So you're leaving the service and are faced with the
daunting task of developing your resume. No doubt your military career is
studded with accomplishments, but even the most decorated veteran needs to
figure out how to make the transition to a civilian position. Follow these
tips to draft a high-impact resume that shows how your military experience
is transferable to a civilian job.
Define Your Civilian Job Objective
can't effectively market yourself for a civilian job if you don't have a
clearly defined goal. Because so many service people have diverse
backgrounds, they often make the mistake of creating resumes that are too
general to be effective. Before writing your resume, do some soul-searching,
research occupations and pinpoint a specific career path. If you are having
trouble with this step, tap into your local transition office or solicit the
help of a career coach. If you find that you are torn between two or more
potential goals, set up different resumes
Create a Resume that Speaks to Employers' Needs
Now that your objective is defined, you are ready to
create a winning resume. Consider a resume's purpose: To answer the
employer's question, "What can this person do for me?"
A great way to start thinking about employers' needs is to
research your target job. What types of skills and experiences are
employers seeking? What aspects of your background are most relevant?
Any information that does not relate to your goal should
be eliminated or de-emphasized, and this includes any unrelated military
awards, training and distinctions. For example, that medal you won for rifle
marksmanship doesn't belong on a civilian resume. This is often the hardest
step for ex-military personnel, which is why it's so common to see military
resumes span five pages or longer. As you make the decision about which
information to include, ask yourself, "Will a potential employer care about
this experience?" Only include information that will help you land an
Assume the Hiring Manager Knows Nothing about the
Demilitarize your job titles, duties, accomplishments,
training and awards to appeal to civilian hiring managers. Employers with no
exposure to the military don't understand military terminology and acronyms,
so translate these into "civilianese." Show your resume to several
non-military friends and ask them to point out terms they don't understand.
Use job postings as a tool to substitute civilian keywords for military
One big issue Veterans returning from combat duty are
finding as they seek civilian jobs is that civilian employers don't
understand that skills honed on the battlefield are in fact transferrable to
the civilian jobs they have available.
In addition to translating your military record to a
civilian resume, a Veteran must be able to speak about their job, position
title, and responsibilities in a coherent and easy to understand fashion...
without the military jargon.
Showcase Your Track Record of Accomplishments
Your military career has offered you excellent
opportunities for training, practical experience and advancement. Tout your
accomplishments so the average civilian understands the importance of your
achievements and the measurable outcomes. Here's an example of a
demilitarized accomplishment statement:
Increased employee retention rate by 16
percent by focusing on training, team building and recognition programs.
Earned reputation as one of the most progressive and innovative IT
organizations in the Army's communications and IT community.
Here's an example of incorporating a military award so
employers understand its value:
Received Army Achievement Medal for
completing 400+ medical evaluations and developing patient database
using MS Access. The database improved reporting functions and tracked
patient demographics, records, medication, appointments and status.
Show off Your Military Background
You might have heard you need to develop a functional
resume format to mask or downplay your military experience, but the opposite
is true. Your military experience is an asset and should be marketed as
such. Many employers realize the value of bringing veterans on board.
Attributes honed in the military include dedication, leadership, teamwork,
positive work ethic and cross-functional skills. If you fear a potential
employer won't realize the significance of your military experience, make
sure your resume clearly communicates the value that you bring to the table.
If You Were in Active Combat, Leave out the Details
Defending your country and its interests is among the most
admirable pursuits, but the sad truth is actual references to the horrors of
combat leave many employers squeamish. While you might have worked in a
short-range air defense engagement zone, this experience might not relate to
your future goal. Tone down or remove references to the battlefield.
Test Drive Your Resume
For some veterans, developing a resume that works in the
civilian world is an ongoing process. After you have polished your resume,
start your distribution and keep track of your resume's response rate.
Solicit feedback and listen carefully to suggestions for improving your
resume, and continue modifying the document until it successfully generates
One of the most important things when
writing a resume is to use action words. Not only will these words increase the impact of your resume in the eyes of the employers but they might help your resume get selected when recruiters use resume scanning software.
Usually used to describe skills, experience and achievements, action words shouldn't however be "stuffed" in your resume as you need to make sure your document sounds natural.
