Lost in Translation; Your CV

Posted on May 9, 2018

I approach this Blog with some trepidation, as I know there will be a considerable number of opinions out there, and so I am going to attempt to position this as carefully as possible.

When we join the Military, we enter into a pretty insular environment that has a vernacular, and language all of its own.  The language across the three services also differs, but some phrases and terms are interchangeable.

The languages is based on hundreds of years of history, born out of necessity keep things concise for expedience, and further based on organisational structures that have few real parallels to civilian organisations.

So, when it comes to resettlement and articulating what you have achieved in your service career, it is difficult to find suitable terminology for two main reasons:

  • First, you are not fully familiar with the language of commerce.
  • Second, the language you would use to describe your abilities is not familiar to the hiring organisation.

It is a sad situation that, as a CV without the required language lands on the desk of the hiring manager, it is usually with several others, and sometimes into the hundreds.  If the CV does not rapidly articulate the value in a recognisable language, then, it usually goes into the bin within a matter of seconds.

I have spoken with enough people to know this to be the case.  One individual required some support, as he had sent out his CV 220+ times, and had only received around 10 responses saying that he had not been successful.

It is worth noting also that the vast majority of recruitment companies use CV databases and they operate on search criteria for specific roles; character strings that detail the role and responsibilities at a certain level.  These search criteria are obviously written in the commercial language of which service leavers have little experience.  So, a CV which is full of the military language such OIC Stores, SNCO IC, Commander, etc, etc, does not come up in the search and so, fails at the first hurdle.

Almost as bad as that example is the attempt to translate a role into a commercial term but not quite getting the term right.  While this CV might well make it in the search, it is unlikely to make the first or second sift, as the context is not as it should be, and actual responsibilities do not substantiate the role.  An example of this that I saw on two CVs I was working on had a WO1 state that he was “responsible to the CEO for….”  and then, a SSgt made the same claim but at Troop level, and this was clearly anomalous and difficult to substantiate for prospective director level roles.

The other major “sin” that I see on CVs is the listing of multiple civilian recognised roles in the Career Profile element of the CV.  I worked on a CV for a Lt Col (QM) who had taken a regiment out on operations, and also been in charge of all facilities on a substantial station.  His CV listed him as “an exemplary Facilities Manager, Transport/Fleet Manager and Project Manager”… His experience in all these roles would definitely be credible, and he had done as he had been taught, and played to his strengths, however, he was not getting interviews from a very simple reason.  A civilian employer would look at the CV and think either, “This guy can’t decide what he wants to do”, or, “This guy is too good to be true”.

So, what can be done to ensure that you make it into the search, through the sift, and get to interview without getting lost in translation?

In reverse order, I recommend the following:

  • Where you have identified a number of prospective roles, select one, or write a number of different CVs and evidence from your experience achievements pertinent to the role.
  • Keep it simple. Use known terms such as Manager, and then provide context with the size of the organisation in relation to number of personnel, the monetary value of equipment and/or real estate, or size of budget.  Senior Officers and Senior Warrant Officer levels could use “Director” for specific roles again contextualising with quantitative statements.
  • Avoid Military Jargon. This is a fairly obvious statement, but because of the immersion into the language, it becomes second nature.  Have someone review your CV and highlight anything that is clearly military vernacular, and then seek a suitable civilian term that is simple, and contextualise it.

Getting your CV right can be a minefield, but, following these basic rules can support in having something that can be picked up on search, and represent your value in terms that hiring managers can understand.

What does your CV say?


At what point should you start the Resettlement Process?

  • More than 2 years before you depart? (40%, 6 Votes)
  • 2 years before departure? (33%, 5 Votes)
  • Around 6 months before last day? (13%, 2 Votes)
  • 12 Months prior to departure? (13%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 15

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