How to Translate Your Military Resume When Applying for Civilian Jobs


As you begin to transition out of the military, one of the first things you’ll probably want to do is find a new job. However, the civilian workplace is very different than military work culture, and sometimes military terminology and acronyms can go over employers’ heads.

“One of the biggest complaints hiring managers have is that they don’t understand military language, ranks and some of the specific job duties that only people in the military do,” said Shareem Kilkenny, resume writer and career strategist at Veteran Career Counseling Services. “What ends up happening is that they don’t bother trying to follow up with the candidate, so they move on to the next one.”

To increase your chances of getting called in for an interview, Kilkenny recommends translating your military experience into civilian keywords on your resume.

“Identify the type of job you’re interested in and go on different job boards and research job descriptions to figure out what it is employers are asking for,” said Kilkenny. “What skills do they need? You’ll find a lot of your skills are very similar or transferrable; it’s just a matter of understanding terminology.”

However, you shouldn’t just stop at translating your skills and job duties. Consider translating your military job title and educational training.

“Many veterans get hung up on their rank because it’s near and dear to them and they want everybody to know that they left the army as a first sergeant. It’s OK to keep that in there, but maybe put your rank in parenthesis because the average person working in corporate America doesn’t understand the specifics of a first sergeant, but they do understand the specifics of a senior manager or director.” Kilkenny said.

Don’t try to include every single skill, accomplishment and award you earned during your military career on your resume. You risk overwhelming the hiring manager if you do. Instead, keep it focused on the job you are applying for and the skills it requires so that they understand right away what kind of value you will bring to their company.

“Keep it relevant. For example, if you’re applying for a Department of Defense contracting job, I would definitely put your security clearance on your resume if you have one, but if you’re applying for a customer service position, that may not be necessary,” said Kilkenny

In addition to a resume, Kilkenny recommends creating a LinkedIn profile for job searching and networking opportunities.

“A lot of times recruiters don’t even go to their applicant tracking systems anymore to find resumes. They go on LinkedIn. It’s a very powerful tool. I always tell clients to create a professional looking profile and use it to network with people at companies they are interested in working for,” Kilkenny said.

Before you start applying for jobs, it’s also a good idea to ask a couple civilian friends to look over your resume and make sure it is easy to understand. Revise and clarify anything they find confusing.

If you’re not sure what kind of civilian career you’d like, or are struggling to translate your resume into civilian keywords, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s O-Net Online or These resources are free and a great place for veterans to start their civilian job search.

Not only has your military experience been a valuable asset to our country; it’s a valuable asset to the civilian workforce. By translating your military resume into a civilian one, you’ll help hiring managers understand your value to their company as well, and ensure your post-service career is one you’ll enjoy.

For more post-service career opportunities and benefits, read our article on Life After Service – A Million Possibilities.


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