A military specialist works on his resume during a job fair in Washington state.

Veterans need to translate combat skills to corporate skills on resumes

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Do you speak resume?

For military veterans, making an impression on a prospective employer’s gatekeeper often starts with this essential job tool, but, translating armed forces experience into civilian lingo and terms can be a challenge.

One obstacle is cultural in nature, says one expert.

“Military vets become uncomfortable talking about themselves, as it may be seen as bragging and frowned upon,” says Chad Storlie, a retired US Army Special Forces officer and the author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success” who blogs at Combat To Corporate. “The first thing they have to do is get comfortable with selling themselves and what they can do for another company. They shouldn’t downplay their accomplishments. They should offer an honest and open appraisal of everything they did and that they can bring.”

Another no-no is to write in military-speak.

“They will write down responsibilities, as opposed to accomplishments,” he says. “For example, a vet may have been responsible for helping to establish village councils in a province. This should read, ‘While in Afghanistan, over a six-week period, we created 30 village councils composed of 300 senior elders in the province, helping us to create 37 different projects ranging from wells to schools.’ If you weren’t in the military, you can still understand what this is. The communication process has to create engagement, using a common language that both employer and vet can understand.”

The “objective statement” is a staple on many civilian resumes, but one Storlie advises vets to leave out.

“It tends to waste space. Again, people want to know and read accomplishments, and vets have a lot of them, which provides support material for an interview. Recruiters would rather hear about the time you reduced your unit’s maintenance expenses by 20 percent and improved your vehicle readiness by 10 percent. Now we’re having a valuable conversation.”

Again, the chief focus should be on how your background can help your current company, says Storlie.

For example, “If you were in combat and [are] now going into marketing, you can take a combat skill — like enemy intelligence analysis — and make it useful for marketing,” he says. “Discuss the competitive analysis you did in the military, which can help your employer analyze its competition and how competitors are advertising their products.”

Getting Resume Results:

Explain a leave of absence

Don’t be untruthful. If you have a gap, be honest. Talk about any time spent volunteering or gaining education.

Prioritize achievements

List them from greatest to least. That way, if a recruiter only reads the first bullet, he or she will still get a great deal of what you did.

Don’t overdo military citations

Most should go on the back, unless it’s something especially distinctive or unique. A lot of military awards will further confuse people.

Select references carefully

Use only those who can speak to your performance, which may often be not your senior commander, but a leader one or two levels up.

Address computer skills (or lack thereof)

Most vets can go to a community college, local library or vet center on a college campus for training in Microsoft Office.

If you can gain working knowledge of these programs, you’re much better off.

When being interviewed, be honest about your computer experience but also relay what you’re doing to correct it.

Many employers would rather invest a little to bring an employee up to speed with tech training in exchange for the benefit of leadership that will come as a result.

Seek expert help

Have a couple of military people review your resume, but afterward, go the full civilian route.

Be mindful of your advantages

An entry-level vet has had a lot of responsibility, a focus on leadership and planning, and does a lot of work with safety and creating standardized plans and procedures.