You’ve finally decided to get out of the military? Congrats! But there’s a lot of work to come.
Step one of applying for civilian jobs will be writing a résumé.
And it’s going to be harder than you might think.
There’s no shortage of resources for military veterans transitioning to civilian life. There are résumé guides, employment toolkits, published books — even entire government agencies — dedicated to this phase of your life. Honestly, it’s a bit overwhelming.
But sticking to a few basic rules for writing your résumé writing will make it far easier, and vastly boost your likelihood of success.
The way applicants are writing resumes today has changed a lot during the past several years. Young people today are including all types of eye-catching features — QR codes, bright colors and even emojis — to land interviews. So we’ve compiled for you some essential tips to skip the dramatics, avoid the pitfalls and get your job application to the top of the pile.
Find a “transition mentor”
Transitioning from the military to civilian life is a long process, and there’s sure to be bumps in the road ahead. As we noted in our comprehensive transition guide, you won’t go wrong finding a solid “transition mentor” who’s gone through this process before. It’s useful to have someone to bounce ideas off, and it’s even better if they can connect you with current opportunities and openings.
Compile your records
It’s easy to lose track of all the training, experience, certifications and awards you have accrued throughout your military service — especially if you’ve been in uniform for a long time.
Barbara Adams, a military career specialist and president of CareerPro Global, says compiling your own records is a vital step in preparing your résumé. She recommends obtaining your performance evaluations going back ten years, and you can start by requesting a copy of your Verification of Military Experience and Training, or VMET.
Later, when drafting your résumé, you will have to decide what you want to include and how you want to include it. Having all the necessary materials beforehand saves a headache later.
Build off your military experience
It is essential to apply to the right positions. Sure, you’ve likely gained a lot of experience in the military, but you still have to be realistic about your job prospects. The first step is reviewing the basic job requirements and finding openings that are the right match.
Searching for civilian positions that naturally complement your military experience is a great way to start. The U.S. Department of Labor and Boeing have online tools that match your military job title or occupational code to civilian job openings.
The good news is that companies want to hire veterans, and leveraging your military experience is a great way to get your foot in the door.
Drafting your résumé
The first hurdle you are going to face in perfecting your résumé isn’t a recruiter — it’s a computer. Like nearly every industry, tech has revolutionized the job application process. Companies today send thousands of résumés through advanced computer screenings to determine the right candidates.
To beat the machine, start with the basics. Your name, address, contact info, educational background and security clearance (if necessary) should all be present and accessible. Without this basic information, your résumé is deemed incomplete, and the computer will likely toss it.
Less jargon, more keywords
It’s likely second nature by now, but it’s time to ditch the military jargon. Find creative ways to rephrase your experiences and skillsets to appeal to civilian ears. If you were a company commander, you’re now experienced in managing 80+ people. If you worked in psychological operations, you’re versed in messaging and communications. Almost every military job involves important responsibilities for people and equipment — make sure you don’t bury those professional assets in acronyms that civilians cannot understand.
Be prepared to revise and customize your resume for specific jobs. Incorporate keywords from the company’s original job description into your résumé. That same computer screening process will scour your résumé for these buzzwords, and if they aren’t present, you might not make it to the next round. Experts across the board agree that including keywords is essential. Plus, it’ll show your dedication to tailoring your résumé to each position, not just handing in a cookie cutter copy.
Formatting is key
You might have to sell yourself in 7.4 seconds. That’s all the time recruiters take to initially scan a résumé, according to researchers. Nailing the proper formatting is a must. Strategize — do you want to organize chronologically or skills-based or a combination? There are advantages to each. Prioritize — the most relevant skills and experiences should be in the top third of your résumé. And stylize — use bold and italics to draw the eye to areas of emphasis.
Andrea Franzen, a military recruiter with U.S. Bank, recommended two phrasing options for your skills and experiences: EAR (event-action-result) or STAR (situation-task-action-result).
It’s easy to get a bit overzealous when creating your first résumé, but there are some clear pitfalls to avoid. It may be best to skip that high school lawn mowing or babysitting job. Unlike a more formal Curriculum Vitae that can be many pages long, your résumé should be a single page, two at the most.
Use a font like Times New Roman that will appear on any computer operating system and avoid including personally identifiable information, such as a headshot or religious affiliation.
Oh, and proofread! Nothing will get your résumé thrown out faster than simple spelling mistakes. Before you send out your resume, ask a friend or mentor to read it over and offer some insights or edits.
The military has taught you to be a team player but applying for jobs is about you. Emphasize the degree of your experience by including pertinent facts and figures. Don’t embellish, but definitely don’t sell yourself short.
It’s also important to demonstrate transferrable skills beyond technical abilities. Characteristics like leadership, discipline, strong work ethic and integrity are essential to success in the military and are highly coveted in the civilian workplace. These intangibles will give you a leg up against the college kid who just spent four years drinking beer and watching football.
Preparing for the next step
Congratulations — you’ve written your first civilian résumé. You’ve finished the most fundamental step in entering the civilian workplace. Ask your transition mentor or a professional contact to solicit edits, and proofread once again.
Step One is complete. Good luck!
Dylan Gresik is a reporting intern for Military Times through Northwestern University's Journalism Residency program.