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CV Tips: 6 Steps to Translate your Military Skills for a Civilian Employer

Category: Tips and Advice

CV Tips: 6 Steps to Translate your Military Skills for a Civilian Employer Armed Forces professionals are known for their strong work ethic, commitment to excellence, attention to detail, and ability to succeed in a challenging environment, as well as a vast range of transferrable skills and valuable experience. But what do employers really want to hear? How can you structure your CV to show just how amazingly employable you are?

Preparing your CV is a task you should take as seriously as looking for vacancies. Whilst your CV will not get you a job it can open the door to an interview.

So, what makes a good CV? Is there anything you should pay particular attention to as an ex-military job seeker?

1. Link your military experience to the job description

Your CV should be targeted to the position you are applying for, and should only include information relevant to that role. For example, there is no value in telling the employer that you can Field Strip a gun unless you can also state what skills you have demonstrated in doing so that apply directly to the job description.

Military words (fitter section, Capt, ES, operational tour etc.) will cloud the reader’s view of the strong points your CV should be emphasising. The expression “They should know what that means” will do you no favours. Jaguar Land Rover

2. Identify your transferrable skills

‘Transferable skills’ are often talked about and no doubt you have loads to offer. You want your CV to demonstrate that the skills picked up during your military career can help you make a smooth transition into civilian life. Some useful soft skills to include in your CV are:
  • Strong managerial skills and ability
  • Proven team leader
  • Exceptional ability to delegate, motivate and communicate
  • Problem solving
  • Great organisational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Work well under pressure
  • Strong work ethic
  • Ability to meet objectives set by a client
  • Cross-functional skillsets
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Dedication to getting the job done

3. Translate your job title and other jargon

Many civilian employers are not familiar with military terms or with what your military job title means. Avoid military jargon and language and show how the training and experience you gained in the military is relevant to the vacancy you are applying for.
Unless you are targeting positions with the government, if you work in administration, administrative titles will be appropriate. If your position has a military focus (e.g. Logistics Specialist), you want to concentrate on the functional aspects of the title — specialist, manager, coordinator, etc. Consider the following examples:

  • Field Artillery Battalion Operations Officer can be Operations Manager or Operations Supervisor
  • Accounting Officer can be Financial Manager or Financial Supervisor
  • Propulsion Officer can be Systems Manager (Propulsion)
  •  Intelligence Officer can be Research and Analysis Manager
  • Air Traffic Controller can remain if the candidate is looking to move into civilian air-traffic control. If not, seek a functional title
  • Sergeant can be Team Leader

As well as your job title, you should also look at how you could translate other military terms. For example:

  • Soldiers and sailors become "staff" or "employees"
  • Weapons become "mechanical (or electronic) equipment"
  • Tanks become "heavy equipment"
  • Radar and sonar become "sophisticated electronic communications systems"
  • Fighter-jet maintenance becomes "maintenance of cutting-edge engines / mechanics / electronics systems"
  • Hangars, weapons dumps, etc. become "facilities"
  • Uniforms, weapons, ammunition become "supplies"

“Why is abbreviation such a long word? Please consider that most civilian recruiters probably won’t have a military background and as such the use of military specific acronyms within your CV may not make much sense. For example, if you were “Commander AFV MBT” it may be worth explaining what that actually means”. AA

4. Think about achievements and training

If you have a medal or commendation, you need to communicate what that was for — exemplary performance, leadership, initiative, good judgment, for example — and focus on that rather than the medal or ribbon itself. Often, developing accomplishments that do not specifically name the ribbon or award can be a great strategy.
Of course, the training you’ve received is also vital to job hunting in the civilian world. Military schools and training courses tend to have complicated names. Use functional equivalents for the courses and training. This will emphasise what you have learned rather than the school name or place.

5. Remove irrelevant information

Any information that does not relate to your goal should be eliminated or de-emphasised, and this includes any unrelated military awards, training and distinctions. For example, that medal you won for rifle marksmanship doesn't belong on a civilian CV. This is often the hardest step for ex-military personnel, which is why it is so common to see military CVs spanning five pages or more. As you decide which information to include, ask yourself, "Will a potential employer care about this experience?" Only include information that will help you land an interview.

6. Quantify your accomplishments

Describe what you accomplished with numbers and percentages. Explain how many times annually, what percentage of increase or decrease you produced, how large a group you supervised or trained or the actual value of equipment under your guidance. Here are some examples:
  • Supervised 14 member staff
  • Produced 150% over quota for eight consecutive months
  • Resulted in £250,000 savings
  • Administered travel budget of £15 million
  • Reduced inventory loss by 20%
  • Developed training program for a 600 person organisation

“It’s tempting to write down what you have been ‘responsible’ for during your service life, whereas in reality people are more interested in tangible results. This is particularly important when you’re about to leave the military, because civvies will sometimes not understand the magnitude of your fantastic achievements unless you spell them out clearly”. BAE Systems

CV Check List

  • Avoid this being simply a summary of your career in the forces.
  • Define your civilian job objective.
  • Create a CV that speaks to the employer's needs and matches the job requirements.
  • Express your skills in cutting-edge lingo. Make sure you translate your MOs into civilian skills.
  • Remember to emphasise the facts relevant to the position for which you are applying.
  • Describe what you accomplished with numbers and percentages.
  • Translate military terminology into civilian terms and equivalents.
  • Change military titles to civilian equivalents (i.e., functional titles).
  • Avoid references to weapons, combat, and other military-related content that will distract from your job target.
  • Avoid acronyms and abbreviations. Write out the terms and, when necessary, explain them.
  • If you have a medal or commendation, you need to communicate what that was for.
  • Use functional equivalents for the courses and training.
  • Show your CV to a friend who has no military background and test drive it on them.