For someone with a military career of 20+ years: On a resume, do I translate the military job titles or leave them as described on my evaluation reports?

Mark's picture

Awww, c'mon Mark. Did you even LOOK at our sample resume?

It's a retiring Air Force O-5's resume! I wrote it!


wendii's picture


The sample explains it all, of course, but I just wanted to add another layer of explanation.

In the UK, people leaving the forces have help in preparing for civilian life and one of those activities is preparing a CV. The advice they are given is to completely sanitise it. I work for a defence company, and many of my hiring managers are ex-forces and they hate it! They know if they saw certain job titles, locations or activities, they would know exactly what that person was doing.

I hope Mark would agree there isn't one resume to rule them all (although there is one format!) ... there are different versions, taken from your whole experience to emphasise different parts of you, depending on the role you are applying for. If it's in defence, my advice would be to stick with the military titles - after all that experience is why they will employ you.


Mark's picture

Thanks Wendii!

First off, let me say that I regret that I wasn't more clear in my first post. When I read it now, it's not absolutely clear that I was joking around, or had a chuckle in my voice. I'm not upset. :wink:

To be clear, US service personnel get the very same advice, and it's wrong here too. (Why? Too often the people giving the advice work for the government!)

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]To be clear, US service personnel get the very same advice, and it's wrong here too. (Why? Too often the people giving the advice work for the government!)[/quote]

And who do the service personnel work for? :wink:

Isn't this yet another argument for tailoring your resume to the job/company you're applying to? If you're applying to wendii's defence company then it's a reasonable bet that they'll understand military job titles so you can stick with them, if you're applying to another company with no military connections then it's a reasonable bet that they won't know military job titles so some translation may be in order. If in doubt phone the HR department and ask what they prefer.

If I was applying for a job outside of UK Local Government I wouldn't expect them to know what a Principal Officer 3 is and don't mention it in my CV, is it unreasonable to apply the same principle to military designations when applying to non-military/defense employers?


mestewart60's picture

I did not have a chance to look at the example, sorry.

Thanks for all the feedback! I'm new to this podcast and feel SO far behind in catching up with regards to resumes and interviewing.... I read my resume recently and thought a civilian with little or no insight to the Army might not be able to grasp connections of increased rank/reponsibility with military titles. I'm prepping for an interview in the next couple of weeks and want to hand over a well done resume with a MT cover letter.

Again, thanks to everyone.

pmoriarty's picture


Thank you for your service and best of luck with the interview!

Mark's picture


Sorry, sir, but you're mistaken. As someone who recruited over a thousand military personnel, and countless corporate folks, having written or assisted them with every single detail of their resume, I can assure you that your assumptions regarding translation are inaccurate and misleading. ALL military jobs do FAR better without a military person (or frustrated corporate recruiter) trying to make it "sound good". At least part of this is most recruiter's sense of a glaring lack of authenticity in the translation, and part of it is just lack of understanding of what a military jobs would translate to.

Straight up. Not shaken, and not stirred.


stephenbooth_uk's picture


I'm confused.

The role of a CV/resume is to get you an interview. Do we agree on that?

Based on what I've been told a CV/resume will typically get up to 20 seconds attention from a recruiter on the first cut, where the recruiter is looking to get rid of as many of the unsuitable CVs/resumes as possible. As I've mentioned in another thread you want to have something in the top third to half of the first page enough relevant information that will get the recruiter reading it to put you in the Maybe pile (to be read in more detail later and maybe taken to interview) rather than the Reject pile. It may be that your resume/CV won't be read by a human in the first pass but will go through a keyword spotter program. Either way if I'm reading your resume or telling a program what keywords to look for an how to score then I'm going to be looking certain words and job titles, when I'm hiring, say, a Project Manager, I expect to see Project Manager jobs in the resume/CV (or at least Assistant Project Manager, Project Lead or something similar). On the first pass I may only read the job titles, if I'm in a time crunch and have a big pile of CVs to get through. If I (or my computer) don't see appropriate terms and job titles then I'm unlikely to put you in the Maybe pile. If the job titles don't match what I'm expecting to see or aren't comprehensible to me then how am I supposed to know that you're someone I should be interviewing.