Here is a list of action words that will turn your resume into a powerful marketing document:
Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds
are more inquiring than those about to hire you. Rest assured, you will
be investigated. As a rule of thumb, the better the job and the higher
the pay, the tougher the screening process. If you are up for a good job at
a visible company, your references and past employers will be checked in
great detail. Your list of references is simply the beginning of the
investigation a prospective employer will conduct.
When a prospective employer has completed the first round of interviews and
you are among the top candidates, its next logical step is to check your
references and interview those individuals to whom you reported. Are you
certain these individuals will seal the deal for you, or will they blow it
away? If you are like most people, you probably haven't given your
references much thought. Instead, you have focused on your résumé,
interviewing skills, networking, and what to wear to the interview. Now the
Your biggest concern should be the quality of your references and
recommendations from past employers, because they can make or break your
chances. About half of all references that get checked range from mediocre
to poor, so it is very possible that the great job you lost out on at the
last moment had nothing to do with your skill level. It could have had more
to do with what a reference or past employer said about you. So, if you are
concerned that someone, somewhere, might be giving you a bum rap, you are
probably right. That's a frightening scenario when your livelihood is at
Here is a sampling of the damaging comments HR people and line managers hear
when they check references:
"Our company policy prohibits us saying
anything. We can only verify dates of employment and title." Then the
reference goes on to say something like, "Check his references very,
"Are you certain he gave my name as a
"After we settle our lawsuit..."
"Let me see what the paperwork says I am
able to give out regarding _______."
"Is he still in this field?"
References and past employers won't call and
warn you that they are not going to be complimentary. The reference
situation is ever changing and therefore very volatile because of shifting
company policies (not that many employees choose to follow them anyway), new
employees in HR departments, new laws governing references, and company
liability for giving references.
You are well advised to take more control of your career momentum by finding
out what every potential reference will say about you. If the odds hold, as
they will, those references will range from stellar to negative; yet when
you know what someone is going to say about you, you can pass on your best
references with greater confidence. You will also have the opportunity to
stop references from saying things that are not true or inaccurate.
Increasing Your Chances of a Good Reference.
Here are some general rules of thumb to maximize the tone and accuracy of
Make sure your records are
Occasionally an interviewee looks bad because his former HR department
did not have the same job date and title information in his file as he
did on his résumé. Data entry or communications errors are not unusual,
so check with your HR department to ensure that their records correspond
to yours. Conflicting data will be perceived as a big negative to a
Maintain active and positive
relationships with your references.
Stay in touch over the phone or over coffee. Keep the reference
up-to-date about your progress, and make sure you have the most
up-to-date information about them. If the reference's title (or name)
has changed, or if they've left their position and you've provided old
information to the prospective employer, it doesn't look good.
Advise a reference about an
To avoid burning out your references, you don't need to call about every
single job opportunity. However, if a particular position is very
important to you, call the reference and give them details about what
the company may be looking for.
Know reporting relationships.
Even though you've given the senior vice president's name as a
reference, the prospective employer may resort to calling the director
you reported to because she can't reach the senior VP. Even though you
have not given that person's name as a reference, it is on the
application that you probably filled out. You may want to advise your
former boss about the potential for a reference check and explain what
the company is looking for.
Know your company's policy.
Although federal law restricts reference information, some states now
allow more extensive disclosure. Know which regulations and policies
govern your company. In addition, be aware that some employees will
break company policy. Make sure that works in your favor by checking
with references to gain an understanding of what they might say.
Don't rely on relatives or
letters of recommendation.
You are well advised not to let Uncle John regale a prospective employer
about your antics as a youth. Also, although letters of recommendation
can be helpful, information such as titles and even names can change
over time. Make sure that the information on your letter of
recommendation is correct by contacting the reference periodically.
Use a reference-checking
If you want help in providing good references or if you find that you
are losing too many opportunities after several interviews with an
organization, you might want to commission a professional
reference-checking service. Check to ensure that the service has the
professional and legal personnel that can develop a strategic use of
your references. Typical service fees range from $59 to $99 per
reference checked, depending on level of job position being sought.