From Service Record to Civilian Resume

Looking for a new job is challenging for most of us. For ADF members who are moving away from a familiar environment with clear cut expectations, Standard Operating Procedures for everything and direct chains of command, it can be an even bigger challenge. Transitioning to a civilian lifestyle and career can be a steep learning curve, and often the first step is the hardest. So how do you get things started?


The trick to a successful Defence transition isn’t so much working out what to do when you get out, as much as communicating what you CAN do. How do you turn your service record into something that a civilian hiring manager or recruiter not just understands, but values? How do you make your ADF background relevant to the civilian employment market?


Buckle up. Let’s take a look.

Time Spent in Reconnaissance is Seldom Wasted

Assess the resources available to you.  If you are currently serving, your local ADF Transition Centre should be your first stop. Here you can get familiar with your entitlements, speak with a transitions coach and arrange to attend a Transitions Seminar.


There are several other fabulous organisations positioned to support and facilitate your transition, including:


Identify your Target

To effectively market yourself for a civilian job, you need clearly defined goals.


Firstly, identify what is motivating your transition. Do you want to travel less for work? Are promotion opportunities as rare as hens teeth? Do you want to move closer to family support? Do you want to get off the tools? After working with so many defence clients, as well as supporting my husband through his own transition I can tell you that while the motivations to get out can vary, there are a few key ones that always top the list.


Secondly, are any of your skills obviously transferrable? If you are an engineer, a clerk or a technician then your options are pretty clear cut. If your role has no immediately apparent civilian equivalent, then you’re in for a little more self-reflection and digging. Check out my previous blogs for some tips on digging deep and working out what kind of role you want to pursue.      

Make your resume civvie relevant

The purpose of the resume is to tell the reader a little about yourself and answer the most pressing hiring question – “What can this person do for me?” You need to identify and communicate your key, transferrable skills and experience, touch on the soft skills that support your performance, and round it out with some notable achievements and examples of how you have added value to your employer in the past.


1. Identify your key skills


Research your ideal role, and identify which specific skills, experiences and aspects of your defence background are the most relevant. Most employers will recognise that former Defence members have a range of useful skills  honed during their time in service. However, if you yourself are lack confidence or are uncertain what these skills are, then you risk failing to sell them to potential employers.


Your entire task is to create a document that shows how the skills picked up during your military career can add value to a civilian job, and showcase the supporting skills you have that will allow you to make a smooth transition into the organisation. As already mentioned, some jobs can easily be easily converted to civilian jobs – clerk, engineer etc. Even if your role doesn’t readily convert, your day to day duties and the supporting skills that allow you to perform them WILL.  Team leadership, managing sensitive information, or delivering training, for example, are essential skills that can’t be overlooked.


Remembering what you did on a daily basis can help pinpoint the key skills you used regularly. Not thinking of one specific role here, these could involve:  


  • Logistics Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Planning Exercises
  • Performing Risk Assessments
  • Driving Armoured Personnel Carriers
  • Combat Communications
  • Administration
  • Records Management
  • Training and/or mentoring junior personnel
  • Managing Resources – personnel, equipment, finances
  • Team Leadership
  • Briefing Senior Officers
  • Working with other teams on base


Many people will get those few disjointed dot points written down, and think they’re done. However, you’re going to level it up and do better. With a bit of fine-tuning, and framing within the context of your day to day activities, those odd dot points suddenly become….


  • Managing the day to day movements, training, wellbeing and personal development of a team of 60+ junior officers
  • Working with ship staff to prepare and train the ships’ company of 220 persons in small arms handling, as well as ensuring their weapons logs are completed and compliant
  • Creating a range of comprehensive procedures and documents detailing the procurement process, preferred suppliers and any arrangements
  • Maintaining a document storage system and database with the highest regard for confidentiality, organisation and timely retrieval of documents
  • Developing and leading skilled teams of up to five direct reports, including managing their workplace performance, ensuring compliance and facilitating professional development
  • Performing financial administration tasks, such as monitoring compliance to operational budgets, accounts payable, financial reporting and small business accounting for ships and other base establishments
  • Conducting routine planned maintenance and reactive unplanned maintenance and repairs


2. Showcase your achievements


As you saw above, an average resume often reads a bit like a laundry list of job duties, whereas the BEST resumes always have a section dedicated to specific and measurable achievements. It’s one thing just to say you have the skill to lead a group of people effectively, or create and implement more efficient processes…’s quite another to demonstrate how you doing this has delivered value to your current or previous employer.


