Translating Your Military Resume for a Corporate Audience
By Mary Ryan, Associate Director of Career and Leadership Services for Working Professionals at MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School's online MBA program
As veterans make up 29 percent of MBA@UNC's student population, I work with many students on translating their military resume so it makes sense to a civilian audience. Many of these students, who have incredible experience, worry that nobody will understand or value the work they've done because it's very specific to the military.
The good news is that when you get right down to it, most people don't really understand other people's jobs. Think about the last time you tried explaining what your spouse, best friends, or siblings do at their jobs. Unless they happen to work in a very similar role at a very similar company, your description likely sounds vague, "She works in IT as the project manager … leading a team … that does computer stuff." Hiring managers and recruiters are people, too. They don't know the intricacies of every position — military or otherwise.
With this in mind, the goal of a resume is to give an easy-to-understand overview of your relevant experience and show that you were awesome at your job. You want the reader to leave a resume thinking, "This person has interesting experience that they clearly rocked out. I bet they would bring a great deal of value to this role."
How do you do this? There are four things to keep in mind.
Add a Summary Section
Make it easy for the reviewer to get a quick idea of your experience and the type of roles you're targeting by adding a summary section. Here are two examples from MBA@UNC military students who have given me permission to share their resume summaries.
EXECUTIVE LEADER –PROGRAM MANAGER
"A decorated military leader seeking to translate over 20 years of experience in team-building, organizational leadership, and program management into an opportunity to think big, solve complex problems, and create a competitive advantage for an organization that values innovation, hard work, and tenacity. Consistent top-ranked performer with a solid track record of mission accomplishment leading elite organizations ranging from 5 to 500 individuals. Proven program manager and change agent experienced at managing complex programs, budgets in excess of $2.5M, and asset accounts worth more than $100M. Self-motivated and agile - adept at transitioning to new roles and rapidly delivering exceptional results."
What I like about this summary: The bolded keywords at the top, "Executive Leader – Program Manager," shape the way you view the rest of his resume. He also uses specific statistics to support that he was effective during his more than 20 years in the military.
"Highly motivated transitioning Naval Flight Officer with 9+ years of experience in operational mission planning and execution, budget control and forecasting, manpower control, and project management. Seeking to couple past experience with MBA coursework and transition into financial analytics in a corporate setting. Results oriented leader with critical time management skills necessary to operate effectively under pressure."
What I like about this summary: He incorporates many finance keywords to highlight his relevant background, despite the fact that his military experience was not explicitly in finance. He also makes it very clear that he is seeking a finance role; there's no guesswork in what he's targeting with this resume. Use Words from Job Postings to Highlight Your Experience Tailor the words you use and the experience you highlight to the jobs you're targeting. One way to do this is by using a word cloud generator to compare the words that are used in your resume to the words used in the postings for the jobs you're interested in.
Step 1: Find a few job postings for roles that seem interesting to you. Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Linkedin.com are great places to start.
Step 2: Copy and paste the job descriptions and requirements into a word cloud generator like wordle.net and pay attention to the largest words, those are the ones used most frequently in the job postings.
Step 3: Copy and paste your resume into the word cloud generator and compare the words most frequently used here to those from the jobs you find interesting.
Step 4: Edit your resume as needed to highlight your most relevant experience using words similar to those used in the job postings.
Quantify your bullets and show "awesome-factor." This is the single most important thing you can do, so put a big gold star next to this one, and focus your efforts here if you do nothing else.
Every bullet on your resume should show that you added value in your role, not your job description. I like to describe this task in the following way: Let's pretend there's you, and there's someone else at your company with the exact same role. Your peer is absolutely terrible at their job. Could that person, without lying, put your same bullet on their resume? If the answer is "yes" then that bullet isn't doing you any favors because it isn't showing your reader that you added value in your role.
Even if your reader doesn't understand what you did in your job, if they can easily tell that you were great at it, they're going to find it much easier to extrapolate that you'd be good in other types of roles. The easiest way to do this is to add numbers and impact to your bullets to answer the question "So what?"
Example #1 – Adding Results:
- Without results: Led cross-functional global product team and generated new business.
- With results: Led cross-functional global product team to launch new product in 10 countries; delivered new business of $150,000, 20 percent above plan projections.
Example #2 – Adding Results
- Without results: Created a training program to improve office processes.
- With results: Decreased the total amount of expense report processing by 60 percent through the development of a mandatory training program for all employees.
Remove Military Jargon
Replace military jargon with general, descriptive language.
Step 1: Remove all acronyms from your resume.
Step 2: Assume that civilians don't know the order of military ranks — so if you are a lieutenant and you did work for a captain use descriptive language to explain why this is a big deal.
Step 3: Have someone non-military look at your military experience and flag things that don't make sense.
The majority of hiring managers are looking for employees who are team players, problem-solvers, and leaders. The military folks I've worked with all have these characteristics and more (grace under fire, resourcefulness, etc.) — as long as you make your reader's job easy by showingthem your relevant and impactful experience in language they can understand, they will want to talk to you.
Mary Ryan is associate director of career and leadership services for working professionals at MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School's online MBA program. She helps MBA students answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Prior to joining UNC, Ryan worked as a high school career counselor, call center supervisor, and crisis hotline volunteer. She loves playing with her pit bull puppy and traveling.
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