7 Rules Veterans Should Follow to ‘Civilianize’ Their Resume

to civilianize or not to civilianize?

"Wondering what's your take on how much should a transitioning veteran civilianize a resume? I have heard different opinions ranging from zero military terminologies to highlighting previous positions and military roles. Thank you upfront for your help and expert advice." 

When I got this question from one of our Veteran Employment Project members, I intended to write a quick reply. Then I realized there is no quick reply to this question, because each veteran has a unique job history and unique job goals -- no matter where they are in their career. 

Consequently, the rules of "civilianization" for a resume change for each individual. So I put together these seven rules that every vet should know:

Rule No. 1: It's Not You. It's a Civilian Resume.

Remember that we as a nation are truly, sincerely and utterly grateful for your military service. We need your work skills in the civilian world now more than ever. That said, we need to civilianize your work skills, not you. We like you just the way you are.

Rule No. 2: Your Resume Is a Civilian Checklist.

You are an honest and accurate person, so you wrote your original resume using the same terms and job titles your boss used on your evaluations. While I praise your authenticity, this practice misses the point of the civilian resume. 

A resume is not a military biography but rather a civilian checklist. The applicant tracking system, recruiter and/or hiring manager should compare your resume to a particular job listing and see exactly how your skills match up with the ones required for that job. Go ahead and use the civilian words from the job description to describe military activities that are essentially the same things. 

Rule No. 3: You Can Pair Military Job Titles with Civilian Job Titles.

Outside your branch of service (and parts of the defense industry or federal government), very few people understand your military job titles, which is fairly normal in the civilian world. No one out here understands every job title at every company in every industry. It is totally legit to list your military job title with the job title the civilian hiring manager would understand. 

For example, you could list your job titles this way: 

Surface mine warfare requirements officer (program manager) 

Or program manager, surface mine warfare requirements officer.

Rule No. 4: If You Are Walking Through a Military Door, Spend Your Juice on Your Skill Set.

As a young or mid-level transitioning veteran, you are more likely to be hired by a company with what I call a "military door." For a civilian company, a military door is a veteran hiring goal or veteran hiring program set up to take the place of your civilian network. These programs work great for you -- with those companies not affiliated with the defense industry and those who are.

Make sure you list the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force or Space Force as your employer. Translate your job titles as much as possible, especially including the number of your direct reports (not the size of your unit). 

Spend most of your juice on the top third of your resume where you have the bulleted list of your job skills and your security clearance. These are the things most likely to resonate with the recruiters and get them to bring you in for an interview.

Check out our new FREE master class: Security Clearance Jobs for Veterans.

Rule No. 5: If You Are Going to a Defense Contractor, They Want Less Civilianization.

One of the complaints I hear from recruiters who work in the defense industry is that veterans civilianize their experience so much that they can hardly tell the person was in the military at all. To fulfill the terms of a defense contract, the company needs to be able to prove that the person they are proposing to work on the contract has an exact amount of experience in a particular role, or with a particular program or system. Ditto here for federal jobs within the Defense Department.

If the job listing includes a lot of military terms, that is your hint that you should have a very military resume.

Rule No. 6: The More Senior You Are, the More Your Network Is Looking for Your Job Titles.

If you are retiring from the military -- especially if you are retiring from command or a position of significant responsibility and going into defense -- the more likely it is that you are being interviewed based on your reputation. 

In this case, your resume is a different kind of checklist. It is a demonstration of an increasing level of responsibility and a reminder of your type of expertise. 

Rule No. 7: The Further You Are from a Military Door, the Less Your Resume Should Read "Military."

In some areas of the country and in some industries, your military experience will be less relevant. Consequently, you will try to eliminate as much jargon as possible. Have a working civilian friend or a transition professional like me do a line-by-line reading of your resume to clean up the language.

The thing is, you still have to be careful. If you take out too much detail, it takes away the power of your resume. Instead of acting like a checklist, this resume turns into a lot of vague mumbo jumbo that does not correspond to any job in the world. 

The civilian world does want you. They are actively looking for you. Civilianize your resume for each job so that the hiring manager sees how you are the right fit for them.

Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.

Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project

To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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