Photo from US Army Flickr
When you’re separating from the military after years of service, it can be daunting to look for a civilian job. Sure, you’ve got experience that most other job seekers don’t. (Has any other applicant jumped out of an airplane in the middle of the night? I don’t think so.) But the question is, how do you get potential employers to look past “military” and see how your incredible experiences will benefit their company?
It’s not such a difficult task, but it does require more finesse than the typical job seeker has to put into a resume. There are several mistakes that many former military personnel make when writing a resume designed for civilian jobs. Fortunately, the tips below will help you understand what potential employers are looking for and how to write your resume to meet those needs.
o Play up the discipline factor. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when most civilians think of military service? Discipline, a strong work ethic, or perhaps loyalty. And what characteristics are employers looking for today? Discipline, a strong work ethic, and loyalty. One of the biggest complaints that employers have today is that employees job hop frequently and don’t have the work ethic that they did 20 years ago. This is one area where your military experience will work to your advantage, so highlight your work ethic and ability to self-start.
o Stick to the point. As the commercial says, you probably did more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, but don’t put it all in your resume. Outline your military jobs and the transferable skills applicable to the job you’re applying for. If you worked in communications, for example, and are now searching for a communication job outside the military, focus on how you developed a new information system. The honors you received for shooting accuracy isn’t going to interest them.
o Don’t deluge with details. Similar to the tip above, when you’re describing the finer points of your job or skills, a good rule of thumb is to avoid using more than one line to do so. Leave out why you did something (ie: a personnel shortage prompted you to volunteer) or details that would only matter to the military (ie: the make or model of aircraft). For greater effectiveness, keep it simple: “My retention program resulted in a 20% increase in re-signings.”
o Learn a new language. The military has its own language and terminology that people on the outside don’t necessarily understand. And since the point of a resume is to clearly communicate your skills and strengths, you need to research the non-military way to phrase your skills. Also, never use acronyms or abbreviations. Make your resume as easy to understand as possible.
o Include relevant courses and programs you’ve completed. Remember those IT or management classes the military made you take? Those are very transferable into the private sector. Employers won’t care that the military paid for them; they care about the knowledge you gained. So list all of the classes you completed that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
o Take advantage of your documented evaluations. In the military, you receive constant evaluations of how you’re doing in your job—unlike most civilians. You’ve got proof that you met or exceeded expectations, so don’t forget to include that data. Use more than words, though. Highlight the numbers and percentages that prove your point: how many personnel you supervised or how much you slashed a budget.
o Separate your skills from your achievements. You undoubtedly have many of both as a result of your military career. For a more readable resume, don’t try to include both in the same section, or it will become too wordy. Hiring managers want easy-to-digest information bullets, so give it to them.
Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and owner of JobGoRound.com, a career advice website that provides practical guidelines for every phase of the job search cycle. He is a regular contributor to many top job search websites on topics such as resume writing, interviewing, and workplace issues. He lives in Broomfield where he enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and photography.