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Relate Military Experience to the Business World

Doug Hardy

My brother Jim served in the U.S. Army for 17 years. Today, he works for the Department of Homeland Security, training first responders for emergencies. That sounds like a natural transition, but between those two jobs, Jim spent about a decade years in private business, where his boss couldn't tell AWACS from ASVAB. He had to learn to translate his military experience into the language that civilian employers could understand.

Start by focusing the language of your resume on accomplishments and personal qualities that are relevant both to business and to military service. Here are a few qualities that belong on your civilian resume, because your military experience can prove you have them:

Responsibility — getting the job done on time and well.

Accountability — this means personal ownership of the outcome of your work or your group's actions. Also, doing what you say you'll do.

Thoroughness — finishing a job; going beyond the basic requirements.

Leadership — maybe the most respected quality civilians ascribe to veterans.

Integrity — living by the rules and not cutting corners even when it makes little difference.

You can list these qualities in a summary or objective statement at the top of your resume, or weave them in to descriptions of the work you did.

Now, when you go into detail, show how the important achievements of your military career demonstrated those qualities. Here's the trick — describe the outcome of your actions. For example, if you had a training position like my brother Jim, you might write:

  • Designed, wrote and helped produce a 20-minute training video for logistics management. Distributed to 3,000 personnel in the U.S. and abroad, it became required training for material delivery personnel.

Here's another example, for someone entering construction:

  • Managed crews of up to 15 in setup and breakdown of stages, grandstands, parade areas and temporary shelter with a 100% safety record and perfect on-time delivery.

And another, for an x-ray technician in a hospital:

  • Assisted radiological diagnosis in high-volume, high-pressure environment with thoroughness and a low 8% repeat-test rate. Known also for compassionate, calm and friendly behavior toward injured personnel.

When you review your resume (or job application), be selective about adding distinctions or awards you received. That sharpshooter's medal probably doesn't belong, but a commendation for work well done, or an achievement medal noting exceptional performance, probably does.

In the job interview, you have to answer the unspoken question, "Is this person ready to adjust to a civilian job environment?" The answer lies more in your attitude than your reassurances. Simply put: Do you behave like a civilian?

Watch the military jargon (like acronyms) that marks you as an insider in the service but makes you sound like an outsider in business. You can use great expressions common in the military that can apply to business, such as the saying, "Discipline is not what you do when someone is looking but what you do when nobody is looking."

It's best to keep descriptions of military action out of the job application process except for references to your best qualities, such as leadership and coolness under pressure. If your interviewer raises the subject, you can cite your superiors' approval of your performance in country, but you do not owe anyone specific details about combat. For the same reasons, I strongly advise any interviewee to leave their political beliefs (right, left or center) at home during the interview process. You're not hiding anything, just respecting your own privacy and the fact that a job interview should be about how you will perform on the job, not what you think of the current President's policies.

In the past few years, Americans have been reminded of the qualities that make military experience a unique and admirable background for civilian work. Take advantage of this growing awareness by making the case that your time in the service was great preparation for your next job.

And by the way...thank you for your service to our country.

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