10 Ways to Civilianize Your Résumé
Is your résumé wearing too much camouflage? Learn 10 easy ways to make sure you are effectively communicating your military skills and education.
by Shane Christopher
Your military service is coming to a close and you want to find a great job in the civilian sector. You know one of the most important tools in your job search is your résumé. Creating a résumé that will be well received and understood by civilians can be tricky. Here are 10 ways to “civilianize” your résumé.
1. The “Seven Seconds Test”
How long should your résumé be? As a general rule, target one page for every 10 years of service, with a two-page maximum. Regardless of the length, here is the most important question: will it pass the “Seven Seconds Test?”
A civilian employer will go through hundreds of résumés to find a manageable number of qualified candidates. Your résumé must survive the culling process. Assume each résumé will get seven seconds of the reader’s attention. During those seven seconds the reader has to find the key information. If you must have more than one page, make sure all of the good stuff is on the first page! If this information grabs their attention, they might take a look at the second page.
2. Think Accomplishments
Companies hire people for their experience, their potential, or a combination of both. If your military specialty has a direct civilian equivalent and you want to continue in that occupation, then highlight that information on your résumé: operating or maintaining gas turbines does not need much translation. If you are not continuing in your current specialty you are then selling your “potential” more than your experience. In either case, how well you do a job is more important than your job description. Why? Because your accomplishments sell your potential, your experience sells your past.
Much of what you do in the military will make perfect sense to civilians, but there are some functions that have little or no civilian equivalent (e.g. ammunition handler). The significance of being assigned as your detachment’s Classified Material Systems (CMS) custodian will probably be lost on a potential civilian employer. You don’t need to eliminate these duties from your résumé. They are important positions with a significant amount of responsibility. You should translate the position into a language a civilian reader can understand. Therefore, CMS might read “selected by the Commanding Officer to be the controller of the detachment’s classified material.”
4. Punt the Acronyms and the Alphabet Soup
Where would the military be without acronyms and abbreviations? Every OP ORDER, MOVEREP, SITREP, and MUC would double in length without them. Unless you are certain that the acronym has common civilian usage, forget it! Spell it out or paraphrase it in civilian terms. However, one acronym you should not punt when writing a résumé is “K.I.S.S.” Loved by civilians and the military alike, “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is an excellent rule-of-thumb. Too much information will make your résumé overly long, time consuming and probably boring.
5. Save Your Ammunition
Although most of you will no longer have any use for that ammunition belt, you are not quite through with bullets yet. Think of the information appearing on your résumé as ammunition. There is a tendency to present this information in paragraph form, but this makes the good stuff harder to find. If we consider the importance of the seven seconds test, then we have a new use for those bullets. Concise phrasing of your duties and responsibilities in terms of specific accomplishments and itemizing them as bullets on your résumé will enhance the chances of the desired impact.
6. No Job-Hoppers Here
Most military personnel have multiple jobs and multiple duty stations during their contract, enlistment or career. The list gets even longer if schools and training are included. Listing every job on your résumé may make you look like a job hopper. Combine similar experiences without paying strict attention to the timeline. Perhaps the easiest way is to use an all-inclusive timeline statement at the beginning of your experience section. Show the reader that you may have had six different jobs in three different locations in the last six years, but they were all with the same employer! For example, the phrase “Machinist’s Mate, U.S. Navy (1998-2004)” is the first line in the “experience” section, followed by an outline of the actual assignments during that timeframe.
7. The “M” Word
Guess which word appears the most often on the typical military performance evaluation or fitness report? “Manage” and all of its forms: management, manager, manages, managing, managed. Not surprisingly, the same is true with résumés written by separating military personnel. It is a wonderful word, because it says so much. But for that same reason, it also says too little. What do you really mean when you use that word? Be careful – civilians do not use it with the same frequency or generality that you do.
When writing your résumé, force yourself to say what you really mean. Perhaps words like control, coordinate, lead or supervise would be more descriptive. If you have to use it, then use it with a modifier (financial management, logistics management or personnel management). In the corporate sector, you are technically not a manager unless you have both people working directly for you and profit and loss responsibility for your unit. It would be the rare individual who would be handed both of these on his or her first day on the job. Accordingly, use the “M” word as specifically and sparingly as possible.
8. Move Your Rank or Rating But Don’t Hide It
You are seeking a civilian job. It is time to start thinking and looking like a civilian. You may think of yourself as “MM3 Michael S. Ortiz, USN,” but do not open with that statement. On your résumé, you are now just plain Michael S. “Mike” Ortiz. Why? Many civilians have a negative stereotype regarding military personnel when it comes to formality and rank structure. Beginning your résumé with your rank or rating will just reinforce that perception. On the other hand, there is much about your military experience that works in your favor. Some military service members are under the impression that they should completely “sanitize” their résumés, and remove all things military. Going to this extreme is a mistake. There are hundreds of civilian employers that want to hire you because of that military experience.
9. Training and Education: Front and Center
One of the reasons so many civilian companies like to hire military personnel is the built-in training and education. Many service members have college degrees, and those that do not will often have a significant amount of technical or specialty training courtesy of Uncle Sam. Whether or not this training and education is directly relevant to the civilian sector, companies like to hire educated people, especially those who have done well in that environment. Accordingly, put this information on your résumé where they can easily find it. Remember the seven seconds test!
10. Make Yourself Easy to Find
Your résumé must include your contact information. Assuming the résumé does its job, a potential employer will contact you to obtain further information and set up an interview. When it comes to finding you, many military personnel are at a disadvantage. Where are you stationed? CONUS? Overseas? Deployed? On a ship? Under the ocean? Not allowed to say? Unless the answer is CONUS, you are probably at either a geographic or a time zone disadvantage. Howerver, unlike a civilian employer that may terminate employment if they know you were on a job search, the military assists service members in its transition to a new career. If you are permitted to do so, make sure your cell phone number, work phone number and e-mail address are on your résumé. If not, perhaps there is a reliable person with access to your personal phone number and/or e-mail account who can act as a relay for you.