You're no doubt familiar with US military job titles, from what Wendii has said the recruiters where she works are familiar with military job titles. Not everyone is. A lot of employers have job titles that are unclear to people who are outside that type of employer, there's recently been a lot in the local press in Birmingham about the rates of pay for Transport Electricians and Bollard Polishers working for the city council, some people think they're paid to much (the equivalent of around $160k and $120k respectively, for comparison in the same employer a Senior Care Assistant in an Elders Care Home makes around $38k, a Domestic Electrician makes around $60k and I (Technical Lead/Database Administrator/Technical Analyst) make around $64k). The core reason why some people think those people are paid too much is that they don't know what those job titles actually mean and what those jobs entail, similarly if those people were seeking work outside of UK local government transportation departments and maybe organisations like the Highways Agency they would almost certainly have to provide some sort of translation to clue the recruiter into what they do.

You seem to be arguing, in relation to tailoring a CV/resume to the target audience in terms of job titles, that because some people have done it badly in the past no-one should do it. I'd argue that because some people have done it badly in the past those who do it should be made better at it. Maybe pay some people like yourself, who know both the military and corporate worlds, to assist in developing a translation lexicon?


wendii's picture

The CVs that come from the outplacement consultants in the forces tend to be very bland, very formulaic and to a certain extent feel like they are not true.

The problem with translation, as I found when I tried to do it for a living, is that it implies certainty. That one word perfectly represents another. For simple nouns this is true; the word Hund perfectly represents Dog. But the phrase Hello, how are you? is not perfectly rendered: Hallo, wie geht's dir? is the appropriate phrase, but is not a direct translation.

In the same way a soldier who installs IT systems in battle conditions does not have exactly the same skills as someone who does the same thing in a private company or even a public one.

However, we have the same problems between private companies - my role is essentially an on-site recruiter for an outsource company, but it is different to roles with the same title in different companies, even those who have the same model.

It is the accomplishments, the actual work done, that counts and that also tells the recruiter what you have been doing, irrespective of the job title. In fact, as a recruiter I often don't even look at the job title. Therefore, leaving the military titles in, whether applying to a defence company or not, would seem to be good advice, at least in my experience.

I'm not sure if this adds to the debate or goes off at a tangent, but I hope it helps.


juliahhavener's picture

I don't rely on the job title to tell me what you did - that's why you also have a description. If you change the job title to something you think I will better understand, and I verify your employment and they say 'well, wait, he was a 'thus and so II' which truly doesn't sound anything like your 'senior elephant washer' title you put on the resume.

I'm not military. When I have an interviewee with military history, I ask about their job - the title (and I want the real title) and then I want to know what they did.

People all over the world have job titles that make people scratch their heads about what they do. We put job descriptions on our resumes, too, so there is little opportunity for confusion.

Mark's picture


:) I'm not arguing. I'm telling you what my years of experience in recruiting, preparing resumes, interviewing, coaching interviewees, and screening resumes for clients - 20 years - have taught me.

The 20 second rule that you have been told about is an average and horribly misleading. It is a dramatically interesting number seized upon by writers to get the point across that this whole resume presentation thing is more important than most people think. It works, but it's misleading. Just because a river averages 3 feet deep doesn't mean one should walk across it.

Some resumes - a lot - get a FIVE second review. They are 18 pages, with tons of white space, with lousy margins, and stupid email addresses like They are one page, with a top half filled with all kinds of unmeasurable adjectives, all more superlative than their predecessor.

Some resumes get 5 minutes (and may still fail, and may not).

And it maybe averages out to 20 seconds...because it's not a bell curve.

Recruiters do not need you trying to interest them with your tailored top half (more on which below). We can look up and down a resume in FIVE seconds and decide to keep looking or not.

Regarding a manager scanning the top half for something to like: sorry, but that's not what the effective managers I know are doing. They IGNORE that information (and thus any space spent there is wasted) and go to what you did and how well you did it. If your qualifications and summary include words that are not facts (note that our responsibilities and accomplishments are ALL FACTUAL), they will dismiss them as salesmanship. If they are facts, those facts can EASILY be included, taking less space, in the body of a resume that doesn't include such a summary.

