The military and law enforcement are two areas that set the bar.  They have their own language and culture.  I know this on a professional and personal level.  My boyfriend has nearly 30 years in the military.  There are times during a conversation that I look at him and say, “Hey, Chief, can you translate that for me?”

I am getting better; the thought process in subtracting 12 when given a time is shortening and I no longer think of pots and pans when “cover” is mentioned.

My communication and coaching style is direct and relatable so I will explain the way I do to my clients: you scare the heck out of people.

Not for what you did or how you did it – it is how you talk. You have to admit, it is a weird language. Their fear is admitting they have no idea what you are talking about.

It is great to be face to face with someone and gently tell them that you have no idea what they are saying when they lapse into “military/law enforcement” speak; however, you do not have that luxury with your resume.

I have worked with all levels of military and law enforcement and it is the common denominator in being stalled in moving forward with a transition: miscommunication.

You are not saying anything wrong, you are just speaking in a foreign language.

When I interview my clients to create their branding, we talk about their background.  However, I ask them to explain it to me as though I know nothing about the military or law enforcement.  What is a battalion? How many people does that include? What is administrative control? I ask them to break it down as though it was a company and what would be the equivalent in that context.

That is the key to communication – explaining your value in a way that your audience understands. 

If I cannot relate to you then I cannot comprehend your value or importance in solving my challenges or problems.

It is your job to tell your story in their language.  Learn the language of the organization or industry you are targeting. Find the similarities.

For example, maneuver may translate to initiative or project or the similarity may be project management.  How does a project manager oversee a project?  What is their responsibilities, accountabilities and authorities?  How does that parallel with what you did?

Training and leadership are two important elements that almost every client possesses from their military / law enforcement experience.  What is the importance of the training – think of your audience – how did you perform or receive training, how did it improve your abilities and contributions?

Throughout your career you may have been promoted into positions that do not translate into the business world.  I do not see a lot of ‘lieutenant’ or ‘major’ in corporate job titles.  Tell us the equivalent of those positions and – just as important – why you were promoted.

Start from the most basic level – explain what you did as you were explaining it to a six year old.  Extreme?  Perhaps, but it gives you a baseline to force yourself to use language that is very simple and clear.  From there you can begin to develop your story and value based on common themes, concepts, language and value.

I have found military and law enforcement are comfortable with steps, given that, here are some steps to help transition your resume from overlooked to attention getting:

  • Identify – Determine the civilian position for which your military or law enforcement background translates
  • Research – Rind job postings and sample resumes of this / these position(s)
  • Compartmentalize – Break down the position into categories of skills, experience, training, education etc.
  • Compare – Find the similarities between the breakdown and your background
  • Translate – Identify key words and phrases and understand what they are communicating, substitute these within your narrative
  • Rewrite – Restructure your narrative into value driven, impactful statements that speak to your audience’s needs, requirements and expectations.
  • Ask – If you are not sure how something would translate, ask for help. Reach out to someone in your network that is in that position and have a conversation.  Networks are there to help you.

Members of our military and law enforcement have a tremendous amount of value, so much more than most people realize.  Stop hiding it from us.  Tell us in a way that we can understand and doors will begin to open for you to transition successfully.


As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career coaching and practice firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.
I help people get from where they are in their jobs to where they want to be in their careers.

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