Military-to-Civilian Resume Advice

If you’re exiting the U.S. Military and need some military-to-civilian resume advice, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, you’ll learn:

  • Three Types of Skills for Your Resume
  • How to Uncover Your Special Talents
  • Four Ways to Write Good Resume Achievement Statements

Three Types of Skills for Your Military-to-Civilian Resume

Whether you’re a career military person transitioning to a civilian job, or a job hunter who has been in the military a relatively short period of time, you may need help writing your resume. We suggest you start by making a list of skills that relate to your civilian job search. Here’s how to go about making that list.

1. List the practical skills you used in your military job (MOS), focusing on the skills that you might use in your civilian career.

For example, if you were an infantryman, ask yourself, “Was I responsible for training anyone?” If the answer is “Yes,” that might indicate that you have skills such as leadership, teaching, mentoring, and administration, which could be useful in a civilian job.

2. Write down skills from your collateral duties — additional duties not spelled out in your core job description but are expected of all military personnel. Collateral duties require skills that apply to lots of civilian jobs. For example:

  • Safety maintenance
  • Administration (paperwork)
  • Hazardous materials handling
  • Drug and alcohol abuse prevention
  • Preventive maintenance (inspecting)
  • Counseling
  • Security
  • EEO (monitoring conditions in workplace)
  • Cleaning and maintenance
  • Inventory control (accounting for costly tools)
  • Training (scheduling, logging in equipment and supplies)

3. List skills you brought with you into the military. These skills might have come from your pre-military:

  • Work history
  • Education
  • Personal interests

Using Your Resume Skills List
Now, you have THREE solid skill groups that you can pick from to create your military-to-civilian resume.

  • Practical skills from your military job (MOS)
  • Skills from your collateral duties in the military
  • Skills developed in your civilian life prior to joining the military experience

Here’s how one military-to-civilian job seeker distilled his three lists of skills down to three prime skills.

  • Good management skills (from his MOS)
  • Computer skills (from his collateral duties)
  • Healthy cooking (from before he entered the service).

Then, he created a resume that featured those three skills, which helped him get a job as manager of a trendy health food restaurant.

A Quiz to Uncover Your Special Talents

©Yana Parker and taken from Yana Parker’s “Resume Workbook for Adults in Career Transition”

Here’s a short quiz to help you identify the talents and personal traits that can be transferred to your new career in the civilian workplace. Your answers may help you recognize accomplishments that you didn’t previously notice or fully appreciate. Later, on your own or with a counselor’s help, you can explore how these skills and assets apply to your resume and your job search.

Now, ask yourself these questions.

1. Your boss or supervisor always COUNTS ON YOU for something he thinks you’re especially good at. What is it that he always counts on YOU for?

2. If you had to teach a bright new employee the “tricks of the trade” (i.e., how to do a GREAT job in your line of work) what do YOU do special, that you could teach this eager, receptive new employee?

3. If you had to put together a TRAINING MANUAL for the kind of work you do best, how would you describe the MOST important thing it takes to do that job SUPERBLY?

4. When did you go above and beyond your job description, and MORE than earn your pay that day?

5. What do you KNOW so well–or DO so well–that you could teach it to others? What’s the MAIN TIP you’d tell people about how to do that LIKE A PRO?

6. IF one of your co-workers were to BRAG about your skills, what would they say?

7. If one of your FRIENDS were to BRAG about you, what would THEY say?

8. If YOU felt totally comfortable bragging about yourself, what would you brag about? What are you most PROUD of?

9. What COURAGEOUS things have you done that you feel good about?

10. What DIFFICULTIES or barriers have you overcome, to get where you are now?

11. What CREATIVE things have you done that you feel good about?

12. Describe something you DESIGNED, CREATED, built, made, or fixed up, that gave you a strong sense of satisfaction. Tell why you felt so good about it.

13. What PRAISE, awards, or acknowledgment did you get from your supervisors?

14. Name about TEN QUALITIES or characteristics of OTHER PEOPLE, that you most respect or admire.

15. Think of a PROBLEM that came up that had other people stumped, but that YOU were able to resolve. What did you do? What does that say about your abilities?

