9 Tips for Turning Your Military Performance Report Bullets into a Civilian Ready Resume

April 3, 2019 Resume Services

Whether you’ve been in the military for two years or twenty, translating your military work experience into recruiter-friendly language for the civilian world can be a nightmare. If you submitted your military performance report bullets to a civilian recruiter as is, you’d lose them on the acronyms alone, let alone the fact that it probably looks like you’ve held five jobs in ten years.

Safe to say you’re going to have to do some work to make sure your resume makes the military to civilian transition as seamlessly as you will (or at least hope to). Here are some tips to help you out along the way:

  1. Avoid acronyms.

Let’s get this one out of the way. Avoiding acronyms should be a no brainer, but it’s often the number one issue we see on many military member resumes. Perhaps the problem is that military members are so fluent in “acronym,” they often forget to spell out what each acronym means on their resume for the rest of us. A recruiter isn’t going to google every acronym to figure out what you’re talking about, so if you’re using them to save space, you do so at your own peril.

  1. Use the right format.

It’s tempting to want to use a functional resume when you have to focus mostly on your transferable skills, but this can be a mistake. As confusing as your career timeline may be, it’s always better to include the dates of each position you held. Otherwise, recruiters will be left with a tangle of skills with no clear indication of when or how you used them or the scope of each role you held. 

Instead, keep your resume straightforward by using a traditional resume format with the following sections: a brief summary, experience, education, and maybe a skills section if you work with any technologies relevant to the role you’re applying for. If you’re not sure what this might look like, check out some of our simple, ATS-friendly samples on our website.

  1. Write a strong summary.

Not all of your military experience is going to be directly related to the roles you’re applying for, so a brief introduction that explains who you are in your own terms and points out some of the ways your experience is relevant can help bridge that gap. You might end up having to use a few “soft skills” that will translate well in the civilian sector (strong communicator, strong work ethic, etc.), but whenever possible, it’s best to keep this section focused on specific skills you’ve mastered that align your military experience with your future role. We’ve provided some helpful tips in the past on how to write a brief summary with a big impact, which you can check out here.

  1. Keep your eye on the prize.

Besides the overuse of acronyms on their resumes, another common mistake we see transitioning military members make (and clients in general) is forgetting about their audience. When you were building a promotion package, you had to include every little detail about your career that might be important to the promotion board.

Civilian recruiters, on the other hand, want you to tell them the most about who you are in the least amount of words. You can’t include all of your accomplishments from your military bullets because A) a recruiter won’t understand them all without explanation and B) you don’t have enough room to explain them all. You’ll need to keep your resume focused on the accomplishments most relevant to the roles you’re applying for, which means you’ll need to keep the job description in mind when building your resume.

  1. Be descriptive.

There’s a reason why this tip comes after advice about keeping your eye on the prize. First, you need to make sure the awards, skills, certifications, and responsibilities you include on your resume are going to be important to the recruiter reading your resume. Once you’ve done that, then you can get descriptive. Let me say that again: concision before description.

Let’s assume your resume is focused. Now it’s time to translate your military experience into civilian language by evaluating your resume through the lens of a civilian recruiter. Do your job bullets make sense to someone who has little or no experience with the military? Do the awards you included have some context, so recruiters understand why you received them? Do you demonstrate how you used the skills you did to be successful (the positive impacts you made)? If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, then you can safely assume a recruiter won’t have any idea what you’re talking about.

  1. Don’t abuse metrics.

Metrics are great when used appropriately; they can offer proof of your past successes. However, metrics can have the opposite effect when abused. For example, a bullet point resembling this might have worked for a performance report: “integral in maintaining equipment readiness rate of 90% during operations,” but it’s not going to work for a civilian recruiter. Why? Let’s break down this bullet.

First, this doesn’t say how this person was integral in maintaining this rate. What specific actions did this person take to maintain this readiness rate? Secondly, what were the organizational goals for this readiness rate? This doesn’t explain what that percentage means, so a recruiter will be left wondering whether or not this percentage is impressive. If the goal was a 98% readiness rate, then this bullet is really not all that impressive. If the goal was a 75% readiness rate, then this metric is an excellent argument for this person’s success. Without context, this percentage can mean anything. Add the context.

  1. Don’t go crazy on your education section.

If you’ve been in the military for any length of time, chances are you’ve had to take courses pertaining to your specific job or to make rank. These courses might have been an essential part of your promotion package, but unless your education is from an accredited university or focused on a specific technology that is important to your next employer, it’s best to leave it off. This is a difficult decision to make, but again, it’s important to keep your resume focused on the needs of the recruiter reading your resume; otherwise, they’ll be forced to skip and skim through most of your resume, even the critical parts.

  1. Don’t forget to give an overview.

Your bullets can be focused, descriptive, include strong metrics, and still not help you land an interview. If recruiters don’t understand what you did on a basic level, they’re not going to appreciate your greatest accomplishments. Help them out by starting each job entry with a bullet that discusses the scope of what you did. This will provide some much-needed context for recruiters before they dive into your accomplishments.

  1. Streamline your skills.

When it comes to skills on a resume, the best philosophy is always quality over quantity. In a world where ATS scanners exist, of course, it’s necessary to include the skills that will be relevant to your future employer. However, when people aren’t writing with a specific role in mind, they tend to blitz their resume with anything they have basic proficiency in without considering what’s valuable to their next employer.

It’s important to continually streamline your skills based on the positions you’re applying for. Don’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach will work here. You might need to tweak your skills section (or even the skills you emphasize in your job experience section) based on the job itself. Many of your military-related skills may not make the cut, but if you keep your resume focused on the future of your career rather than the past, you’ll have a stronger, more marketable document that will tell recruiters you’re ready for what’s ahead.


Still struggling? We’ve helped lots of military members get their resumes recruiter-ready. We will give you complimentary feedback on your existing resume. Just submit your resume for a critique on our homepage 


Feature Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash