Please upgrade your web browser

These pages are built with modern web browsers in mind, and are not optimized for Internet Explorer 8 or below. Please try using another web browser, such as Internet Explorer 9, Internet Explorer 10, Internet Explorer 11, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari.

How do you best translate leadership from military to resume?


Tessa Raybuck Stafford, VA

Taking years of leadership training and experience seems to be hard to capture on a resume.

1 May 2019 17 replies Leadership & Management



Deborah Carter Owens Cross Roads, AL

Hi Tessa,

Thomas hit the nail on the head when he said "accomplishments." For instance, it's great if as an example you supervised 100+ people and managed a huge budget - but what were your accomplishments...did you improve anything, and by how much (percent, dollars) etc.

I'm happy to review your resume if you'd like.

Take care,

2 May 2019 Helpful answer


Lex Levin Ellicott City, MD

Tessa, I specialize in writing resumes for transitioning service members (since 2009). Send me yours and I'll review and advise. Here's how to get in touch:

2 May 2019 Helpful answer


Thomas Kidd Dallas, TX

Hi, Tessa.

You aren't alone. Most of us have problems not knowing where to start, as we not only have trouble translating our experience into what we believe recruiters will key in on, but also having so many different experiences that the sheer volume of "stuff" you could reasonably include on a resume is overwhelming.

Seeing that you are a Master Sergeant and have 18 years, the good news is that your rank and tenure alone will indicate to most recruiters that you have extensive leadership experience - likely much more so than your non-veteran peers. Now the hard part: what to include from your military career...

Haven't found the single best way to approach this, as everyone is different and all jobs will differ in what they are looking for. What I've done is within each role/duty station pick the 2-3 accomplishments that I'm most proud of, and modify from there based on what I'm applying for. It helps me focus on what's really important, versus the window dressing of random tasks.

Once you have something you feel comfortable with, I recommend you have a civilian friend of a friend take a look to see if they are able to understand your leadership story. This gives you an unbiased opinion, and you can re-tool from their feedback.

Hope that helps,

2 May 2019 Helpful answer


Denise Kalm Walnut Creek, CA

As some noted, accomplishments voiced in business terms can be very helpful. You're looking for impact on things companies care about - saving money or time, making money, improving service, etc. But the best way to get an idea of what you want to say is look at the job descriptions for the jobs you'd like to have. They will talk about what they are looking for and when you use their language, it can really help to sell the translation between military and civilian. In other words, you do the translation; don't make them do it. Who are your customers? Could be other parts of the military, the government, the people in a country where you are serving, etc.


Bill Rogers Tallahassee, FL

BASE ASSUMPTION: Companies hire people to solve problems.

DOCUMENT YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Create a word doc with a list of the problems that you have solved in your career. Use the PAR format, Problem Actions, and Results. Specific add credibility. write about the impact you've had in numbers, percentages time, dollars, etc.

TEST THE JOB DESCRIPTION; When you find a job of interest that you think you'd like to apply for, create a 2 column, ~20-row table. In the left column put the job requirement from the job spec. In the left put how you meet that specific requirement. If you meet ~70 of the requirements (major and minor) apply for the job. If not you could be wasting your time applying for the job.

CREATE A POSITION FOCUSED RESUME: Take your base resume and weave in your accomplishments that match the job description. Use many of the same words and terms from the job description in your focused resume.

GET CLOSE TO THE ORGANIZATION: Using LinkedIn find out who you know or would like to know at the employer. Contact them and do an informational interview. Don't ask for a job. Get to know them and the company's culture etc.


Michael Rusnack Edmond, OK

I reply on the STAR principle - situation, task, action, results when constructing bullets for accomplishments or stories to use in interviews. This is what I look for in resumes, cover letters, telephone screens etc.


Bob Molluro Wilmington, DE

On your resume be sure to speak in business terms regarding leadership versus military terms that many will not understand. I wouldn't spend my energy on my resume. Your leadership skills are best discussed during an interview.


