Updating your military resume could help you land a private sector job


You’ve worked hard, trained tirelessly, and gained numerous skills in service to your country. Now, you’re looking for a career in the private sector. What could stand in your way?

Your military resume.

Many recruiters and hiring managers are unfamiliar with how military experiences offer preparation for private-sector jobs.

“Translating military experience into a one- to two-page civilian resume, understandable to the average civilian recruiter is probably the number-one challenge we see,” said Cara Cooke, United States Air Force vet and Senior Program Manager at Hiring Our Heroes. “There are so many different roles a veteran has within a four- to 20-year period. It’s difficult to summarize.”

Your post-military resume must do more than present your applicable history. Its most critical task is translating military experience into the specific qualifications and skills civilian hiring managers seek.

Here are some tips for accomplishing just that:

Start with a career summary

Employers won’t take time to speculate about your career aspirations. Make yourself easy to hire by conveying your career goals alongside skills, experiences, and training crucial for achieving them. What career do you want in the private sector? State it clearly. Have leadership, organizational, technical, or communication skills? They are in high demand. Showcasing your skills and qualifications in your summary section encourages recruiters to read the rest of your resume.

Focus on the position

Often, job seekers create one general resume and use it to apply for multiple jobs. Focus your resume on a specific position. If you’re applying for more than one type of job, create a separate resume for each one.

“One generic resume will not pass through a human resources management system. You must spend the time to curate a resume that speaks to each position you’re applying for,” said Cooke. “Make the resume clear as to what you want to do in your civilian career, and tailor your resume to those keywords that will pull from a job requisition.”

Hiring managers want your resume to answer their ultimate question — what can you do for them? Answer by pulling keywords directly from the advertised job description and matching them to skills you’ve gained through military service. Give these matching skills and qualifications prominent positioning on your resume.

Avoid military jargon

“The military uses unique terms only those who have served would understand,” Cooke said. “Those military terms are usually embedded in resumes, which don’t pass through the traditional online human resources management system.”

Replace military titles, jargon, and acronyms with terms familiar to civilians. Recruiters won’t spare the time to learn military lingo. Make it easy for them.

For example, if you were an executive officer, translate that title to assistant manager, squad leader to team leader, and operations NCO to operations supervisor. Use easy-to-understand terms like managed or supervised instead of commanded. Describe a mission as a responsibility or task, subordinates as employees or staff members, and regulations as guidance or policies. The Hiring Our Heroes Resume Engine powered by Toyota provides free assistance with translating military resumes into civilian terms.

List education and achievements

Though the average private-sector employer has certainly heard of officer training, most don’t know what it entails. So, keep it simple when describing military education. For example, list officer training as the more recognizable leadership training. Since a civilian recruiter is unlikely to know what War College means, CareerOneStop recommends listing it as Executive Leadership School to provide clarity. Focus on your most relevant military education, and include any applicable civilian courses you’ve completed.

Don’t forget to list relevant awards. Employers actively seek candidates who demonstrate dedication, good character, and high performance ability. Include awards you’ve received for performance capabilities, character qualities, dedication, and leadership.

Ask for help

“Give your civilian resume to a mentor or friend to review, who doesn’t have service experience, ” Cooke advised. “Ask if they can understand what roles you’re looking for and if the experience bullets are tailored to support that role.”

Your resume should highlight your desirability as a candidate not detract from it. Revise any words or descriptions a civilian friend or mentor finds unclear. Ask for help correcting typos and grammatical errors as well. Both are top reasons for resume rejection.

Seek reputable, professional help when you need it. Helping Our Heroes, a non-profit, offers free resume assistance, mentorship opportunities, annual hiring events, and connections to more than 5,000 employers.

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