Should I Use Military Language on My Resume?
Military jargon, like any slang or colloquial language, is filled with acronyms, abbreviations, secret meanings and obscure nuances that can confuse someone who is unfamiliar with the jargon.
But eliminating military jargon from your resume very much depends on your career goal and the company, organization or industry you are seeking to be employed by.
And it should be dictated by a simple question you can ask yourself: Will the person understand the jargon?
If the answer is yes, by all means use it; if not, the jargon should be simplified for the layperson to ensure they do indeed understand your skills, experience and achievements.
When should you use military jargon on your resume?
When you apply for positions within the defense or military-contracting industries.
Remember, they are not outsiders to military jargon; it is the “language” by which they communicate. They want to see this jargon, acronymns, etc. This jargon acts very much like keywords to assist them in matching you to their open positions. (They also like to see much longer, detailed, and information-rich resumes than industries outside of the defense establishment.)
Where military jargon becomes a problem, in my experience, has been when a veteran conducts his or her second or third job hunt and seeks career opportunities outside of the defense or military-contracting industries such as consumer goods, financial, materials, manufacturing, automotive, real estate, and, yes, even the Internet dot-com industries.
These industries may not understand military jargon because (a) the hiring managers may be unfamiliar with military-speak or (b) the industries have their own unique jargon.
I found this out during my first post-Navy job hunt 17 years ago. Unknowingly, I wrote a military-jargon-filled resume and I expected companies would understand my electronics training and experience. I scored very few interviews and when I did, the most common question was, “What is a MK 23 Gyrocompass Technician (NEC 4723)?”
I ultimately found employment through networking. The company I went to work for was filled with ex-military who understood my resume.
(When I left that company and had to rewrite my resume, I wrote it in terms of the industry I was working for. Not surprisingly, potential employers understand my resume and I recall receiving nine interview offers within three weeks of sending out my resume.)
In industries outside of the defense or military contracting industries, the best advice I’d give to a vet who is assembling his or her first resume is: Remove the Military Jargon.
This is especially true of retirees. I’ve noticed the longer the veteran is in the service, the more military jargon is contained in his or her resume.
I’ve also seen that retirees are more likely to copy and paste into their resume a military job description from a military career manual or the write-up from an annual performance evaluation.
If you do the copy-and-paste exercise, you will have a fantastic resume for applying to the armed forces. But for a civilian hiring manager, your resume will be as incomprehensible as instructions for programming a VCR are to the average home-electronics consumer.
Military jargon inhibits the resume reader from digesting the resume information quickly and easily. It must be removed so anyone can read your resume and make sense of your experience.
Let’s run through three examples of military jargon and how they can be changed to improve the overall understanding of the resume information. The examples are:
- The classic jargon problem
- The clumping-vagueness problem
- The verbosity problem
The Classic Jargon Problem
Read this resume narrative:
Analyzes manpower programming and budgeting data in the AMC portion of the Army Program Objective Memorandum (POM), the Army Budget Estimate Submission (BES), and the Command Plan for AMC MSC/SRA, to ensure that MTOE/TDA developed under TAADS reflect the approved military and civilian manpower program by appropriation and authorization, and that authorization data tracks to that reflected in the DA Standard Army Manpower Authorization System (SAMAS).
This resume narrative is a good example of why military jargon makes resume reading difficult.
Sure, it is specific and detailed. But it is written in a manner that would require the reader to spend a considerable amount of time digesting the information and then determining if this experience matches the requirements for the open position.
Can it be stated simpler and for the layperson?
What is this person saying he or she is skilled at?
My guess is the person is skilled at analyzing, relative to specific criteria, whether there are sufficient people, military or civilian, to staff positions in the U.S. Army. So, the person is a Human Resources manager, right?
Which version would you rather read? The long one or the short one?
Sometimes jargon is necessary to fully describe your skills or work experience. In this case, prepare the resume reader for the jargon by starting with direct, clear language anyone can understand, then repeat what you said with the jargon. You have then just made your resume readable by both non-experts and experts (who understand the jargon).
The Clumping-Vagueness Problem
Sometimes military jargon is indirect, that is, it does not include the specific terms or terminology of classic jargon. But it uses terms or phrases that clumps job tasks into one vague term. Hence, the problem is semantic in nature, that is, the meanings of words and terms. Read this one:
Developed and implemented a training program for the technical enhancement of the junior enlisted soldiers.
What exactly is “technical enhancement”?
Did they learn how to use computers? Or a specific type of software? Or, did this training program teach them how to maintain tanks, trucks, radios or weaponry or even give first aid in the field? We don’t know.
This training probably included a number of related or unrelated skills that were clumped into one jargonistic term—technical enhancement.
While this is just fine for people who know what is being covered in the training, for a resume reviewer, it is just plain vague, meaningless and a hassle to understand.
The best way to deal with this kind of semantic-based jargon is to itemize what is included within the term and then describe each item in detail on your resume.
The Verbosity Problem
Trying to be detailed, exact and articulate is usually a plus. But this attitude sometimes creates a whole new problem: verbosity. And verbosity only makes resumes longer and harder to read. Consider this resume narrative:
- Performed all duties required for the Personnel Management and Human Resources requirements, including the interviewing and hiring of new employees.
- Spearheaded the implementation of our company’s drug free workplace policy.
- Directly responsible for the planning, organizing, directing, coordination and control of the company’s move towards ISO Quality System certification.
In all fairness to the resume writer, this narrative communicates the experience of this job applicant adequately. But we see creeping into the narrative, the over-exactness of the writer when we read terms like “spearheaded the implementation” or “performed all duties required for.” These phrases just add to the word count of the phrase and interfere with a quick digestion of the information by the reader.
Let’s rewrite this narrative in the following way:
- Interviewed and hired new employees.
- As Human Resources Manager, I performed [itemize and describe each duty].
- Implemented the company’s drug-free, workplace policy.
- Planned, directed and coordinated the company’s ISO Quality System certification.
Military jargon has its place. It is effective as a “shorthand” for people within an organization to communicate, with brevity, complex topics.
But including military jargon on a resume depends on whether it aids or subtracts from a potential employer’s understanding of your experience. For the defense establishment, it is definitely a plus; for other industries, military jargon may make your resume hard to skim and even harder to read.
Good Luck in Your Job Search!
All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily express the opinions of MilitaryHire.com or the publisher.
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