Your chance to make a good first impression in a crowd – without handing out $100 bills – is even more difficult when your first contact is a job resume fighting for consideration in a pile on an employer’s desk.
A military career can be a leg up in that regard, not only because it distinguishes you from the great majority of job seekers, but because military careers nurture and sharpen skills coveted by the civilian world.
That’s not a recent development. Military experiences paying dividends in the civilian afterlife has been the trend for a good long while and for plenty of good reasons.
The unemployment rate for veterans is dropping again after fluctuating during the pandemic – a time when getting your footing in the job market was the equivalent of steadying yourself on stormy seas.
That unemployment rate for veterans is lower (4.2%) compared to non-veterans (4.6%) and is clearly headed in the direction of the 3.1% veteran unemployment of 2019.
That’s good news for anyone making the transition from military life (assuming you need the job and you’re not sitting on a $60 million trust fund. If you are, call me.)
No matter the ample opportunities to apply skills such as leadership, team building and perseverance in the civilian world, the best jobs won’t just fall in your lap.
It’s important for veterans to know the many resources available and how to craft a resume that can help the transition into a competitive workforce.
Building a Competitive Military Veteran Resume
Your skills might well be translatable in a variety of fields. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a field where military experience wouldn’t be a good fit. But if the language used on a resume to introduce those skills is in dire need of a military-to-English dictionary, you’ve likely wasted a terrific opportunity.
Beware military jargon. Speaking in acronyms might be how you’ve communicated for the past number of years. And as Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit, but if you’re not applying for a job with a military contractor or the Department of Defense, you need to leave the acronyms behind.
Most terminology in the military simply does not translate. Know your audience. Use more approachable language on a resume. The time might come for you to use that terminology you became so comfortable with, but that time is not when you’re writing a resume.
Keep in mind that you have one chance, and a brief one at that, to make a winning first impression. Research suggests job recruiters will usually decide on a candidate’s qualifications quickly, sometimes within 10 seconds.
So while you’ll find many effective veteran resume building services somewhere online, be careful not to simply slap and paste your experience into a resume template. Make the most of your chance to stand out – again, paying close attention to the language you use.
You can find military-to-civilian thesaurus help online. An example: instead of referring to oneself as a “hand receipt holder,” it’s significantly more relatable to call yourself a “logistics manager” or “supply manager.”
Platoon commander is no doubt a complex and challenging position. That complexity and challenge might well be understood better if you “provided the required training and support to lead a 60-person team in projects from start to finish.” Otherwise known as “missions.”
Converting Military Experience to Civilian Resumes
Getting the acronyms out of your resume when applying for veteran jobs is a good first step, but you also need to understand the common strategies used to translate military experience into an attractive civilian resume.
There are differences in style as well as resume format and vocabulary. If there is one bit of broad advice that covers the successful translation of your military experience to a civilian job application it’s that you need to know your audience.
Style: Hiring managers aren’t so much assessing you on the basis of individual tasks undertaken and accomplished. They’re viewing you as a complete candidate and are especially interested in seeing how your skills have evolved given the challenges you faced along the way.
Format: Military resumes often list the most relevant jobs and skills first. That can be impressive. But a civilian hiring manager will want to trace your career evolution – most recent job first, down to your (often humbling) entry level position.
Resume writing experts recommend you list your work experience in the 10-15 years prior. Resume writing coaches caution that condensing your military record accordingly – especially if you’ve had almost that many military roles – can be a challenge but is nevertheless important.
A chronology can help hiring managers see how your skills (and no doubt high recommendations along the way) led to your rise up the ladder.
Vocabulary: Your goal is to make your military experience understandable and relatable to someone who probably has all the respect in the world for your career but doesn’t have the background to decipher jargon.
Acronyms may be unavoidable in some cases since they often are part of the job title listed. In those cases, it’s better to spell out the acronyms and explain any definition or topics that aren’t common knowledge to the civilian sector. Try using a military skills translator to help you figure out what employers are asking for and match their phrasing.
Again, your goal is for the person doing the hiring to see you as a candidate capable of smoothly transitioning into a new workplace. That challenge is many faceted, whether the candidate is a veteran or has no military experience whatsoever. In either case, it starts with how you communicate.
