This One Is For The Troops: Translating Your Military Experience Into Civilian Terms On Your Resume

Happy Memorial Day! I hope that you were all able to have a wonderful and relaxing day and that you remembered that it was made possible by all the soldiers who, since the Revolutionary War, have been making sure that the U.S. is a safe and free country where we can live our lives in peace. I am very grateful to all the members of the U.S. Armed Services and, over the years, I have also had the opportunity to help many former soldiers to create resumes for use in the civilian world.

So, today, in honor of our soldiers I thought I would list a few tips for describing military service in terms that make sense to civilian employers.

1. Explain the military acronyms on your resume.

Instead of assuming that a civilian will know what FOB, PB, or JRTC means write out the entire word and follow it with the acronym in parentheses. Forward Operating Base (FOB), Patrol Base (PB), Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC).

2. Where possible explain your military duties in simple terms that make sense to civilians.

If in doubt, describe what you did to your grandmother; if she can’t understand what you are saying you need to go back to the drawing board and simplify.

3. Be specific about results; don’t just list your duties.

All resumes (military or non-military) should describe the scope of your jobs and should emphasize your accomplishments. Every job is about delivering results in one form or another but the trick is to try to describe your military results in terms that are applicable in the civilian world.

For example:

Accountable for the readiness of four highly sophisticated Bradley fighting vehicles, associated weapons systems, and experimental equipment.


Responsible for the training, discipline, health, and morale of a 36 member Brigade Combat Team


The above bullets describe a few basic duties but they have little to do with most civilian jobs. So you need think about what kind of skills might be important in the civilian world while also demonstrating that you were good at your job in the military. Everyone wants to hire superstars. If you were to expand on those bullets you could write the following which demonstrates you held a responsible job (managed a staff and expensive equipment/budget), that you have knowledge of strategy and logistics, and the ability to remain calm under pressure:

Led a 36 member Brigade Combat Team with full responsibility for the training, discipline, and morale of a team responsible for staying prepared to deploy on global missions in a wartime environment. Responsible for combat readiness for 4 Bradley fighting vehicles, weapons systems, and experimental equipment valued at more than $8 million.

Developed and led one of the most effective platoons in the Brigade as defined by senior officers observing combat training exercises at the Joint Readiness Training (JRTC) in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

  • Led a 36 member mechanized infantry platoon which supported the 101st Airborne Unit during combat simulation exercises at the JRTC.
  • Led team through an assault training mission which required team to travel long distances on foot and in combat vehicles and required numerous real-time modifications to strategy and formation.
  • Methodically analyzed, communicated, and accounted for multiple variables affecting mission logistics including terrain, unique skills of individual team members, weather, and enemy capabilities.

Another example:

Planned major training exercises, force modernization and transformation, and integration of a Chemical Battalion, a pipeline company, and fire fighting detachments into the Brigade’s organization.

What we don’t know is what is a “major training exercise”? In other words how many soldiers are involved. What does “transformation” mean? How many people were integrated from the other battalions?

Led, planned, and executed operations for the 1,200 member Engineer Brigade. Planned training exercises, led force modernization, and merged other units into the Brigade. Merged and integrated 150 soldiers in the following units into the Brigade: a chemical battalion, a pipeline company, and a fire fighting detachment.

By enhancing the description you can demonstrate that you have managed a large number of people and that you understand how to merge and integrate other divisions into an existing team. Integrating and training new employees is a skill that all managers need.

4. Describe the reason(s) you received medals, awards, promotions, or special assignments.

Most civilians have no idea what the criteria is to be awarded a Bronze Star, Silver Star, or to be selected as an aid to a General. They all sound impressive but I have found that sometimes the underlying reason for a special award or assignment is what helps demonstrate your unique skills or attributes.

5. Use words like logistics, procurement, supply chain, and distribution to describe obtaining and moving equipment and supplies.

At times I have seen military resumes that say “planned and executed the relocation of equipment during a deployment”. I don’t think that really does justice to the amount of work involved with transporting large numbers of soldiers, equipment, food, and fuel either overseas to across domestic bases.

This is an example of an effective description:

Managed procurement, supply chain, distribution, and utilization of more than $20 million in building materials to support general construction and force protection in Iraq.

The military offers incredible training and experience that is very relevant to many jobs in the private sector. The key is to learn how to translate your military experience into meaningful phrases that those of us non-military folks can understand and that will help you to land a fantastic job.

Original post: Liz Handlin