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7 Ways a Veteran Can Supercharge Their Résumé

These tips can get you through that initial sift

a red white and blue resume on a yellow background with a red pen and black glasses
Illustration: Elias Stein

An effective résumé is your foot-in-the-door calling card to landing that first interview, which could pave the way to scoring your dream job. A polished one-page — or two-page, at most — résumé can be your golden ticket.

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Here’s how to grab an employer’s attention.

1. Highlight your veteran status

Add an executive summary to the top of your résumé that clearly indicates you’re a veteran.

For example, an executive summary may state: “Seasoned military veteran with 18 years in the Navy leading, collaborating and problem-solving under pressure …”

When I worked in recruiting, two to three seconds were all I needed to quickly scan and evaluate each résumé. That’s why it’s crucial to immediately grab the employer’s attention.

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Pro tip: Realize that employers are very respectful of military service and all the positive attributes that entails. So make sure they know all about it.

2. Translate military speak into civilian terms

Outline your responsibilities and experiences using terminology a layperson can quickly comprehend.

Employers want to see transferable skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking and customer service. Indicate how your military skills are applicable to the job.

It’s always helpful to review a job description and tailor a résumé for a specific role. Reordering bullet points to mirror the job description can be beneficial too.

Pro tip: Employers list the importance of responsibilities in descending order on job descriptions, so candidates should do the same on résumés.

3. Translate technical skills

“As a veteran, you bring specialized experience to the table,” says Kimberly Stiener-Murphy, senior regional vice president at Robert Half. “Do research into how your military experience and MOS [military occupational specialty] code translate into the civilian workforce. Using an online military skills translator is an easy way to align your qualifications and accomplishments to in-demand expertise.”

Pro-tip: Résumés should be pristine, typo-free and grammatical. AARP offers free résumé reviews with objective feedback to job seekers on how to communicate their skills and expertise.

4. Tout your security clearance

“Possessing this coveted credential signals to employers that you’re responsible, accountable and trustworthy, allowing HR to skip the usual background checks and save the company money,” says Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume. “Include this information in your résumé’s professional summary or as part of your professional title at the top of your document.”

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Pro tip: Do this whether the role you’re seeking is in the government or the private sector. It speaks volumes.

5. Less is more

“Your résumé should be more of a list of highlights, not three pages listing every detail from every role you have ever held,” says Lana Peters, vice president of the Americas at HiBob.

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Amplify the most important skills and experiences you already possess as they relate to the importance of the prospective job so it’s apparent to the hiring manager that you’re a slam dunk for the position.

Peters adds, “If it’s a leadership role, highlight your leadership and team-building experience. Want to work in an office role where detail is king? Highlight your organizational experience.”

Pro tip: You are used to filtering out the minutiae and focusing on what’s important. Do this in your résumé.

6. Showcase upskilling and adaptability

Employers need to know that candidates have the ability to learn and the capability to upskill — to elevate their current skills to the next level. Veterans already have the agility to pivot, adapt, learn and grow. So supercharge your résumé by highlighting experiences that illustrate these points.

Gary Pearcy, vice president, payment operations at DailyPay and a U.S. Army veteran and aviation officer, says, “Veterans have the proven ability to learn new skills and concepts. In addition, they can enter your workforce with identifiable and transferable skills, proven in real-world situations.”

Pro tip: Think of these experiences and the skills they show as talking points for interviews.

7. Lean into keywords

Veterans can boost their chances of standing out by including keywords on their résumé that make it easier to get discovered by recruiters for jobs they haven’t even applied for yet. So highlight transferable skills that will likely be searched for.

Pro tip: Don’t be discouraged if you don’t land an interview. You may well have sown the seeds for success further down the line.

Vicki Salemi is a nationally recognized career expert, author and speaker who writes a nationally syndicated column, “Vicki on Careers,” for Tribune. She previously worked in corporate HR and recruiting. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, BBC.com, the New York Post and dozens of other publications.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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