Regarding keyword spotters: Keyword spotters do not need us to bunch all the words together for them, and they are not so black and white that I have ever seen them screen out the wrong resumes. Writing for a keyword screener is inherently flawed. [b]If you have a background close enough to a job that you and a friend who does the job thinks you can do it, a resume in our format will NOT be screened out.[/b]

Regarding job titles: the danger is in translation, I can assure you. Translation is a DANGEROUS business, alluded to above. DO NOT DO IT. It is FALSE. Job titles are actual THINGS. They are not OPINIONS. They are like numbers. They represent something. ANY translation is inherently flawed. Changing a job title [b]is going to be seen as salesmanship in an area, like your GPA, which no receiving party believes is necessary or likely to be accurate.[/b] ANY change will be queried. If you unintentionally use a word that in their world carries more weight than you intended, they will think you are LYING. It will not matter that you are not.

[ I know what everyone's thinking... WOW he's excited. Fair enough... here are my qualifications: I have written more military resumes than the entire Manager Tools community combined. (You read that right). I have WRITTEN them. I then helped them get jobs: over a thousand jobs. I have seen more military evaluations (admittedly all but a dozen US, but there is no appreciable difference in the transition, based on my professional associates' comments to me) than surely all but a few in our community (only those who served at national levels reviewing evaluations of hundreds at a time would have seen more) - let's say FIFTY THOUSAND. I'm quite serious. And I've written personally perhaps FIVE THOUSAND corporate job descriptions, and overseen the creation of over 15,000. Remember, I'm not arguing. :wink: Let me give you another datum: I got 20 resumes by email last week. That's about normal, a thousand in a year. Every year I get in the past 20 years, the least amount of resumes I ever got in a year was...a thousand. I look at every one. (It takes 5 seconds) :wink: ]

Job titles are NOT the problem, anyway. The majority of managers who see a resume with a weird background will throw them away, admittedly...but changing the titles won't change that (they'll see through it someplace else). If the titles come from the military, and they're different, but the responsibilities are similar, they'll spend 10 extra seconds. If that resume is way long, or poorly worded (these things take us a tenth of a second), it doesn't matter how brilliant anyone thinks their translation is. To simply get into the maybe pile only to be thrown out on closer review, in a few rare cases, ought not to be a goal that causes one to lose other better opportunities.

And, relatedly, just because the purpose of a resume IS to get you an interview doesn't mean that any resume SHOULD get you an interview, and both translation of job titles and summary sections have been proven to be largely ineffective for the vast majority of managers.

Further regarding summarizing qualifications: lines are precious on one page. Any line you give over at the top is lost to accomplishments below. It's a BAD trade off. Certifications and knowledge pale in comparison to accomplishments with that knowledge.

One final strategic comment: the system exists to screen people out. That will never change, even with the coming talent shortage. Changing the format to avoid being screened out simply causes one to be screened out for speaking the wrong language to the vast majority of time-pressed managers and recruiters. Changing the medium does not improve the recipient's reception of this message.

Your final suggestion boggles my mind. The system works BRILLIANTLY now, if you write your resume the way we recommend. But okay, I'm for hire: that will be a billion dollars. (The same thing I charge everyone for something that will neither work nor be used.)


US41's picture

When I look at a resume, and it is eight pages long, I could let out a huge sigh, shake my head, and weep for the author. I want to get at the bottom line right away, so I flip through until I find the last job held. I scan for accomplishments and some match up with the job that I am offering now. No match? Next job... no match... next job... no match? File it. Match? Look more closely and make some notes.

Long resumes do not list accomplishments. They list job descriptions. I don't want to read about your responsibilities. I want to read about your accomplishments. Tell me how many people you managed. Tell me about the percentage increase in productivity, awards earned, score received on annual review, and some cool successful idea you led. Accomplishments - not job description.

One page only please. I don't care about the lists of your technical knowledge or the pretty boxes containing buzz words. Assertive go-getter with ten years of... blah blah blah... I don't want to read that.

I love Mark and Mike's sample resume. Mine is currently formatted that way and I update it with every annual and semi-annual review I complete with additional accomplishments. You know what sold me on it? I received one once shortly after hearing the podcast in a stack of eight page long resumes, and I cradled it in my fingers like a jewel. Now, here was a person who knows how to boil it all down to the essentials - someone who doesn't waste my time with fluff - someone with real accomplishments and no need to hide their lack of work in pages of nonsense.

I re-did mine the same day.

I don't know what all the talk about sanitizing military resumes is, but if you can get your military career on one page, I'm going to be a lot more willing to have a discussion about what all of that stuff on there means. And I want to have that discussion, because I like to have veterans on my team.