From Combat to the Private Sector: 4 Resume Tips

Service member writing in a document.

After leaving the military, many servicemen and women must find their first private-industry job or consider using their combat experience to advance their previous careers. One of the most difficult challenges in making this transition is translating military experience into marketable private-industry skills on your resume.

Military experience can be simplified by the following four straightforward principles:

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1. Skip the Acronyms

Acronyms exist in every career path -- doctors, computer scientists and military generals all use them to simplify communication with colleagues. However when switching fields, you need to bear in mind that acronyms are not universally understood. Even within the services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard -- the same acronym can mean different things. Try to avoid acronyms, or, if absolutely necessary, be sure to spell them out the first reference.

How It Would Look on a Resume: I arranged housing for new families on the base and assisted with soldiers making a Permanent Change of Station (PCS).

2. Focus on Verbs, Not Nouns

Military jobs tend to be very specific, leading many military applicants to focus too much on nouns. Private industry resumes focus more on verbs. For example, if you were a helicopter mechanic, you do not need to list every type of helicopter you repaired. Instead, you should find strong verbs that convey your transferable skills. For help translating your military skills to the civilian job market, check out's Skills Translator.

How It Would Look on a Resume: Diagnosed mechanical problems in aviation equipment. Installed, maintained, calibrated and repaired sensitive navigation devices.

3. Highlight Your Core Competencies

Core competencies are also known as soft skills and help form the big picture of your skill set. How do all your skills relate to each other in a way that advances your organization’s mission? Transporting materials, coordinating logistics and ensuring timeliness are all aspects of being results-driven and detail-oriented. Highlight the core competency by making it the headline of your job experience narrative. You can use capital letters.

How It Would Look on a Resume: PEOPLE SKILLS: Prepare and present oral and written briefings, reports analyses and recommendations to senior managers. Effectively communicate team strategies, goals, objectives, work plans, work products and services.

4. Campaigns and Operations = Projects

In private industry, people spend much of their time focused on projects. These projects may include a marketing initiative, new store opening or regular delivery of service to a customer. In the military, such projects are called campaigns or operations.

In a resume, campaigns and operations can be highlighted just like a private-industry project. When describing your service, don’t be afraid to mention the overreaching operations in which you participate. You can also include a special “Record of Accomplishments” section to illustrate your dedication and ability to contribute to a broader mission.

How It Would Look on a Resume: RECORD OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Operation Iraqi Freedom -- Supervised three personnel engaged in managing the scheduling of more than 13,000 passengers and 30,000 pounds of equipment for air transportation. Manifested, prioritized and scheduled all flights for personnel and equipment moves in and out of Baghdad.

The Takeaway?

Translating your military experience for private industry is challenging but not impossible. These four principles can help you overcome roadblocks. Remember that your contribution in the service was part of a much larger campaign and mission. If you can serve your nation, you can do anything. If you're truly struggling, also consider having a resume professionally written for you.

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