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Translating Military Experience

By David James Bruce ’19

Leadership, the ability to think on one's feet, courage, and discipline are in short supply in many job markets. Veterans can fill this void. 

For veterans, future success depends on translating their military experience into a language that private sector hiring managers can understand. But all too often our greatest accomplishments in the military, the things we sweat and bled for, cannot be explained adequately in words or in writing. To add to this difficulty, service members and veterans often communicate with each other using acronyms and jargon that only individuals in our community can understand. The language works well for us while in the military, however, it does nothing for us while applying for jobs in the private sector. To translate our unique experience, we need to make a few adjustments. Here are some tips to help you translate your experience and stand out in the pack of applicants.
 
List the tasks that you performed
While a bullet statement on a military resume may read “Satisfactorily completed all assigned duties as a medical specialist, non-commissioned officer” this statement would leave a hiring manager in the private sector absolutely befuddled. The experience is there; it just needs to be translated properly. The example noted below clarifies this experience.

  • Provided trauma care and casualty evacuation in a field and hospital setting 
  • Supervised eight medical specialists providing emergency care in a clinical environment
  • Dispatched ground and aviation assets for medical evacuation 

David Bruce '19Experience listed in this manner, helps a hiring manager understand that the applicant has a great deal to offer, and when coupled with the right academic credentials, this applicant is likely to succeed in a high stress environment. 
 
Tailor the resume to the job
The days of “one resume fits all” are over. When applying for a position, we have to make sure we are highlighting the skills that we have, that are relevant for the position we are applying for. On most job announcements one can find a ‘Job Requirements’ section, listing the actual skills the employer is looking for in a candidate. Our resumes should reflect these skills in our own words.
 
Let us take the above medical specialist for example. As a Non Commissioned Officer, that veteran has obviously provided leadership and direction, and also attended multiple leadership schools. If that veteran were applying for a managerial position, first and foremost the resume would emphasize leadership experiences and accomplishments over medical skills. 
 
The cover letter
One of the most valuable yet misunderstood tools in a job applicant’s toolbox is the cover letter. The cover letter is a one page document that introduces the applicant to the hiring manager. While often considered optional, this is a golden opportunity to make an impression and let hiring managers know who you are. Your cover letter conveys information that your resume may not, such as how you discovered the opportunity, how your skills match up to their needs, and how you would like the opportunity to discuss the position further. Many applicants skip the cover letter – which is a foolish move, this is your opportunity to make your packet stand out in the crowd and it will be appreciated by the hiring manager. 
 
In any job market, candidates with military experience and academic accomplishments will be highly regarded. Mastering the above techniques of translating military experience will help hiring managers understand your true worth and help you land the career that you are seeking.
 
David Bruce '19David James Bruce ’19 is a UMass Amherst University Without Walls student studying journalism. A lifelong Massachusetts resident, Bruce has spent 21 years working in federal law enforcement and also in the private sector as an instructor. Prior to his public and private sector work, he served as a proud paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.



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