Should I List Military Awards in My Civilian Resume?

do you put military awards on a resume

If you’re a Veteran in the process of separating from the military, you may have heard one of two things about resumes by now: (1) a resume is a marketing tool that “sells” your skills, and (2) a resume tells the story of your experience. As you prepare to build a military-to-civilian resume, you begin to think about the many awards you’ve received throughout your time in service for the difference you made in uniform. After all, they are a part of the journey in your military career. Now, the question that lingers in your mind is, “Should I list military awards in my resume?”

Whether or not to include your military awards, decorations, and medals depends on one factor – relevance. That’s why Empire Resume, consistently rated the best military to civilian resume writing service, is giving you an all-access pass to military awards and resume writing.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • Categories of Military Awards
  • The Importance of Relevance in a Resume
  • Best Awards to List on Civilian Resumes
  • How to List Awards in Resumes
  • Do’s and Don’ts for Military Awards Section in Resumes


Categories of Military Awards

do you put military awards on a resume

The very first medal created for the U.S. military was the Badge of Military Merit in 1782, by General George Washington. The medal was awarded for “any singularly meritorious action.”  On February 22, 1932, the Badge of Military Merit became the Purple Heart, meant to honor the same bravery as the Badge of Military Merit.

Servicemembers across all U.S. branches of service receive awards. When it comes to military dress, uniforms communicate and identify rank, years of service, duty assignments, and awards in one glance. Military awards are shown by using ribbons, badges, and medals.

Awards play a big role in the military culture because they represent the hard work and sacrifices a service member has made in a duty station, deployment, exercise, or operational training. They also tell the story of one’s excellence, leadership, courage, and technical expertise.

There are primarily three types of awards: individual, service, and campaign. Typically, individual awards reflect personal effort in going above and beyond the call of duty, service awards recognize team efforts, and campaign awards represent participation in a military operation or service in a specific geographical location during an expedition, campaign, or war.

Below is a breakdown of the classes of military awards as indicated in an article by Medals of America:

  • Personal Decorations: The Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs defines personal decorations as a class of awards given to a member of the military to signify specific acts they have completed. Personal decorations can be medals, ribbons, and other types of decorations. Examples of personal decorations include the Congressional Medal of Honor (the highest and most prestigious personal decoration that can be awarded to a member of the military), the Service Cross, and the Distinguished Service medals, as well as the Combat Action Ribbon.
  • Service Awards: Service awards include medals and ribbons that are awarded for time in service and other time-related occurrences – i.e., the U.S. Air Force’s Longevity Ribbon or each services’ Good Conduct Medal. Other awards within this class include the Special Service Medal, the Campaign Medal, and the Reserve Medal.
  • Training Awards: Unsurprisingly, training awards are presented to those who have completed certain entry-level or advanced individual training – i.e., basic training, occupational training, and professional leadership programs. Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard earn awards in this class – i.e., the Army Service Ribbon, the Air Force Training Ribbon, or the Coast Guard Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon, as well as the Army Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon.
  • Unit Awards: All branches of the U.S. military have specific unit awards to recognize specific accomplishments of entire groups and commands. Some examples of unit awards include the Presidential Unit Citation, the Efficiency Award, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and the Army/Navy/Air Force Unit Commendations, generally framed in a rectangular gold wreath. In the Army, unit awards are worn on the right side, opposite of individual, service, and campaign awards. The Navy and Marine Corps integrate unit awards into their individual ribbon stack, except when they wear their medals. Then, the unit awards are worn on the right, like the Army.
  • Foreign Decorations and Awards: Foreign decorations and awards are medals, ribbons and badges presented or awarded to U.S. military service members by non-U.S. governments and military units. There are certain foreign decorations that military members are authorized to wear on their uniform, such as the United Nations Medal, the NATO Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal-Kuwait and certain nations’ parachutist wings or foreign jump wings.
  • Marksmanship Awards: This class of awards is presented to military members who excel in precision shooting, marksmanship competitions and marksmanship programs within their military branch or joint service marksmanship competitions. Military members may be honored for their skills with small arms, pistols, and rifles, with awards such as the Distinguished Marksman Award, Expert Rifleman Award and Pistol Shot Award.
  • Honorary Civilian Awards: Honorary awards are presented to civilians and civilian military employees for exceptional achievement and service. The highest federal honorary award is the Army’s Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, which is awarded to a civilian who contributes in a significant way to the Department of the Army. Other honorary awards include the Meritorious Civilian Service Award and the Superior Civilian Service Award.

Now that you know the different categories of military awards, it’s time to see how your awards stack up to your resume and the job you’re targeting.

The Importance of Relevance in a Resume

do you put military awards on a resume

Remember, in how to write a military to civilian resume, we said that a military-to-civilian resume is a formal document that showcases and highlights relevant, transferable military experience to civilian jobs.