Types of Veteran Resumes
The concept of “knowing your audience” covers everything from the kind of jokes you might tell at a church fundraiser to how you’d tailor a resume based on the job you’re seeking.
How you translate your military experience in a resume seeking a corporate job will be different in ways both minor and significant to how you’d translate that same experience in a resume seeking a federal job.
The same applies to the kind of job within those respective fields; for instance, a management versus non-management position.
Military to corporate job resume: Those skills you developed in a disciplined, accountable military career might be just what the corporate world wants and needs.
Your job is to show how “leadership,” “perseverance” and “team building” – skills that might well seem matter-of-fact in a military career – translate in a corporate setting. Those are real strengths you’ve solidified over the years. Don’t let that get overlooked by failing to make their importance understandable to a hiring manager.
Military to federal job resume: Federal jobs are a natural landing spot for military veterans seeking civilian jobs. There are more than 350 job types filled by civilians at the federal level.
Some government employment opportunities may even offer preferred status to veterans over non-veterans. But since it is a natural landing spot, it’s also ultra-competitive. Crafting a resume that stresses the skills, talents and strengths that set you apart is crucial.
Military to government contractor resume: This is also a popular next chapter for veterans. You might even have worked at the same – or quite similar – job that a government contractor is trying to fill.
Government contract work can offer a much less stressful transition. Assuming you demonstrate your particular set of skills in a way human resources departments find relatable and understandable, you might be able to use some of that military jargon we warned against. But use it carefully.
Management role resumes: “Leadership” can be such a static term. Don’t let it be that.
These types of resumes need to emphasize a veteran’s experience in leadership positions. Use examples of team building. Tell how you motivated your team (not your platoon) despite different personalities and backgrounds to reach successful results (not missions).
Executive role resumes: These resumes build on the management role resumes already discussed. They need to highlight experience in
leadership, business knowledge, organization, and teamwork.
Make sure to highlight applicable experience in these areas. If you do this successfully and use the proper language, those skills could be seen as more of a fit than a projection.
Along with knowing your audience, know yourself. Take a hard look at what kind of job you want and what kind of job best fits your skills. Then pick the most appropriate resume type and be sure to highlight your relevant skills in a way that both military and non-military members will understand.
Job Programs and Veteran Resume Help
Transitioning to the civilian workforce after a military career is exciting but certainly not without its stresses. Fortunately, there are programs available to help support veterans in making the transition.
Resume writing is only one tool at the disposal of veterans needing support and direction. That support and direction also come in the form of financial assistance, and job placement and other aspects of transitioning from a military career.
Resume Engine: Helps translate your military record into a strong resume that civilian employers can understand. Your completed resume is viewable by thousands of employers using the site to look for qualified job candidates.
My Career Spark: Resume builder for military spouses. It’s an effective job search and prep tool that helps candidates set goals and track their progress.
LinkedIn Benefits: Offers a free premium account for one year and access to LinkedIn Learning’s library of classes for professional development. Benefits job seekers as well as employers who are looking for the most qualified veteran candidates.
CASY: Free job placement assistance through job boards and job prep services to veterans, military, and military spouses. Offers a direct introduction to certain employers on behalf of qualified candidates.
Hire Heroes USA: The website says it all: “When heroes get hired, companies prosper and America grows stronger.” Offers free job search assistance with career coaching, resume writing, mock interviewing, mentoring, job sourcing and career events for active-duty service members, military spouses and veterans.
Indeed: Offers several avenues of support, including a job search boot camp and resume review that includes a curated 10-minute video with personalized recommendations.
VA for Vets: Provides employment readiness assistance and outreach for
VA Federal Employment opportunities. Provides guidance in the hiring, support and management of veteran and military service member employees.
The transition to the civilian workforce can be overwhelming but available resources like resume writing services, interview preparation and job placement can help simplify the process and put you in position to let your skills and talents speak for themselves.
» Learn More: Veteran Friendly Employers
About The Author
After a 45-year career in journalism, Robert's focus is helping consumers cope with personal finance issues. Finding solutions to paying off credit card debt, mortgage payments and that darn student loan, is far more fulfilling than explaining why the Cleveland Browns can't win (It's the quarterback!!). Robert wrote about the Browns and all Cleveland sports as a columnist at the Plain Dealer before transitioning to television sports commentary at WKYC. Now, his passion is helping people navigate their personal finances.
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