How can ex-forces personnel create the most compelling CV?

Published on: 26 May 2022

If you've spent your entire career in the armed forces, heading back to civvy street can present a number of culture shocks, and one of the big challenges for many former soldiers, sailors or airmen will be finding a new career.

The first part of this will always be to get your name out to recruiters, and this means you need a good CV. This can be challenging for many ex-forces personnel. Many of these individuals might have never needed this before, in which case it can be hard to know where to start.

Even if you do have prior experience creating a CV, making sure it's understandable and relevant for recruiters isn't easy. You might feel that a lot of what you've done in the past wouldn't be useful to civilian employers, or that they wouldn't see how it could transfer to their industry.

However, this isn't necessarily the case. With the right CV, you can be sure you're putting yourself in the best position to get noticed and stand out from other candidates. So what should you keep in mind to do this?

Highlight your transferable skills

Lots of what you did when in the armed forces will be relevant to civilian employers - you just have to frame it in the right way. For example, some of the key skills that will be of interest include things like:

  • Leadership
  • Organisational skills
  • Problem solving
  • Calmness under pressure
  • Attention to detail
  • Strong work ethic

Make sure that any descriptions of your activities and experiences focus on skills such as these, and how they can be applied outside the military.

Translate military experience for civilian recruiters

When talking directly about your experiences, whether this is in writing as part of your CV or in person during the interview stage, it's important to put these into perspective for employers. 

For example, you may well have commendations or awards that you're proud of, but while it's essential you highlight these, you should focus on what you did to earn them rather than the awards themselves, which may not be easily appreciated by recruiters. The same may go for any training courses you've completed or establishments you've learned at, as the names themselves may not mean much to civilians.

Identify what's relevant

While there will be a lot of transferable skills and experiences to draw on for civilian life, not everything you've done in the military will be directly relevant. For instance, while commendations for leadership courses or good service are applicable, marksmanship awards are likely to be less so.

This can be challenging for forces leavers, who will naturally want to add in everything they've achieved. However, this can lead to lengthy CVs - ideally, you don't want it to cover any more than two sides of A4. Therefore, you'll need to make some tough choices about what to leave in and what to take out.

Get rid of any jargon

Military life often has its own language and jargon that, while everyday and familiar to you, may be alien to recruiters outside the armed forces. Therefore, it's vital to make sure you're adapting these terms to non-military equivalents.

For starters, avoid things like acronyms that don't have any context outside the military. But you should also consider going further to translate military operations into more easily understandable equivalents. For instance, even terms such as 'soldiers' and 'tanks' can be called 'staff' or 'heavy equipment' for your civilian CV. Even if a phrase may be obvious to you, assuming that someone else will know what it means is a mistake.

This can even extend to things like job titles, which often don't translate well outside of the military. For example, titles such as Field Artillery Operations Officer or Commander AFV may be equivalent to 'Operations Supervisor' for your CV, as it tells an unfamiliar reader more about what this involves.

Frame your accomplishments in real terms

It's important to frame your successes throughout your military career in real terms that will be meaningful to civilian employers. Descriptions of operational outcomes may not be especially useful to recruiters, so think about what any business equivalent might be.

For example, if you led a unit as a sergeant, describe how you were a supervisor of a team of employees. What effect did your responsibilities have on overall performance? If you were in logistics, highlight any efficiency improvements you achieved, in pounds or as a percentage of your budget. If you were in charge of training for new recruits, explain how you developed an educational program. 

Make it tailored

Finally, it's important to remember your CV shouldn't be a generic document that you use for every application. Recruiters can tell when you're doing this, and it suggests a lack of effort and interest. Be sure to tweak your CV for each application, bringing the most relevant points to the fore based on the job description.

If you're still unsure how to present yourself in the best light, help is at hand. There are lots of resources dedicated to assisting forces leavers with finding work, from charitable foundations and the MoD's official Career Transition Partnership (CTP) to professional CV advice services. 

Another great way to find out what recruiters value is to talk to them in person at an event such as a careers fair. For instance, our Security Cleared Expos are always attended by employers who are particularly keen on the skills and experiences that former military personnel have to offer. Therefore, these events offer an ideal opportunity for people to chat in person with recruiters, show off their skills and learn more about the opportunities that are available.