Military to Civilian Career Transition

Diane Irwin ImageBy: Diane J. Irwin, CPRW
President, Dynamic Resumes

Hats off to the military people who serve our country and protect us each and every day. They serve us proudly and put their lives on the line. Their families are forced to worry on a daily basis as to whether their loved one is okay. Patriotism is at an all-time high, and I do believe that most Americans, employers included, are very grateful to these folks for what they do. With such admiration and appreciation going on, why do returning soldiers have such difficulty in transitioning to civilian jobs? If anything, it should be easier for them to get hired, right?

Here are some ideas to help make a military to civilian transition a little easier:

Set yourself apart—Soldiers are taught (and well conditioned!) to blend in and be part of a cohesive team. They look the same, dress the same, act the same. When interviewing, I find that many speak in “we” language when I ask them strengths or accomplishments: “We did this well…” Yet this is critical to the job process. TRANSITION: You must think about yourself as a single person and (deep breath!) identify to the employer how you are unique.

Lose military behaviors—“Yes ma’am”, “no ma’am”, saluting others, jumping up from your seat when someone walks in the room, etc. It’s important to behave as a civilian and speak like them. Be aware that many women do not like being called “ma’am” as it makes them sound sort of “old”! TRANSITION: Watch, listen, and practice.

Narrow down your job target—Soldiers are trained to roll up their sleeves and do whatever is needed. So, in the job arena, many of them are so willing to be team players and do “anything” …which might be nice conceptually, but it is a problem. Today’s employer is not interested in a “jack of all trades.” If they want to hire a project manager, they want to find candidates who state that they seek a position as a project manager (and of course, you need to have the appropriate experience to say this.) TRANSITION: Clarify your target and show enthusiasm towards it.

Convert your resume to English—Soldiers do not realize how military many of their resumes are. Often they are loaded with numbers, names of platoons, and military jargon that has no meaning in the civilian world. TRANSITION: You may need to get some help converting the military jargon to the civilian equivalent. If you are a manager, refer to members of your “unit” as your “staff.” Also, your job titles need to reflect civilian equivalents. Be sure to identify accomplishments that reflect your personal strengths and impact—not that of the team.

Sell yourself—Soldiers tend to be very humble people and that is tied to pride of the group effort. So, it’s difficult for them to point out key successes that will impress employers. TRANSITION: It is critical to identify your uniqueness, your strengths, and what you bring to the table. Help the employer understand what you can do for them. Describe it in a factual way and it is not bragging. Finally, show enthusiasm for the position—employers want to hire someone who is excited about the job.

To our dedicated men and women in the military—please allow us to salute you and your families for everything you do! Hope these ideas are helpful! Wishing you the best of success!

Diane Irwin, CPRW, President of Dynamic Resumes, creates high impact résumés and provides targeted job search assistance.  Her résumés and job search advice appear in several publications and she is a speaker, blogger, and tweeter on career management topics.  Diane earned her resume certification through PARW, The Professional Association of Résumé Writers. She is an active member of The National Résumé Writers Association, and Tri-State Human Resources Management Association. She previously earned her PHR from the Society for HR Management.

Diane is the resume writer of choice for several local recruiting firms and  volunteers assistance to many groups, including the military. Diane has helped hundreds of clients at all levels to get their resumes to the “top of the pile.” Visit her website at