Transitioning from military to civilian life is difficult. Communication is subtle in the civilian world, and that can be tough when you’re used to straightforward and explicit military orders.
When you’re applying for a job, you have to navigate this communication gap. There’s also the additional challenge of learning how to structure a resume when you’ve always, or for a long time, had a Field Service Record to explain your qualifications to superiors.
These five strategies can help you manage the transition by creating a strong military-to-civilian resume that will land you job interviews.
#1: Reframe your Skills to Target Civilian Employers
As a military veteran, you have many resume skills that civilian employers need. To start, you have certain technical and job-specific skills that qualify you for civilian jobs. You just need to know how to present them effectively.
Military Connection and other organizations have automated tools at your disposal. Military Connections lets you enter your Military Occupational Specialty code or title, or a keyword from that title, and then presents jobs you might qualify for, and how you would use your skills in those jobs.
Additionally, according to researchers from LinkedIn, veterans are more likely than lifelong civilians to be:
- Reliable team players
- Strong problem solvers
- Critical thinkers
- Team leaders
- Detail-oriented workers
Don’t underestimate the power of soft skills. They’re even more in-demand than technical abilities for many types of jobs.
#2: Translate Military Jargon into Language that Civilians Can Understand
A civilian human resources manager might not know the difference between a senior noncommissioned officer and a squad leader, or how many people are in a battalion versus a platoon. Use civilian terms like “supervised,” “led,” and “mentored” to indicate your level of responsibility and how you affected the personnel under your command.
Additionally, avoid all military acronyms if you’re applying to a civilian company. Don’t just spell them out; a civilian employer might not understand “Officer Efficiency Reports” any better than they understand “OER.” Translate it to “performance review.” Remember, an employer wants to be confident you understand the civilian workforce.
#3: Open with a Qualifications Summary or Resume Summary
When you’re transitioning from military to civilian work, you’re changing industries. You should start your resume by highlighting those skills and achievements that will transfer best to your new industry.
As an industry-switcher, you should begin your resume with a resume summary or qualifications summary. Both are specific styles of resume introductions that draw attention to your skills or accomplishments rather than your experience.
A qualifications summary:
- Focuses on skills
- Uses five or six bullet points
- Showcases abilities and achievements relevant to your target job
- Highlights your value to a potential employer
A resume summary:
- Focuses on your key accomplishments
- Uses data to quantify these accomplishments
- Is formatted using bullets with category subheadings
Determine whether your skill set or your various achievements are more marketable to your desired job, and choose the introduction that best reflects you as a candidate.
#4: Use Quantifiable Information to Highlight Your Accomplishments
Regardless of which introduction you end up choosing, fill the body of your resume with numerical data that quantifies your accomplishments. Under each job heading, introduce three to five bullet points, each with the following three-part structure:
- Action verb
- Data point
- Relevant job responsibility
You don’t have to format every bullet point in this order, and it’s more than fine to include two pieces of data under the same bullet. For example:
“Provided safety training to three 150-member companies yearly, increasing compliance and reducing the number of injuries by 23%”
The more quantifiable information you can attach to active descriptions of your work, the better an employer will understand that you get results.
#5: Tailor Your Skills and Experience to the Job Posting
Finally, exclude from your resume any information that doesn’t relate to your target job. All resumes should be specific, but tailoring to the position is particularly important for veterans.
Some employers think that a newly discharged or retired veteran is out of touch with the civilian working world, or that military skills aren’t useful in the private sector. You have to show them that this isn’t true.
Adjust your resume a bit for each job posting. It takes extra time, but it also shows an employer that you’re committed to the role rather than someone sending out bulk job applications.
As a veteran, you have skills that civilians don’t, but employers won’t know it unless you explicitly show them. Take the time to create a military-to-civilian resume that shows all of the ways that you stand out.