10 Dos & Don'ts for Shifting From a Military to Civilian Career

Learn how to transfer your military skills to a civilian career.

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Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter
Are you a member of the United States Armed Forces? If you are and your military career will end soon, you may struggle with how that experience can transfer into a civilian role. It's not as problematic as you might fear, as long as you stick to some basic guidelines.

The following is a list of dos and don'ts that will help make the transition a little smoother and ensure the skills you learned earn you the recognition you deserve:

1. Don't use military jargon on your resume or during an interview. The people making the hiring decision may not know the difference between a Corporal and an Admiral.

2. Do use civilian equivalents when indicating your role. For instance, say you were a Corporal in charge of Ammunition Inventory Control and had several personnel in your charge to account for how those supplies were dispersed. Consider a civilian title like, "Inventory Control Supervisor." Then, detail your responsibilities in that role as they pertain to the position you're seeking.

3. Don't expect your prospective employer to understand how your military training equates to the supervisory skills they're seeking.

4. Do look for ways to translate that military training into civilian language. For example, if you were trained as a Chief Warrant Officer, focus on your specific leadership duties, including how you "standardized processes, reduced errors, and redundancies and decreased team stress among a team of 10."

5. Don't include military-specific honors and awards in the experience section of your resume. Instead, articulate the challenge, action, and result story, as well as the leadership skills employed to achieve those honors.

6. Do include certificates that relate to the position for which you're applying. For instance, if you were involved in certain technology arenas, much of the certification you receive in the military is identical to civilian certification.

7. Don't forgot to focus on the soft skills that are inherent to military training, such as the ability to work and contribute in a team setting, and the ability to work under extreme pressure and see projects/missions through to the end.

8. Do highlight actions you were responsible for that increased your unit's productivity, saved the military money, or boosted inventory effectiveness. Translate the outcomes into measurable results, quantifying with percentages, when possible.

9. Don't wait until your enlistment is up to start sending out your resume. Many employers are willing to hold a position open for a qualified applicant, especially one who is fulfilling their obligation to one of the U.S. Armed Services.

10. Do give yourself permission to take some time easing back into civilian life. You've earned it, and going straight to work in an office can be a culture shock.

Lastly, consider your current career goals when transitioning from a military to private sector role. Many people shifting from the purposeful mission of the military find the politics and internal drama of corporate environments aren't as fulfilling and lack purpose. If this sounds like you, you may want to consult a career coach to help guide your future job-hunt, targeting company cultures best suited to what you offer.

Though transitioning from military to civilian life requires hard work and planning, if executed well, it can be an exciting, purposeful mission filled with large rewards and meaning.

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at http://careertrend.net/blog. Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several “Best People to Follow” lists for job seekers.