Resume Question: How Do I Write a Military-to-Civilian Resume?

Here’s a question about how to write a military-to-civilian resume. It’s a question most military folks have when they re-enter the civilian world of work. Yana Parker gives her advice below.

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Resume Question: Military Experience

Hello Yana,
As the Public Relations Officer of the Marine Corps League, I was just presented with a problem from a fellow marine member. He’s a 40-year-old ex-captain with about 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He recently retired from the military, and now wants to get other work. What is the best way to translate his military experience so that a civilian employer would recognize his talents and experience, and translate his training into useful assets he could profitably employ?

Thank you,

P.S., He DID recently have a brief job teaching in a school for girls, but got laid off during down-sizing.

Hello Maury,
I’m having a hard time finding solid advice, coming from the MILITARY end of the question, on how to present such experience on a civilian resume. So we have to just use our Common Sense. Mine tells me:

  1. Ask the client what direction he wants to go in now. We’ve got to have a clue of his JOB OBJECTIVE to know how to proceed. If he doesn’t know, then he needs to do some “informational interviewing” or other research to nail down a target/direction. And THEN come back to you for his resume.
  2. Build his resume around that job objective. Let’s say he thinks he’d like to go into computer sales and service, or technical support for computers. Then he can look back on the military experience and identify those specific experiences that illustrate the skills and experience NEEDED to work in computer sales and technical support. He should use THAT experience on his new resume, omitting mention of everything else he did in the military because it isn’t relevant to THIS employer. BUT, if he wants to find a job as a High School MATH TEACHER, then he’s going to look at his military experience a bit differently, and look for THOSE skills that are anything like what a TEACHER does. In fact, since he’s HAD some recent, hands-on experience teaching, he’d expand on THAT experience to the max — even more than the military, EVEN if he spent 20 times as long in the military as in the high school classroom. WHY? Because the classroom experience tells them not just that he CAN do it but that he HAS DONE it. That counts for a lot.

He must NOT lace his resume with military images, jargon, and priorities (for example, most employers won’t give a DAMN that he has his once-coveted top secret clearance unless they’re in the security business.) At every point, he has to ask over and over and over, “How can this bit of experience be described so it applies to, or supports, my new goal?

Thanks for your question!