The type of information that a civilian resume contains include:

  • Professional military experience
  • Education
  • Skills, certifications, and awards

If you notice, relevant is an important word to think about when creating a military resume because you don’t want to make the mistake of including experience, skills, or even military awards that have nothing in common with the job you’re applying for.

As an example, if you’re applying for a STEM position, highlighting that you received a marksman award for weapons qualification does nothing to show a hiring manager that you can develop software, have problem-solving skills, or that you excel at research. However, if you’re looking to be a US Customs and Border Patrol Agent, your weapons training will come in handy.

Next, let’s look at the best awards to list on your resume.

Best Military Awards to List on Civilian Resumes

do you put military awards on a resume

Listing awards is often a challenge for Veterans because the military offers a wide range of formal awards than civilian organizations in the private sector. Some awards demonstrate your ability to perform the task at a high level. Others serve as a testament to your character.

Although the military awards you received prove your excellence and commitment in the military, they may not hold much weight or value in the civilian world if they are not easily understood.

It’s important to be strategic in deciding which awards to place on your resume. A good rule of thumb to remember is to include the personal and service type awards. Think of the awards that are not easy to get. In no particular order, just a few of these awards include:

  • Senior NCO of the Year
  • Officer of the Year
  • Noncommissioned Officer of the Year
  • NCO of the Quarter
  • Bronze Star
  • Purple Heart
  • Silver Star
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Soldier’s Medal
  • Medal of Honor
  • Airman’s Medal
  • Commendation Medal
  • Outstanding Airman of the Year

Even though awards that speak to your character may not be directly relevant to a job, most employers hire Veterans for their leadership ability, teamwork ability, and strong character. Therefore, stand-out awards such as Purple Hearts or Bronze Stars should be included because they demonstrate those qualities.

Here’s the bottom line

Awards that translate to something equivalent to “Employee of the Year” in the civilian world are great additions to add to your resume. Also, other awards that are relevant to the type of job you’re seeking will quickly make you an amazing candidate.

For example, if you’re looking for an IT job, your Cybersecurity NCO of the Quarter award is perfect.

Looking for an aviation career or want to work at the FAA? Your Air Traffic Control Enlisted Manager of the Year or Aviation Resource Manager of the Year award will be sure to make a hiring manager do a double-take.

Want to work at the Red Cross or participate in relief efforts? Your Humanitarian Service award will come in handy.

To determine where your award or medal falls under the categories, be sure to view the military awards by branch.

Awards Not to Include in Your Resume

do you put military awards on a resume

The normal awards that most servicemembers receive don’t need to be included such as the meritorious service award, basic training ribbon, and others.

Unfortunately, while serving in any campaign or war is notable, campaign awards are not a good fit for resumes. Listing that you served in Iraqi Freedom is a major accomplishment that isn’t to be taken lightly. It definitely speaks to your bravery, dedication, and commitment. But as you apply for jobs, ask yourself these questions: Does the campaign relate to the job I want? And how can I make a civilian hiring executive understand how I performed during the campaign and make it relevant to the job?

At the end of the day, it’s best to leave the campaign medals off your resume and do all you can to show highlight your value with any personal and service awards you received.

How to List Awards in Resumes

Awards can be added as a separate section on your military resume with the title “Awards” or listed as “Achievements” under your professional experience.

When writing your awards, make sure to use only significant, stand-out awards. Don’t forget to include the actual title of the award, the presenting organization, and the date you received it. Next, you want to quantify your accomplishments. To evoke emotion, you should choose action verbs, and explain the impact your achievement had on the organization.

Instead of merely listing the award with the date, you should write a statement that highlights your accomplishments for earning the award. For example, instead of just writing Senior NCO of the Year, write a statement that says:

“Recognized as #1 out of 300 managers in the organization for delivering 1,600 hours of team training and managing $30 million of equipment for an Air Force training program in support of joint missions with overseas organizations.”

Wrap Up: Do’s and Don’ts for Military Awards Section in Resumes

do you put military awards on a resume

Let’s wrap up with a brief word on do’s and don’ts for the awards section of your resume. Here’s a quick rundown of what and what not to do:

  • Don’t place the awards section at the top of your resume
  • Do keep formatting consistent
  • Don’t use military jargon
  • Do quantify your accomplishments
  • Don’t list too many awards that can be overwhelming
  • Do include personal or service awards
  • Don’t include campaign awards
  • Don’t lie or make up awards

We hope you enjoyed the latest from Empire Resume’s military-to-civilian blog. Make sure you join us next week as we’re always here to help with your career goals after a life of military service.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a Ph.D. in Finance.

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