), your summary or profile, and how well the bulleted lists of job accomplishments, activities, education, etc., support that objective. In tough economies like this one, it makes sense to revise your resume every time you send it, to fine-tune it as much as you can to the job of interest. Make it easy for employers to see you as a great match for their opening!

For more information about resumes and cover letters, see the corresponding sections of the Career & Co-op Center's website.