Translating Military Experience into Gibberish

Conveying military experience to civilian human resources departments is hard.

military-civilian-transition

With so many veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan having trouble finding jobs in this economy, services are popping up to help them make the transition.

James Dao, NYT (“Fixing the Failed Elevator Pitch: Translating Military Skills for Civilian Employers“):

The failed elevator pitch. Kevin Schmiegel, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, had heard dozens of them from young veterans trying to sell themselves to prospective employers. Acronyms. Jargon incomprehensible to civilians. Puzzling explanations of military jobs. An inability, or unwillingness, to take credit for awards, specialized training or even leadership positions.

So he decided to do something about it. As executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation project that connects employers with veterans, Mr. Schmiegel organized a team to create a program that could help veterans translate their military experiences into easy-to-digest résumés.

The result was the Personal Branding Resume Engine, which Hiring Our Heroes is scheduled to unveil on Wednesday morning at its latest job fair, at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

Sweet. So how does it work?

Type in a military occupational specialty and the pull-down menu translates it for you. An 88m? A motor transport officer. But that’s not all. It then offers a concise explanation of what that job entailed: “Operated wheel vehicles and equipment over varied terrain and roadways. Managed loading and unloading of personnel and equipment being transported.”

The key to those translations – and there are hundreds of them in the program, one for every military specialty in all five services – are the action verbs, carefully chosen with the help of the human resources managers to break through to skeptical résumé readers, Mr. Schmiegel said.

Thus, a truck driver would not have simply driven a truck: he or she would have also “managed transport of supplies/equipment and performed planning and execution functions to support movement in Afghanistan.”

Now, this is impressive résumé verbiage. But it’s wildly inaccurate.

Unless things have changed wildly since I left the service, transportation officers don’t operate vehicles and equipment at all, unless you count whatever data input and communications devices they operate. Very junior enlisted personnel do that.

And, in point of fact, truck drivers simply drive trucks. The description  ”managed transport of supplies/equipment and performed planning and execution functions to support movement in Afghanistan” sounds like something someone in brigade operations staff–or at least a headquarters company motor sergeant–does.

Have we inflated our language so much that this sort of wild exaggeration of job responsibilities is now the norm?

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rafer Janders says:

    So he decided to do something about it. As executive director of Hiring Our Heroes,

    Ugh. What an awful name.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Hate that as well but understand the need to market your business.

  3. Gustopher says:

    This has become the norm for resumes — impenetrable gibberish that has little bearing in what the person does or did.

    I suspect it is the cause of our current unemployment. The jobs are there, the workers are there, but how do you match the workers to the jobs when resumes are impenetrable gibberish filled with lies and falsehoods? And the prospective employees are stuck, because their resume needs to be gibberish and falsehoods to get through HR. It’s as if the entire process is being done in Navajo, but there are only 17 speakers of Navajo left, none of whom are involved in the process.

    Ok, it’s not actually the cause of our current unemployment…

  4. Have we inflated our language so much that this sort of wild exaggeration of job responsibilities is now the norm?

    Yes.

  5. Ben says:

    The problem is that so many HR departments either run all resumes through automated screening programs that only care about specific buzzwords, or if you’re lucky enough to be applying to a company where an actual human being is reading your resume, they act just like said computer program anyway, just highlighting the buzzwords from the job description.

    So, in order to wade through the process of being considered for a job, your resume doesn’t actually need to be a readable description of your experience; rather, it HAS to be an exhaustive list of jargon, buzzwords and gobbledy-gook, because the job descriptions are an equally exhaustive list of said gobbledy-gook. There are several layers of screening your resume has to make it through before it reaches the eyes of someone who has any idea what some of those acronyms and jargon mean.

  6. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Back in the early ’70s, after I completed the active duty part of my military service, I had two important things on my “To Do” list. The first was to get enrolled in college and the other was to get signed up for some unemployment benefits because if there’s one thing I enjoy more than separating our rulers from some of the money they’ve separated from me, it’s double-dipping in that regard.

    So, I arrive at the state’s local cash dispensary and after a bit of a wait, I’m approach by a perky young lady, whom I later found out was an honors graduate of one of those girl’s Ivy League colleges. She looked over my file, which at that point was only a form, and began to put all her interviewing training into high. “So,” she began, would you please tell me what an infantryman does?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, at this point being interested in more than just money, “a good infantryman closes with and destroys the enemies of his country.” There and then followed a bit of a pause, not a particularly unpleasant one as the view was indeed quite pleasant, as the young lady gathered herself to proceed. As a quizzical smile came across her face, she continued asking, “Did you enjoy that work?”

