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Military to Civilian Resume: Tips to Show Off Your Skills

The military equips its personnel to handle a variety of situations. It’s not uncommon to see a junior military member managing millions of dollars worth of equipment or making life-and-death decisions. In many ways, military members handle decisions and responsibilities of a far greater magnitude than their peers in the corporate world. But how do…
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The military equips its personnel to handle a variety of situations. It’s not uncommon to see a junior military member managing millions of dollars worth of equipment or making life-and-death decisions. In many ways, military members handle decisions and responsibilities of a far greater magnitude than their peers in the corporate world. But how do you get that across in a resume?

Translation is Key

As a service member, you possess a unique capacity that can set you apart. In order to highlight these wholly unique skill sets, you need to understand a few basic points. First, civilians rarely understand the scope a military career field covers. It is your job to inform them. Second, you need to translate those military responsibilities into civilian-friendly summaries. Limit your acronyms employers rarely understand them.

Here’s an example of an infantryman’s experience:

It’s a late night on the dark streets of Sadr City, Iraq. Visibility is low due to heavy cloud cover. And for some odd reason, your GPS went black. But you manage to hit your final checkpoint utilizing a map and compass. Directing your section out the rear hatch of an LAV assuring a solid head count you stack against the pockmarked remnants of a cinder block wall. Assuring the biometric iris scanner is good-to-go, you make liaison with air support, lock and load a trusty M-16A4 and signal the flash-bang man to make ready. As a staff sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, you’re moments away from leading a dozen young men into hostile territory an apartment complex abutting the Tigris River.

The U.S. Military labels such individuals as infantrymen. But the breadth in which they operate demonstrates skills way beyond a simple one-word expression. Therein lies the rub how can a service member equate their military service into civilian terms? Whether writing a military-to-civilian resume or introducing yourself in the professional realm, the ability to convert the vast array of skills gleaned from military service is essential.

Types of Resumes

The three general types of resumes include chronological, functional and combination.

  • As the word denotes, a chronological resume focuses on listing work experience in reverse order (most recent job first). This is perfect for service members who’ve consistently been employed, military or otherwise. It’s important to account for lapses in employment, as companies look for consistency.
  • A functional resume highlights an individual’s skills and experience first and foremost. So-called “skills translators” are great tools to utilize when writing a functional resume. They will translate military skills into civilian terms. has an excellent skills translator, and offers an excellent free MOS decoder. For example, rather than simply denoting yourself as an infantryman, the skills translator suggests you “operated weapons and equipment in ground combat operations.”
  • Finally, combination resumes are just that a combination of both chronological and functional resumes.

Numerous examples of the all three types of resumes can be found online here:

When writing your resume, be sure to include all specialized training you received while serving. This can include your MOS training, NCO or officer training and computer or technical skills.

Attention to Detail The Military Way

All the effort you’ve spent polishing your presentation won’t matter much if you don’t keep in mind the basics. We’re talking proofreading. Nobody likes misspelled words. They convey a sense of incompetence and a lack of attention to detail.

And don’t forget your contact information. A proper resume includes your name, address, apartment number, city, state, ZIP code, phone number (including area code) and email address. If possible, use your first and last name in your professional email address.

Putting it All Together Further Resources

Transitioning to a new career can be a time-consuming task. It is a good idea to treat your job search as a full-time job and dedicate as much time and resources to it as you can. Remember, you now hold the keys to your future in your hands.

Combine these tips with your decoded military experience and your military bearing, and you should be in a good position to enter the civilian workforce.

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About Chris Mandia

Chris Mandia is a Southern California writer who writes on military issues. Serving two tours in Iraq as a Marine machine-gunner, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2007 and studied at the University of Southern California's graduate film program. You can find out more about him at

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