Tracey Smith Broomfie, CO

Hi Tessa! I went through this about 2 years ago, so appreciate where you're coming from. The first step is to clarify what you want to translate your experience to. What I mean is, what do you want to do after the military? Start talking to people in areas that interest you so you can get a better idea of what makes a leader successful in that area. Then you should be able to find people in that career field to help shape the language of your resume.

For me, I wanted to get into the leadership development area, so I started talking to various people to understand what jobs were out there so I could figure out what interested me. Once I decided that consulting was it, I had some folks in the leadership development consulting world review my resume. That research and those connections are what helped me land my current job. I'd be happy to share my resume and talk more if you're interested.



Michael Weiss Greenwich, CT

Hello & thank you for your service

I believe that there are a bunch of good answers already written. My own perspective is that your success will come when you can define the problems that you are solving for an employer, with conviction. The thread that runs from your resume to cover letter to tell me about yourself to interview 'conversation' must be consistent

The resume is the two dimensional aspect of your marketing process. The advise of thinking about what you have accomplished vs. what roles you have had will be instrumental in setting up your skills in your resume as well as part of your dialogue. From my perspective shaping a 60-90 second elevator pitch answering the 'tell me about yourself' question will add clarity to your process of getting comfortable with your resume.

But remember this is a building block, not the end result, for your marketing approach. I will be happy to review your resume and use it as a basis for discussing this phase of your professional preparation



Easy: Just the facts:

For example:

Led and was responsible for a group of____; developed a new___; improved ___; reduced costs of ___; responsible for a budget of ___; responsibilities included___. received major commendations and awards for ___, promoted __ times within ___ years for extraordinary performance; represented ___ at a nationwide conference ; presented conference presentations at ___. etc, etc.

Try to keep all the usual HR nonsense, (I was tempted to use something stronger), out of your resume.

Just the facts.

Good luck

Contact USAA - they hire vets and are a fine firm.


Philip Ayles Steilacoom, WA

All of the above answers are really good advice. From my experience in the Military and Governmental Organizations, most employers are looking to fill lower level management positions. Most of the higher level management/Executive positions are tough to come by, unless you start your own business. The Staff and General level Officers are a hot commodity for business to reach the next level.

Networking is the corner stone to finding the position you dream of. Leadership experience is a given with the transitioning military personnel. Being able to market your skills that are translated into civilian terms helps.

One of the first steps is identifying what you really want to do. From my personal research, understanding how you can take a prospective employer from where they are now to the next level is key. What can you do to save them money, time and resources to create value for your skills.

Think about your potential in any given field to lead others in accomplishing the organizational and personal development. Leaders lift others to achieve their own dreams of success. Hopefully schools of thought provoke a positive change mindset. People love change, but hate the whole transition.

Just as you did with the military, you have to be able to articulate your capabilities into the key word terms for that specific industry. Sorry there is no cookie cutter answer to fit the dynamic world of business.

If you accurately think about what you can bring to the table, you will be ahead of the power curve. In the current economy those who have served in the military are grossly outnumbered by those who did not. Your competition has been fortunate enough to build a rapport with local business professionals and have an established track record.

Employers fear that you have the inability to adapt to the civilian environment where you are required to accomplish the tasks and the human capital leadership to progress. You are no longer ruled by rank without creating a cooperative environment.

In conclusion, there is not a single answer. Tailor your skill set to fit the position requirements for each position you are applying for. Every industry has its own culture and standards. Draw upon not what you did in the military, think about how you performed your duties within a foreign country. The same skill set we used to navigate the needs of a host nation.



Jose Roman Norfolk, VA

Good Morning Tessa,

Most importantly to capture on your resume is leadership accomplishments. Having rank is not enough in a market saturated with senior enlisted service-members and officers. Let the resume read what you accomplished in those leadership opportunities. Demonstrated bullets of results, missions accomplished, money saved, people led and where your leadership was pivotal is important.

