For veterans looking for a civilian job can feel like traveling to a foreign country. That’s how different the language, culture and hierarchy can be when transitioning from the military to the private sector. But just as finding a good translator and researching the customs of your desired destination are stepping-stones to a great vacation, such moves can also be the foundation for writing a résumé that helps launch a new career.
With your résumé as a passport, you’ll be ready to take on new roles and responsibilities as you pursue your goals. Here are some tips on how to write a résumé that highlights the skills you developed during military service — along with additional advice that can help veterans with their search for jobs.
1. Demilitarize the language. List your title and rank in your résumé, of course, but provide some basic information about what that position means without resorting to jargon. Assume recruiters aren’t veterans, so avoid military terms and acronyms they won’t understand. Identify the job titles private sector firms use to cover the duties you performed in the military. Luckily, there are numerous sources of “translation” services to help.
2. Focus on skills. Describe the skills gained from your role in the military, not just the assigned responsibilities. For example, a member of the infantry who patrolled a base and engaged in combat must demonstrate how that experience is relevant to a nonmilitary environment. “Don’t say you patrolled. Say you created a safe working environment for 300 people,” said Terry Howell, senior director of strategic alliances at Military.com, a website loaded with information about how veterans can find jobs. “Don’t say you shot at people. Talk about working under pressure and constantly assessing situations,” said Howell, who served in the Coast Guard for 20 years.
3. Brag a little. Boast about your individual accomplishments. Bragging isn’t encouraged in the team-focused military. And while civilian companies definitely value individuals who work productively with others, employers are considering whether they should hire you. Emphasize your specific contributions to the team’s success.
4. Keep it short. Limit your résumé to two pages or less. Many civilians don’t understand how the military operates (and may even have negative stereotypes about veterans). But your résumé is not the place to provide a detailed explanation of military practices and procedures. Stick to your experience, check the document for spelling and grammar, and tailor each résumé to the specific position you are seeking.