Military Experience Resume

How To Use Military Experience On A Resume


Are you confused about how to use military experience on a resume?

For over nine years, I worked as a bilingual employment counselor at a military base. It was my role to help hundreds of clients make the transition from military to civilian life. Ironically, when I was a civilian, the military did not offer a program designed to educate outgoing personnel on creating compelling resumes for civilian employers, teach them current networking strategies, or offer them career coaching.

Then my much acclaimed “how to de-militarize your resume” seminar was born. What followed was career seminars to soldiers, airmen/women, and sailors alike at Canadian Forces Base Kingston and Trenton, Canada. The Lt (N) at CFB Trenton chose me over other services providers. She trusted my expertise and protected the “intellectual property” of my seminars’ content.

Military personnel need to market their transferable skills to attract a civilian employer.

A transferable skill is acquired in the following ways:

  • Paid work experience (i.e. trainer, manager, personnel officer)
  • Life skills (i.e. coordinator of a special event)
  • Volunteer experience (i.e. volunteer firefighter, coach of a minor hockey team)
  • Academic experience (i.e. training/retraining, certifications, professional development)

How Are Military Personnel Attractive And Valuable To Civilian Employers?

  • Military people have been “cross-trained” in different areas (i.e. working in line management and staff consulting jobs). Cross training is very prevalent in the manufacturing field and gaining ground in other sectors.
  • Military people are very well trained (courses and instruction).
  • A recruiting poll showed that “military personnel make excellent leaders, once given a specific task: they are decisive, resourceful and tremendous team players; and they perform well under pressure.” (Peter Newfield, President, Career Resumes,, October 10, 2001)
  • People in the military who have leadership qualities often receive intense training and development. Result: They are more valuable to employers (i.e. training personnel/staff; performance evaluations).

This is only the tip of the iceberg about what you as an outgoing military member can offer.

How To Present Yourself To Civilian Employers

Your goal: Convince civilian employers that your transferable skills, qualifications, and credentials are invaluable to a civilian employer. You need to convince employers that you are well-qualified. You are not defined by your military occupation title. Employers don’t speak military.

1. Research what was the equivalent of your trade, profession, or specialization. Try to find the equivalent of your outgoing rank. For example, Sergeants are the “backbone of the army.” The word “sergeant” is derived from the Latin “severe” which means “to serve.” Try to find a match between your skills and qualifications and the skill set that the employer is looking for.

2. Remove any jargon or buzzwords that may confuse the employer or cause him or her to misunderstand how you are presenting yourself. Consult a career professional/coach/consultant to “de-militarize” your resume.

3. Develop an online social media profile. Set up a Twitter or LinkedIn account for professional networking and inform your “warm” level of contacts that you are looking for employment or changing careers.

4. Stay away from a military resume format. Military resumes can be long and confusing because the material and/or content doesn’t relate to the job position or to the employer’s needs. The traditional military resume is already obsolete.

5. Make the transition from military to civilian employment by understanding how your talents, skills, and abilities relate to a targeted business or industry. Above all, know what you offer (value) to a potential employer. If you cannot answer, ask former superiors, get a copy of your most recent (and hopefully glowing) performance evaluation.

6. Create a civilian resume and cover letter that will show a potential employer that you are a good fit. Avoid ranks and titles. Choose language and terminology specific to a chosen industry and profession. Your cover letter should show your”non-military side and distinguish yourself as a talented candidate. Create a value proposition letter, which includes three accomplishments and does not exceed 300 words.

7. Decide on an appropriate resume format. Chronological (dates-based) is still the most preferred format, according to employers. Functional resumes are skills-based and highlight capabilities in professional categories. Create at least TWO versions of your resume: plain text (bare bones) to e-mail employers and accomplishments based. For those who are bolder and follow trends, develop a “social media” resume. This is still in evolution on the Internet. Make sure every version of your resume has a link to your social networks: Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook (remember, professional!).

8. Create your “two minute pitch” to prepare for interviews. CBS News published a five minute video from Forbes magazine contributor Carmine Gallo. Watch it! You need to sell your product (YOU) to your potential customer (the employer).

9. Attend interview seminars either at your base or in your home community. The rules of interviewing have changed dramatically in recent years. It’s in your best interest to learn the latest techniques and trends.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Melissa C. Martin

Melissa C. Martin is a bilingual career coach who specializes in dealing with the unemployed, military members, and aspiring entrepreneurs.


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  2. Do you know of any professionals that don’t charge an outrageous fee for helping develop a civilian resume?
    I have sent evaluations, current resume, awards and military job descriptions to a few places that claim to help veterans/transitioning military just to be quoted a price ranging from $350 to $600.
    I am transitioning and don’t have a job lined up yet with a family to support. I can’t afford to spend that kind of money.

    • Patrick,

      If you are in the Air Force, I know that they have professionals within the Airman and Family Readiness Centers (AFRC) at each base that helps take out the military lingo. I’m not sure which branch you are from, but calling one of those AFRC locations might be able to point you in the right direction.

      Hopefully that helps!

  3. Thanks for the insightful article! This will help me a lot when I make the transition out of the military, so that previous job titles I’ve had like “Flight Commander, Materiel Management” will actually make sense to someone in civilian business.

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