Jose R


Denise Kalm Walnut Creek, CA

Steven had a great answer and this is true for almost anyone. What tasks you performed may be specific to the military, but the results matter to almost any company. Although the best ones are ways to save or make money or save time, a lot of other factors are important. Can you build cohesive teams? Work across teams to achieve great results? Are your people inspired to do more than they believe they can do? And to pitch it right, read the job descriptions carefully, using the words they use to describe your success. They're looking for them and more importantly, since you can lose a job without ever having a person meet you, the computer is looking for those words. The automated systems are designed for the boss, not for the applicant, so you want to network around this as much as possible.


cathy salerno Chester, NJ

Hi Tessa, you ask a great question and one that I think a number of people face when shifting from military to public sector. As a leader in the public sector, the characteristics I look for in my leaders include: ability to deliver, ability to collaborate, ability to negotiate and influence and ability to adapt to changing priorities and react to unforeseen situations. All of these characteristics are typical of military leaders. My suggestion is to illustrate how you have demonstrated these characteristics with examples from your military career. (As a caution...try to translate military language to more everyday language. Sometimes military leadership examples sound scary/intense for outsiders in public sector!)


Steven Mathews Spring, TX

The suggestions provided previously are a good start.

A good manager is expected to produce results. A great manager can produce results in just about any situation. The President of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company was very good at producing models of the world's best commercial passenger and transport aircraft. He became President of the Ford Motor Company producing fine cars and trucks, a totally different regulatory environment. All the major auto companies took bailout money from the Government, and they still struggled to remain viable. Ford took no bailout money and prospered.

You can describe the results you produced in just about any military activity, and it will become evident that you can produce similar results in a functionally related commercial environment. For example, if you streamlined a training course that improved average test scores and reduced class time, a commercial company will project that you could do the same for their situation. Taking control over a group of people with frequent staff changes and improving the section's quality and productivity is a skill that few have mastered. A company will call you in for an interview to find out your secret. The position will be yours to lose at that point.
Send me your email, and I will send you some examples as to how military functions can easily be translated into terms a commercial company will comprehend and call you in for an interview.


Henry ("Dr. Hank") Stevens Fort Lauderdale, FL

VERY short answer to your question: Blow your TALENT horn loudly.

That is, as a Vocational Counselor I fine employers and those seeking employment too often focus on experience and education. In my experience, these two are nowhere near as valuable as an individual's talents. Be about the business of identifying those talents of yours, celebrate them, and tout that loudly as part of your credentials.

Don't know what your talents are? Start here. This is a free assessment with a fairly good tool for identifying same:

If you need help interpreting the results, feel free to contact me for my thinking on your results (free). You may contact me off channel at

Regards, Dr. Hank


Paul Trejo Austin, TX

Hi Tessa,

Thanks for your years of service.

In my opinion, your experience in leadership is sought after in the field of Management.

I imagine that you don't have business experience, as such. That would relegate you to Middle Management at best, and Supervision to start.

You should take any job in Supervision. That can lead to quick promotions to Middle Management, and then to Executive Management, if you move quickly.

Take courses in business management. Learn something about all the seven basic departments in any company: (i) stockholding; (ii) HR; (iii) sales; (iv) accounting; (v) production; (vi) marketing; and (vii) advertising. Managers prefer generalization rather than specialization.

With your years of experience in Leadership (Supervision) you won't need an MBA, but you will need to know the principles of how to run a small grocery store (as an example). ANY experience that you have in business is GREAT. Put that up front in big letters. Did your family own a small business in which you helped during high school? That COUNTS.

Seek a job in Supervision. Your current experience (I am guessing) is already a match for Office Manager. Remember -- these jobs offer quick promotions to Middle Management. Only Middle Managers (and manager's relatives with MBA's) are invited into Executive Management.

Best wishes,

Your Answer

Please log in to answer this question.

Sign Up

You can join as either a Veteran or an Advisor.

An Advisor already has a career, with or without military experience, and is willing to engage with and help veterans.
Sign Up as an Advisor.

A Veteran has military experience and is seeking a new career, or assistance with life after service.
Sign Up as a Veteran.