Translating Your Military Experience

Preparing your resume is an integral part of your transition to the civilian world because it helps you to:

  • Identify your strengths and skills developed through your military experience
  • Develop a civilian narrative that describes your accomplishments and experiences

By taking the time to translate your military experience into civilian terms you are not only developing a strong resume but also preparing for civilian job interviews. In the military, you accomplished much as a team, but now it is time to describe your individual accomplishments to prospective employers. Describing individual accomplishments showcases to an employer how you can not only add value to a team but also how you can add value to the company.

When coming into the Career Center to meet with a consultant consider bringing in the following military documents if available:

  • DD-214
  • Fitness Reports/Performance Evaluations
  • Write ups on awards/medals received
  • Any other documentation that explains your duties and responsibilities performed during your military experience

Civilian Resume

  • Purpose of the resume is to get an interview
  • List military experience in layman’s terms utilizing accomplishment statements that showcase your transferable skills
  • Target resume to list experience/strengths/skills that directly relate to the position you are applying to
  • Assume that a civilian is reading your resume with limited to no knowledge of the military

You have most likely gained a lot of strengths from your military experience that civilian employers are seeking. As you are writing your accomplishment statements ask yourself:

How can I highlight this strength in civilian terms?

  • Leadership / team leader / team player
  • Ability to work with diverse individuals
  • Meet deadlines / work under pressure
  • Ability to give and follow directions
  • Experience with systematic planning / organization
  • Familiar with records / personnel administration
  • Self-direction / initiative / flexibility / adaptability
  • Global outlook /client and service-oriented

Civilian Resume Development

When highlighting what you have achieved in the military on your civilian resume, it is important to highlight in civilian terms what you have accomplished. When you write an accomplishment statement that illustrates what you have done on the job it showcases transferable skills that can be utilized on the civilian job. Demonstrating what you accomplished vs. simply listing your duties performed shows the employer how your previous experience relates to the position at hand. Your mission is to write accomplishment statements that highlight your strengths, support your objective, and demonstrate the skills that you have performed previously.

To write effective accomplishment statements, think of the acronym: S.A.R. (Situation, Action, and Result)

  1. Situation: What did you individually do in this situation?
  2. Action: What action did you take? What skills or strengths did you use?
  3. Result: What was the result of the action that you took?

When writing these statements it is important to ask yourself and answer the following questions:

  • Would someone without a military background understand what this means?
  • Why is this important for a civilian employer to know?
  • What are the strengths and skills that I am trying to highlight?
  • Did I use military phrases, program titles, or acronyms? If yes – how can I reframe the wording to reflect civilian terms?


Developing Effective Accomplishment Statements

Below are examples of before and after accomplishment statements

  1. Before Statements showcase typical statements that may be seen on a military resume (depending on branch and level of service.) Notice that the before statements may not go into detail about how the action was accomplished and often will use military terms or phrases.
  2. Consider Statements showcase why information may or may not be in civilian terms.
  3. After Statements tilize the civilian resume development tips that were previously listed and illustrate how to use the S.A.R. approach with accomplishment statement development.


Example 1

Before Provided junior staff with one-on-one training in order to achieve skills needed to perform and advance within the power plant and in their careers in the Navy.
  • A civilian employer may not know what training is needed for a sailor to advance in the Navy nor may they understand the size or scope of duties to maintain a power plant within the Navy.
  • Separating some of the different strengths/skills that you are highlighting as you may be able to give a separate accomplishment statement around how you have helped developed staff and supervised a team.
After Strengths highlighted: communication, problem solving, obtain and process information


S.A.R. Approach
Situation Helping professionally develop team / manage schedules of team
Action Individually mentored new staff / provided trainings re: operations, procedures, and drills
  • Help team members advance careers / ensured team was prepared for emergency and non-emergency situations
  • Professionally developed junior staff through one-on-one training and mentoring to achieve watch-standing qualifications to advance position and career track within the Navy
  • Supervised and managed hourly assignments for a team of 12 junior engineering personnel providing training on system maintenance procedures, operations, and safety training drills


Example 2

Before Demonstrated strong knowledge and operational skills of engineering equipment and emergency procedures during inspections to ensure my ship passed mandatory inspections in order to obtain deployment certifications.
Consider A civilian employer may not know what operational skills are needed for a ship to pass a mandatory inspection
After Strengths Highlighted: technical knowledge related to job plan; plan, organize, and prioritize work; leadership; analytical ability


S.A.R. Approach
Situation Ship has to pass mandatory inspections
Action Displayed knowledge of equipment usage, emergency and operational procedures
  • Ship obtaining deployment certification
  • Within critical timeframe quickly troubleshot and investigated system equipment reported malfunction issues
  • Selected to individually inspect, calibrate and document status of over 200 gauges to ensure accurate gauge readings
  • Daily tracked and logged consumption and production of 30,000 gallons of water and maintained functioning of power plant equipment to ensure normal ship operating conditions