Main image of article How Veterans Can Translate Their Military Skills Into Civilian Language

Returning veterans possess many of the skills and qualities that private sector employers are looking for. But to transfer your technology experience to the civilian world, you’re going to have to do a bit of translation on your resume: If you pepper it with jargon, acronyms and references to tools and technologies specific to your service, you may not make it through the first pass. Garner the interest you deserve by highlighting your transferable skills and outcomes in a way that private sector employers can understand.

Understand Your Audience

An effective resume commands the reviewer’s attention and compels action by addressing their specific needs. Understand your audience by reading numerous job postings, taking note of the must-have requirements, desired soft skills and keywords. Once you’ve done that, craft task, responsibility and achievement bullets that address those needs, and resist the urge to mention specialized, purely military duties like weapons maintenance.


Many companies, especially larger ones, use software to select resumes based on keywords that match those of the job description. Improve your resume’s matching potential by using civilian language or generic terms to refer to military programs and tools. For example, use phrases like “structured programming languages,” “administrative applications,” “conferencing software” and “security programs.” Also, include popular terms to describe transferable skills. For instance, say “data collection and analysis” instead of “reconnaissance” and talk about “policies” instead of “regulations.” Remember that the official description of your previous roles probably won’t make sense to a civilian. So use generic titles. Say “technical specialist” instead of “warrant officer” or “E-6 TSgt,” for example. If you like, note your military rank and title in parentheses. Include a brief overview of your duties and responsibilities so employers can connect your experience to their job description. Instead of phrases like "officer in charge of,” start bullets with action verbs such as “managed” or “supervised.” Stellar outcomes need no translation. Detail what you accomplished and who benefited in each task, responsibility and experience bullet to catch the reviewer’s attention.

Paint a Complete Picture

Employers are looking for IT professionals with leadership, teamwork, collaboration and communication skills, not to mention the ability to handle stress, solve problems, multitask and manage projects. Don’t give your soft skills short shrift. Give them equal space. And be sure to highlight foreign languages and security clearances that many businesses desperately need.

Highlight Education and Awards

Since employers obviously want to hire top performers, mention any awards or commendations you’ve received; just be sure to include a brief description. Also, describe any professional development courses that will help you succeed in the private sector. Omit high school, but be sure to mention college classes and degrees and recently completed tech boot camps, seminars or online training courses. Finally, highlight affiliations with local meetup groups or open source projects and post coding samples on GitHub or SourceForge to demonstrate that you’ve already started the transition from military to civilian life, and that you’re ready for a new career in IT.

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