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Make a military resume civilian-friendly

Being an expert marksman is a great skill, but unless you are applying for a job as a firearms instructor, police officer or sniper, most employers won’t care how well you can shoot. In fact, when it comes to hiring the right person for the job, employers really don’t care about any skills except for the ones that match their needs.

Veterans and spouses who have worked in military offices have great skills that can be easily buried in a resume under military jargon or language that too narrowly focuses on their military affiliation. Applying for a job in the civilian world means translating a lot of that information to show you are a valuable asset, both in the military, and out.

Don’t let your resume language be a shot in the dark. Here are five ways to make sure your military resume is on target for the civilian world.

1. Get rid of military jargon

Like most industries, the military has its own language — one that becomes second nature and certainly adds to your credibility among fellow service members. But when it’s time to leave the military, leave the jargon, too. The most overused military language is actually the least understood by civilians.

“Don’t use titles like NCOIC, names of training schools or unit designations like squadron or wing,” said Robert Nesbitt, career focus manager at Travis Air Force Base.

That terminology probably refers to the most valuable skills you have to offer, so effective translation is a must.

“Instead, use words like supervisor, advanced leadership training, and the number of people or aircraft,” Nesbitt said.

2. Translate military terminology into plain English

Neither service members nor spouses have to figure out the right resume language on their own. There are plenty of online resources to help.

“One of the easiest ways to figure out the lingo is to use military translators,” said Karin Durkee, social media director at Corporate Gray Onlineand a 22-year Air Force spouse.

“If you are staying in the same career field, use the Military Crosswalk Searchto translate codes or titles from the Military Occupational Classification. Or, use the Military to Federal Job Crosswalkto find federal jobs related to your military occupation,” she said.

Many spouses work right alongside military personnel doing similar jobs, so this approach can work for them, too, whether the experience is paid or volunteer.

Career-changing veterans and spouses can search by keywords at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbookto confirm the relevance of their word choices.

3. Study online profiles

Company websites and social media sites such as LinkedIn and BranchOuthave a wealth of clues for job hunters who are preparing their resumes.

“Look at online professional bios of people at the companies where you want to work or in jobs you want and borrow from the language that describes your skills,” said Susan Feland, founder and president of Academy Women

“You can also find skills language on bios of conference and symposium presenters,” she said.

4. Conduct informational interviews

Talking with civilian professionals can help you become more knowledgeable about career fields and more comfortable talking about them.

“Civilian people who are already in your career field can offer insight into the skills and requirements needed on your resume, and they will respond to your questions in civilian language,” Durkee said.

Feland suggests then using those contacts to proofread your resume.

“You can also leverage those contacts by asking them to review your resume and provide advice about whether it is ‘civilianized’ enough and in what ways you can improve it,” she said.

5. Use military resources before you transition

In response to President Obama’s August 2011 call to ensure all service members are “career ready” when they leave the military, the 20-year-old Transition Assistance Program has been redesigned. Now known as Transition GPS, the new program helps separating service members transition into the civilian workforce, start a business or pursue training or education. Career experts advise service members to take full advantage of it.

“There are so many ways we can help service members prepare and plan for transition. For example, most of them haven’t written a resume in years, if at all, because they don’t need one in the military,” Nesbitt said. “But a large part of the transition into civilian life is learning the language. They need to be able to demonstrate that their skills match employer needs outside of this arena.” 

Nesbitt’s office, and others like it at bases around the world, is there to help service members make the transition.

“We can help them translate their military skills and terminology into language that civilian employers will understand and value,” he said. 

There is no doubt that civilian employers want the workplace skills that service members bring to the table. So, use these five techniques to tell them what they want to hear in language that’s right on target.

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