Bookmark and Share

Translating Your Military Success into a Second Career

By Don Orlando, MBA, CPRW, JCTC, CCM, CCMC, Col. USAF (ret.)

In my previous article, I suggested how you might deal with the stereotypes hiring officials have about the military. In this article, I'll move to the next step: helping employers understand how transferable your record is to their needs.

Of all the pernicious folklore that surrounds managing one's career, the résumé comes in for more than its fair share. Some readily available "advice" is harmless, some is funny…and some can derail your career for months. That's especially true for you as a veteran. When you left active duty, you didn't just move from a military "job" to a civilian "job." You left one world for another.

As a military person your responsibilities were often vital to the mission. You have a strong work ethic, a sense of doing what is right, and years of training as a leader and manager.

With all that going for you, which challenges face you as you draft your résumé? First, your active duty position may have no counterpart occupation in civilian life. Second, you may not know what choices you have because when you wore the uniform you probably never had to look for a "job" or go on an interview. It's unlikely résumés and cover letters played a big part in getting an assignment.

You almost certainly attended several hours of Transition Assistance training, but even the best can only be "survey courses." Because groups attend these courses, the material must cover only the most likely situations.

Sometimes those courses leave out a fundamental part of the hiring equation. Simply put, corporate decision makers will hire you as soon as you give them living, breathing, proof you will make them much more money than it costs to recruit and retain you.

That's why managers understand, long for - and very rarely get - vivid examples of problems solved that look like the problems they want their next hire to solve.

What they don't understand is military jargon. Let's start with job titles. Tables purport to "translate" a military job title into a civilian one, but often don't provide the best solution.

Consider the following job title: "Commander, 324th Recruiting Squadron, Madison, WI." He led a staff of eighteen recruiters, spread over hundreds of square miles. He was held to quotas. To civilians, he is a District Sales Manager. He had recruiters (sales professionals) working for him. He was responsible for helping them meet quotas (sales goals). He probably reported to a commander of a recruiting group (a regional sales manager). He might capture that in a résumé like this: "Commander (Regional Sales Manager), 324th Recruiting Squadron, Madison, WI."

But it's more than translating military job titles. How do you handle a military career that spans several years, may reflect work in disparate areas, and includes many jobs in a relatively short time? Consolidate appropriately and highlight the positions that are relevant to the next employer:

"More than 18 years in increasingly responsible positions as a commissioned naval officer, including these most recent assignments:"

When it comes to documenting performance, we illustrate problems solved. We want examples vivid enough to capture attention, but not so detailed as to confuse the reader. Consider this from a resume of an Air Force colonel:

"Inherited a problem that kept us from really serving our customers and added costs no one could afford. Redesigned how we trained many of our key managers. Distilled key facts from mountains of data. Payoffs: Customers happy. $3.5M saved that boosted productivity."

Great performance often comes from great training. So it's natural to take credit for all your training. But not all of it applies in the field to which you're going. A prime example is professional military education. These courses, some of them very difficult to get into, are designed to meet military needs. For example, the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College spends many hours training its students to employ air power (for which there is no call in civilian life). But it also instructs about guiding employees, evaluating performance, and managing funds (for which there is a great call in civilian life). Therefore, don't fall into the easy trap of listing the schools (the names are a form of jargon). Rather, concentrate on the appropriate course work and how competitive it is to attend.

Applicable training saves employers lots of money. So don't forget recurring training against violence and sexual harassment, combating drug and alcohol abuse, and cross cultural classes.

You are as justifiably proud of your awards as you are of your training. Take credit for awards that recognize you for specific contributions. That rules out most "end-of-tour" decorations as they rarely focus on specifics.

You are proud of your service. And while you were on active duty, your uniform, your rank or grade, your assignment told every other service member volumes about your ability without you having to say another word. Now you must educate your next (civilian) boss about those same capabilities. There's no need to brag, no need to "sell yourself." Just work hard to communicate your value in terms your next world understands.