To best demonstrate the significance of your achievements, select examples that have quantifiable or measurable outcomes where possible, as this also speaks to the size and scope of your role. For example:


  • Successfully undertaking the logistical preparation and event planning and management for ADF Open Days  where attendance exceeds 12,000 civilian and defence members
  • Creating a robust procurement process including creation of documents, creation and maintenance of stores to ensure rolling exercises had supporting documentation
  • I completed the Sniper Course holding the top ranking for performance out of the entire course of 20+ people. My abilities combined with my knack for engaging with and leading others saw me flagged for a more senior leadership role. I was fast-tracked through the advanced sniper course and advanced qualification course within 18 months, which saw me reach a position where I was delivering the same training I had recently completed. The standard career progression to get to this point is approximately 5 years. I was soon performing higher duties which saw me responsible for the day to day management of the sniper platoon and the supervision of up to 14 instructors and 40 students at any one time.
  • I have been identified for training as a Trades Supervisor, and am completing the course in July 2019. I have been informally acting into this role, leading small teams of up to five junior technicians on daily tasking’s for the last six months,  assisting them to gain confidence on the flight line while working toward the completion of their competency logs and certifications


Although not every employer will understand the relevance of some of your training and duties, including examples and achievements like this not only speaks to how you have added value as an individual, but the example itself often adds context around your skills and experience that are detailed in the rest of the document.


3. Discard irrelevant information


There is no golden number as to how many pages the resume should be, but I can guarantee it’s not 11. Keep things as concise as possible, and actively discard any information that isn’t of interest to the employer.


Ask yourself “Is this relevant to the employer and what they are seeking? Will it influence their decision to invite me to interview?”


 Only include content that will help you secure an interview. At the end of the day, the hiring manager will likely be reading hundreds of resumes. They’re looking for what THEY NEED, not what extra fluff you have included. If they have to work to find what they need in an eleven-page document – you’re behind before you even begin.

Avoid those acronyms

Everyone laughs at HOW many acronyms are used in defence. I know my eyes glazed over a few times before
I started to get a handle on what things meant. If you take nothing else away from
this blog – please remember this.

Get comfortable communicating in the language of your potential employers.

Most of the hiring managers or recruiters you come up against aren’t going to have any reference as to what a Flight Lieutenant is.  If you were to call yourself a black hander or a sig, chances are you’ll get a confused squint across the table. This doesn’t just go for job titles; it also goes for tasks. For example, you didn’t ‘train snipers’, you delivered specialist training to small groups on a range of topics, including undertaking strategic operations and the operation of specialist weaponry in adherence with course requirements and health and safety policies. You didn’t ‘update PMKeys’, you used both standard and specialised IT applications to enter and extract data, run reports and store and retrieve documents.     


Describe your job titles, duties, achievements and training in a way that can be understood.


If there’s an acronym – spell it out.


Make. It. Easy         


If in doubt, show your resume to a friend or family member with no defence knowledge, and ask them to point out anything they don’t understand. Then go one step further, and ask them to tell you what you do on a day to day basis.

Remember - this is a live document.

You will need to adjust it each time you use it, whether it be slightly reordering the key skills and experience section, subbing out different keywords or tweaking your achievements. Don’t make the mistake of creating a resume that is too general to be effective. On this note, if you are applying for a role that can be known as several different titles, make SURE you are using the keywords and role title specific to the job ad you are submitting the resume for.


Talking to those who have walked this path before you is going to be invaluable. Connect with friends who have recently discharged and ask them about the challenges they experienced or if they would do anything differently. Was there was anything they forgot to discuss with an employer at interview or do they have tips on contract negotiation? Defence friendships are far-reaching and so very unique. Lean in and take advantage of your network.


Many companies have employee referral programs in place, and this is something to explore! Unlike the traditional hiring method of putting up a job ad and seeing who comes along, employee referral is an internal method of sourcing and hiring talent by drawing upon employees’ existing networks. Existing employees are encouraged to recommend candidates from their networks for open positions, and there is usually a financial bonus for the existing employee upon the new hire signing their contract and completing probation.


If you have a friend working at an organisation you’d like to be a part of, it’s worth reaching out to see if they have a program in place, and have them keep an eye on internal listings. It’s a win-win situation!


In conclusion, your defence experience is an incredible asset and should be marketed as such in your civilian resume. Many employers realise the value of employing former ADF members, but if you make it easy for them to understand why YOU SPECIFICALLY are a valuable asset, your transition will be that much smoother.


Need further help with writing a resume for your transition? We’ve been writing resumes and supporting clients Australia-wide since 2016, and we have a reputation for digging deep to distil a powerful value proposition for every client. Whether you are an executive in Brisbane, a public servant in Canberra,  a Melbourne graduate seeking their first role, or an Australian Defence Partner based in Townsville, we’ve got you covered. We will unpack your professional story and help you approach your job search with CONFIDENCE.


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