From active duty to civilian life: Translating your experience

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re among the 18.2 million veterans in the United States. If that is the case, there’s also a chance that you’re one of the thousands of veterans who are having difficulty finding employment after their service.

But how could this be? You’ve spent years serving our country, accumulating unique experience and cultivating values that should be priceless to any employer. Where’s the disconnect? What’s keeping you from getting swarmed by potential employers with job offers?

The answer could be your resume.

This guide will tell you: 

  • How to present your experience so employers can fully grasp your qualifications
  • How to tailor your resume to various employers and job postings 
  • Where to send your resume to start getting responses
Presenting your experience 

One of the biggest issues veterans have with job hunting is articulating the skills they developed during their service. Veteran resumes often feature acronyms, jargon and other military terminology unfamiliar to the employer. If you’re starting from scratch or working with a blank resume template, it’s best to try to get your information down before refining it.

In an interview with, former Army Transition Manager Clif Cooper put it best. “It’d be like me applying for a job in the Hague and trying to write it in Dutch,” he said. “I would write it in English and then translate it to Dutch.”

A summary of service-related skills or experiences might make perfect sense to you. However, to someone who’s never set foot on a military base in their life, those terms could mean anything. It’s best to have someone in a relevant career field take a look at your resume to see what’s working and what isn’t.

This process is extremely important as it could mean the difference between landing an interview or not. Recruiters receive dozens of applications in a day. If your resume is full of terms that potential employers are unfamiliar with, they’re likely to count you out instead of taking the time to go research your unique qualifications. Consequently, it’s best to translate your title into civilian terms even if you feel it doesn’t entirely do it justice.

For example, if you were a Technical Staff Sergeant in the Air Force, it might be better to put on your resume that you were an Operations Director. Small tweaks to verbiage like this will help you get your foot in the door. Once you schedule that interview, you can elaborate on your experience so that the recruiter understands the true scope of your responsibilities.

An excellent tool for this translation is O*Net’s Military Crosswalk Search. Simply indicate your branch and title, and the crosswalk search will supply you with a variety of “civilianized” terms. 

Tailoring your resume

Another integral aspect of job searching is the tailoring of your resume to the job description.  
Throughout your time in the military, you likely had a plethora of diverse responsibilities. While it may be tempting to squeeze as much of that experience into your resume as possible, it’s best to be concise, optimizing your resume to include experiences most relevant to the position for which you’re applying.  
This is imperative to the process of resume building because it allows the recruiter to quickly visualize how you’ll impact their company. Instead of requiring the recruiter to sift through a broad synopsis of experience, highlight the relevant aspects of your resume to stand out as a candidate.  

Many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATSs) to maintain the vast number of applications that are submitted for any given job. These systems rank applications based on keywords; the more relevant keywords your application has, the higher it will appear in the ATS. Tailoring your resume to include words and phrases that are prominent in the job description is the best way to be front and center to recruiters. 

Though your military testimony is impressive from start to finish, highlighting only relevant skills and experience tells your potential employer exactly what they want to hear about you.

Distributing your resume

Some companies are more likely to hire veterans than others. Visit our Job Listings page for a collection of over 100 listings from companies that have pledged to hire men and women who have served in the military.
Hiring America supplies site visitors with a wide variety of careers in a myriad of industries. The team is committed to periodically updating the job database to make sure you’re getting the most up-to-date information when it comes to your future career.