Going from military to civilian life can be tough — even without the added pressure of having to write a completely new resume. How much of your military experience can you discuss? How much of it is relevant? And how much of it are civilian hiring managers even going to understand?
In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and discuss:
- How to translate military job titles, accomplishments, and training to civilian-friendly alternatives
- A handy “military to civilian” dictionary with common military terms and their civilian equivalent
- How to highlight transferable skills on your resume
- How (and where) to showcase your military training and education
- Everything else you need to include on a civilian resume
Keep reading for actionable tips on how to write a military to civilian resume that appeals to potential employers outside the military.
Translating military experience into civilian language
The most important part of going from a military to civilian resume is to use plain language. Most people aren’t familiar with military jargon, and recruiters can’t consider what they don’t understand. The more you can translate your military experience into everyday terms, the more easily hiring managers can understand why it’s relevant — and the more likely you’ll get the job.
Here are some examples of common terms you might see on your current military resume — and what you should change them to on a civilian resume.
- Commanding officer -> Manager, leader, or supervisor
- Instructor -> Teacher, trainer, or facilitator
- Subordinates -> Staff or employees
- Combat experience -> Operations experience
- Programming -> Budgeting
- Deploy -> Move
- Joint -> Cooperative or interdepartmental
- Reconnaissance -> Data collection and analysis
- Mission -> Task, duty, or project
You should also use civilian-friendly job titles whenever possible, which will make it easier for hiring managers to understand and relate to your experience. For example:
- Battalion Commander -> Program Director or Program Supervisor
- Company Commander -> Project Manager
- Executive Officer -> Senior Staff Support Leader, Senior Activities Manager, or Senior Administrations Manager
- Platoon Leader -> Assistant Project Manager or Assistant Supervisor
- Squad Leader -> Team Leader
- Logistics Specialist -> Supply Chain Manager, Operations Manager, or Distribution Manager
- Personnel Officer -> Human Resources Manager
- Signal Officer -> Communications Manager
Highlighting transferable skills
If you’re having trouble fitting your military experience into a civilian equivalent — or if what you did in the military isn’t particularly relevant to the types of civilian jobs you’re seeking — you should focus on transferable skills instead.
Unlike specific technical skill sets, transferable skills aren’t job-dependent. Skills you picked up in the military like leadership, communication, and problem solving are incredibly valuable in civilian jobs. The best way to include these skills on a resume is in your Work Experience section — for each skill you want to highlight, think about a time when you demonstrated that skill and put it in a bullet point.
Here are some examples.
• Led a team of 15 personnel to successfully complete a complex mission, demonstrating strong leadership skills under pressure.
• Trained and mentored new recruits, resulting in a 100% retention rate and improved team performance.
• Managed communication between multiple departments and stakeholders to ensure the timely and successful completion of projects.
• Developed and delivered training programs on complex technical topics, effectively communicating complex information to diverse audiences.
• Developed and implemented solutions to complex logistical challenges, resulting in increased efficiency and cost savings.
• Created and executed emergency response plans, effectively mitigating risks and ensuring the safety of personnel and equipment.
To gauge the effectiveness of your military-to-civilian resume, upload your resume to the tool below — it will provide feedback on whether you've sufficiently highlighted relevant experience and transferable skills, enhancing your appeal to potential employers.
Showcasing military training and education
Think your military training is only applicable when it comes to military roles? Think again! Even specialized training can help you demonstrate valuable skills and knowledge to potential civilian employers.
Depending on the type of training involved, you could put this in a few different sections of your resume. For example, in your Work Experience section:
In your Education section:
The only catch is that, again, these might need a little translating. Instead of just listing your training, award, or job title, try describing it in civilian-friendly language — and it’s okay if this means you don’t include the exact name of the course itself.
For example, saying that you completed an Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System Specialist Course is a lot for a civilian recruiter to take in, but describing it as "Technical training in computer systems and software" is much easier to understand.
Here are some more examples:
- If you have: Basic combat training
- You should write: “Basic training in leadership and discipline.”
- If you have: Drill Instructor Ribbon
- You should write: “Trained 50+ new recruits in operations and resource management; supervised and evaluated personnel on a daily basis.”
- If you have: Officer Education System
- You should write: "Developed skills in decision-making, problem-solving, and conflict resolution."
Other considerations for a military to civilian resume
When writing your civilian resume, you may also want to:
- Write a resume summary to briefly explain the context of your military experience and how it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, including 1-3 key skills and experience. Remember that this (and your cover letter, if you’re including one) also needs to be written in plain language!
- Include a skills section at the end of your resume where you list 5-10 of your most relevant hard skills. For example, if you’re applying for a job in IT, you might want to list any software programs you’re familiar with or tech certifications you possess.
- Start your Work Experience bullet points with an action verb. Even if the hiring manager doesn’t fully understand your military past, action verbs help describe what you did in simple terms.
- Read our guide on How To Include Military Experience on a Resume for more tips and examples for your Work Experience section.
- Make use of free tools like Score My Resume, which can automatically scan your resume and help you translate it from military to civilian terms.