16. If you suddenly had to leave the area for a while (say, to take care of an elderly or sick relative) what would your work buddies MISS about you while you’re gone? How would their jobs be tougher, or less enjoyable, when you’re not there to help?

17. Which of the qualities you named in Question #14 above are ALSO true about YOU? For each quality that’s true of YOU, tell what you DO to express that in everyday life.

Tip for Job Search Counselors:
You can transform this list of self-help questions into a group exercise for six to eight participants.

Group Exercise Instructions:
1. One person in the group volunteers to play the first “Job-Hunter”
TIP: If YOU, as a member of the Group, think you have no special accomplishments, you’re a good candidate to volunteer as “Job-Hunter!”

2. The other five to seven participants will play Interviewers.

3. “Interviewers” take turns asking the “Job Hunter” any of the questions above and/or additional questions that work to draw out the “Job-Hunter.” “Interviewers” do whatever it takes to bring out the fullest, “juiciest” answers from the person playing “Job-Hunter.”

4. After 5 minutes, another person volunteers to be “Job Hunter” and is similarly questioned by all the “Interviewers.”

5. Continue until you run out of time or the group has interviewed all the participants.

Later, all the participants can brainstorm together, or explore with their counselor’s help, how these skills and assets apply to their resumes, interviews, and job searches.

Four Ways to Write Good Resume Achievement Statements

Now that you’ve explored your hidden talents, here are four ways to help you write strong achievement statements for your resume.

1. Use the “PAR” Approach. (Problem, Action, Result)

  • What Problem existed in your neighborhood or workplace?
  • What Action did you take to resolve the problem?
  • What were the beneficial Results of your action?

P.A.R. statements are powerful because they show clear examples of you making a difference for your employer.


  • Transformed a disorganized inefficient warehouse into a smooth-running operation by totally redesigning the layout; this saved the company $25,000 in recovered stock.
  • Successfully collected overdue or unbilled fees by thoroughly auditing billing records and persevering in telephone collection follow-ups.
  • Organized a Neighborhood Watch Committee that succeeded in improving the safety of our streets, and promoted a sense of community.

2. Use the Recognition Approach.
a) Were you asked to take on more responsibility? For example:

  • Chosen out of a staff of 15 to train new employees in the engineering department.
  • Selected by manager to handle special rush assignments.

b) Were you awarded an advancement? For example:

  • Promoted to senior engineer within one year.

c) Did you earn a bonus for bringing in a new customer or maintaining a difficult customer?

d) Did you get good feedback on performance evaluations?

e) Were you praised or acknowledged by customers, co-workers, outside agencies you contact for your company, union leaders, or even competitors? For example:

  • Received personal letters of gratitude from clients for outstanding performance.

3. Use the Disaster Approach.
Think of somebody (real or imaginary) who filled a job like yours, but who was a disaster in that position. What would they have to be doing wrong to be a disaster? If that’s the wrong way to do it, what’s the right way to do it? Is that what you do? This line of thinking may inspire you to remember an accomplishment (i.e., how you made a positive difference in your work place).


  • Earned award for Most Valuable New Employee because I rarely missed a day, and helped newer staff members get accustomed to the routine.

(In contrast, the employee who was a disaster in that position might gossip and spread rumors, never help others, and call in late or sick all the time.)

4. Use the “So-What?” Approach.
The “So What?” approach assures that your resume won’t be filled with boring job descriptions. You tell not only what you did, but why it mattered.

Suppose you “Reorganized the filing system and information flow,” and you ask yourself, “So What?”
You might then say:

  • Reorganized the filing system and information flow, resulting in substantially improved efficiency for the company.

Or, suppose you “Advised supermarket customers on alternative name-brand items,” and you ask yourself, “So What?” You’d get:

  • Increased customer satisfaction and product sales by advising customers of alternatives to name-brand items.

Special thanks to the following people for their help in writing this Guide with Yana Parker.

  • Lynn Vincent, a San Diego transition consultant
  • Craig Baugh, a Utah veteran
  • Jack Guarneri, Community college counselor in Trenton, New Jersey