  7. Al says:

    Have we inflated our language so much that this sort of wild exaggeration of job responsibilities is now the norm?

    Yes. Prior to about 1947 no one lied on their resumes.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Al:

    Prior to about 1947 no one lied on their resumes.

    I don’t doubt that people slightly exaggerate their level of responsibility–especially making very rare duties seem as if they were the norm. But this is orders of magnitude above that.

  9. JKB says:

    Just following the lead of our betters who make licking stamps on a political campaign sound like they determined policy positions for the now President.

    But it is a matter of context

    Thus, a truck driver would not have simply driven a truck: he or she would have also “managed transport of supplies/equipment and performed planning and execution functions to support movement in Afghanistan.”

    a truck driver would have managed the transport…. They operated the transport platform as well as probably had a least some oversight of the loading to the extent of safe and efficient axle loads and tiedowns. They probably at some point looked at the map, planning and executing the route even if said route was predetermined. A driver would look at such a route to familiarize themselves with natural hazards, difficult roadways, and to ensure fueling locations were compatible with their platform’s requirements. They may have to follow headquarters’ plans but to do so blindly will get you killed since headquarters staff aren’t in the dirt where things go bad quickly.

  10. rudderpedals says:

    @11B40: Was the cliffhanger intentional? Please finish the story if not.

  11. GeoffBr says:

    This seems like it’s more an issue of inaccurate or incomplete information in the tool (which I assume is a work in progress) than intentional “inflation” of experience; presumably the veteran will need to apply their own judgment and experience to the template that pops out. This is true of any tool; when you just copy-paste from it, the result will either be wrong or unclear.

  12. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Yes, such verbiage is required. But even more than that, in this day and age of HR screening programs, you really should tailor your resume and whatever supporting docs get scanned in to match the specific verbiage of each particular job posting – especially anything denoted under a “required” heading.

    You can’t trust that a human being that understands that “auditing,” “tax preparation,” or “financial analysis” comprise “accounting and accounting-related functions” will ever see your resume, for example. If you don’t provide enough of a match for the scanning algorithm, it won’t matter one bit.

  13. 11B40 says:

    @rudderpedals:

    Greetings, rudderpedals:

    Girl-wise or work-wise ???

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Egg-zackly. Given the brain-dead stupidity of present day HR departments (and the brain-dead stupidity of said computer parsing programs) I’d suggest that any ex-military would do a damn sight better if you all got together and founded your own company.

    (I may not have much respect for ex-SAHMs who waltz in and think that having a degree from Harvard seventeen years ago and no work experience entitles them to a job (and try to make me believe that being head of the local PTA is equivalent to carrying out trade negotiations with Russia), but I have even less respect for the present HR idiocy of our corporations.)

  15. Tony W says:

    @11B40: Tell us you married that girl and she’s sitting next to you right now, as beautiful as the day you met her!

  16. Drew says:

    @11B40:

    Denial of the realities of our world, and what it takes to navigate in that world, seems to be a problem with our country (read: liberals) these days. We ain’t in Kansas anymore.

    Perhaps because one uncle was career Army, and another a legend in aircraft design so the damned things wouldn’t fall out of the sky when hit, makes me overly sympathetic.

    Good luck in any and all endeavors..

  17. Drew says:

    I am in the private equity business, and as such have been in the position of hiring significant people for more than 15 years. I really have only one relevant observation. Former military people, as a general proposition, make sparkling hires. Dedicated and hard working. Logical and disciplined. If they have competancy deficiencies thay have an attitude that says “I’ll fix it,” and they do. The one knock is individuality and entreprenuerial spirit.

    Now, I’ve never hired a Delta Force guy. Maybe they are different. But I do know Rangers and Seals. Great people, but just not rock stars.

    I’m not sure I really understand why not. Its just been an empirical fact in my experience.

  18. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s in various respects a national disgrace that so many returning veterans are unemployed and underemployed. For obvious reasons, however, the national mass media has little to no interest in this story, at least not until Jan. 2017, so ergo largely it will continue to fly under the radar.

