(Article written for Homeport Magazine, Oct 2013)
When someone leaves the Armed Forces and makes the transition into civilian life, they often face significant challenges in translating the skills and experience they have gained in their military career into “civvy speak” on a CV. Abbreviations, acronyms, even certain words in everyday use onboard a ship will often make no sense at all to a civilian employer and could severely restrict the chances of even the strongest candidate.
A Navy wife myself, I set up a CV consultancy to provide exactly this kind of help to those leaving the Forces, converting military jargon into language that a civilian employer can understand. Recruiters often tell me that they have difficulty assessing the level of a military candidate from their CV: are they middle management or senior? What is “Op Herrick”? Exactly what does “QM” mean? And if they bother to Google it, what on earth is a Quarter Master? Within the Navy it demonstrates responsibility for the safety of an entire ship and her crew - extremely important to highlight on a CV, but this would be completely lost on the civilian employer. I ensure that a military candidate’s career achievements are clearly and accurately translated into “civvy speak”, in order to set them apart from the crowd and give them the best possible chance.
Another recurring issue I find with our Armed Forces clients is that what a civilian employer may class as a significant achievement, the military candidate often just sees as part of the job, and may not even mention it on the CV at all. With the emphasis these days on personal achievements , the military candidates should be in the strongest position of all and yet they so often badly under-sell themselves on paper.
It is not only the service leaver who often has difficulties when writing a CV. When someone leaves the Armed Forces behind, so does their partner. Having realised there was little in the way of careers guidance for military families, we also work quite extensively with military spouses, a much-overlooked group of men and women who face their own specific employment challenges.
Military partners can hit a range of stumbling blocks when trying to write a CV. These may include the constant moving, lack of longevity in any job, no chance of career progression, having to take jobs we are over-qualified for and feeling we have to somehow hide our qualifications and experience. Very often we put our own careers on the back burner in order to bring up children or support our other halves in the Armed Forces and then find ourselves with a gap in the CV that needs explaining.
It is my job to help people like myself get their very best shot at the career ladder, armed with a killer CV that addresses all these obstacles and turns them into positives to an employer. I always advise my clients to be proud that they have managed to pursue a career while successfully balancing a very challenging home life. They should not try to hide or make excuses for the somewhat unconventional path they have taken, but rather explain themselves clearly on their CV, and use a well written covering letter to send a positive message to a prospective employer.
A good CV should make it apparent to the employer why you are the best person for the job, where your strengths lie, and the range of transferable skills you can bring to the role. A good employer should respect the choices you have made, and appreciate your commitment, motivation and work ethos. And if they don’t, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Joanna Murchie is an independent CV consultant and Navy wife, often featuring as a guest CV expert on BBC Radio and in the national press. In 2013 she was named as one of the Top Ten International Mumpreneurs in the UK.