Finding the Write Words

You served honorably in the U.S. military Above All, Army Strong, as a Global Force for Good or as One of the Few and Proud.

Now it’s time to serve yourself up a new job. With that, comes the inevitable challenge of translating your military experiences into the English language. Why? So that others not as versed in the art of military-speak might actually have a clue about what you can bring to the proverbial table.

Who Is Your Target Reader?

Before launching a massive search and replace mission on your resume, however, consider whether or not it requires any translations in the first place. The answer to this will depend on who exactly will be reading it.

If by some gross misperception you believe your resume is about you, therefore written for you then go back to square one. Do not pass go or collect $200. It would appear as though somebody here slept through their transition assistance program resume writing class. I’m just saying. Always remember that your resume only happens to be about you. It is not written for you but for a potential employer.

If the reader of your resume is a true blue civilian employer having zero knowledge of any and all things military, then you can bet that your resume needs to be clearly and perhaps extensively translated from the military to civilian language. You can’t expect someone who has never lived the life to understand the language of it.

Finally, if the reader works within the defense industry as either a federal or contracted individual, you may have it slightly easier but don’t assume you are wholly exempt from translating your skills. Those who share your world whether they wear a uniform or not, may have a better understanding of it. And then again, depending upon their exact place within it, they may not.

What is Your Target Industry?

In addition to knowing who will be reading your resume, it’s equally important to identify the specific career field within a given industry that you are targeting as well. Some career fields in the military are quite similar to those outside of it and would not require a detailed level of technical translation while others may require more creativity.

For example, let’s say you were a satellite communications systems operator/maintainer in the military and now you want to find a similar civilian job.

In the military, you probably did some of these things:

  • Ensured communication lines were always up and running.
  • Installed, operated, maintained and repaired strategic and tactical multi-channel satellite communications.
  • Performed quality control tests on circuits, trunk groups, systems and ancillary equipment.

As a civilian working in a similar job, according to the O*Net Online Military Occupational Classification Crosswalk for satellite communication systems operators, you would probably do some of these things:

  • Install repair equipment in various settings (i.e. industrial or military)
  • Test fault equipment to diagnose malfunctions, using test equipment and software.
  • Examine work orders and converse with operators to detect equipment problems.

See a similarity? The basic job description, in or out of uniform, is the same. The difference will come into play when you have to describe military specific systems or accomplishments. Those can be easily translated for understanding.

To be fair, some career fields within the military will be more challenging to connect to a civilian counterpart than others.

For example, let’s say you worked in explosive ordnance disposal in the military and you want to switch career fields in your life after the military. Instead of putting emphasis on your resume on the defusing aspect of your expertise, you will want to focus on the leadership and risk-taking skills that you have to offer a company, assuming those are characteristics they seek.

The bottom line is that you have valuable, marketable skills that you want a potential employer to be able to clearly understand. To achieve that, you have to consider the employer’s perspective and not shortchange your chances for an interview in the process.

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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.