    Like so many other issues this one too pertains directly to tax and spending priorities. Every public dollar spent providing largesse is one less dollar for job training and job placement for returning veterans. The left utterly is dissonant here, of course, for obvious reasons, but spending public money by definition entails a moral judgment, regardless whether the underlying item is bound up with a per se social issue.

    In one corner there are AFDC payments being made to white trash but able-bodied malingerers, living in trailer parks, who intend to use that largesse to score booze and Oxycontin. In the other corner there are war heroes who could use some extra vocational education and ramped up training programs to get jobs to provide for themselves and their families. Decisions matter.

  19. rudderpedals says:

    @11B40: Girl-wise is what I was expecting before the story ended. You could be a screenwriter for the Odyssey 5 series which also stopped at a cliffhanger. So what happened next?

  20. @grumpy realist: My favorite thing are entry level jobs at government agencies that require specialized knowledge or software experience that one would only process if they already have the job. E.g., a job paying $26,234 – $37,500 that requires experience with a “Recruitment Management System” that only the state uses.

  21. Gustopher says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    It’s in various respects a national disgrace that so many returning veterans are unemployed and underemployed.

    Given that we ran the Iraq and Afghan wars by calling up national guardsmen and putting people back onto active duty, an employer might be wondering whether the veteran they are considering hiring will actually be there six months from now. It’s illegal to make a hiring decision based on that, but it is easy to find other reasons to hire someone else, so the likelihood of being caught is minimal (assuming the folks hiring even know that it would be illegal)

    It’s one of the reasons I opposed the Iraq war — we didn’t need to wage that war then, and to do so stretched our military too thin, and required sacrifices from our men in uniform that they shouldn’t have been asked to make except in an emergency.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Drew:

    Denial of the realities of our world, and what it takes to navigate in that world, seems to be a problem with our country (read: liberals) these days.

    Says the man who follows with this:

    I am in the private equity business, and as such have been in the position of hiring significant people for more than 15 years.

    and says he writes 7 figure checks to the IRS for his taxes…

    What would you know about the “real world” Drew, you know, the one the 99% live in?

  23. Tony W says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Lovely of you to ignore the GWB administration gutting veterans benefits, hospital funding and keeping all eyes away from the thousands of arriving flag-draped coffins – all while waging a ridiculous war on false pretenses with no set goals or exit strategy.

    The one thing you got right in your post – “Decisions Matter”.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    One of my modest goals in life is never to be full of sh!t. But not only does society now expect bullsh!t, they demand it and get resentful when you don’t provide it. I’m asked about my job a lot and I always try to answer simply and honestly: I make up stories, I type then on my laptop, the end. But that’s never enough. There has to be some element of inspiration, some aspect of heroism, something to make you more wondrous than you are. I have to get ideas from God or the ghost of Will Shakespeare. I have to be opening a vein. And God forbid I should suggest that I work for money.

    No one wants to hear that I’m just some dude doing his job, same as I was when I was waiting tables. Sorry, I mean of course that it’s the same as when I performed executive level prioritizations in the food preparation and service industry, ultimately resulting in the safe and timely delivery of thousands of lifesaving meals to clients, many of whom were war veterans.

  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Timothy Watson: Ugh, don’t get me started on that. My agency’s job descriptions are horrible. My divisions managers admit that the descriptions dont’ reflect who they really want to hire, but the process of changing them even a little is so onerous that the political will to accomplish it doesn’t exist. it is very frustrating.

  26. grumpy realist says:

    @Timothy Watson: I never know whether to put that down to inspired incompetence in HR or an indication that they’re trying to hire from within.

    Sorta equivalent to the bid specs the government puts out for scientific equipment which ends up with contradictory objectives….we had to deal with that all the time. Lord save me from bid specs written by a committee.

  27. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: On the other side of this equation, I understand that last year was very good for the Drews of the country. The top 1% is reported to have made 122% of the increase in the GDP last year.

    I’m not sure that I see the bottom line for the country (or even the top 1% in the long term) in this pattern, but then again, I didn’t find “Atlas Shrugged” to be the most important book that I ever read either.

  28. 11B40 says:

    @rudderpedals:

    Greetings, again, rudderpedals:

    I’m afraid that I have to prolong you cliff-hung-ness. As my father taught me, a gentleman never tells.

  29. rudderpedals says:

    @11B40: Say no more. A wink’s as good as a nudge