If you're a recently retired service member, then you might be wondering how your military resume translates to the civilian job market. Fortunately, there are more resources than ever before for transitioning veterans. But that doesn't mean this transition is always an easy one.
As a veteran, you have a range of skills and experiences that civilian applicants just don't offer. This should make finding a post-service job simple, but many veterans find that potential employers don't understand or appreciate their service experience. Because of this, learning how to transform your military resume into an engaging civilian one is invaluable. So how do you write a quality resume? And how do you include your military experience in a way that is both clear and effective?
The Essentials of Military Resume Writing
For most job opportunities, your resume is the first introduction between yourself and a potential employer. If you don't impress the hiring manager with your resume, then you won't receive an interview. Because it is the first thing an employer sees, a weak resume can sabotage your entire job hunt.
Whether writing a military resume or a civilian one, the same basic principles of resume writing still apply. Your resume needs to efficiently convey the right information to a potential employer. If it doesn't, then they will likely reject, or simply ignore, your entire application.
Regardless of the civilian industry you plan to apply to, your resume needs to be well-written. Errors in spelling, grammar, or simple inaccuracies in your work experience will all count against you. These factors are obviously a major issue if your new career involves communication or literacy. But any employer will think twice about an applicant who didn't take the time to proofread their resume.
Even if you feel 100-percent confident in your writing abilities, consider having a peer or loved one review your military resume. Many community colleges, universities, and other organizations also offer resume classes or one-on-one reviews. An outside perspective can help catch obvious errors and suggest edits that would make your application more effective.
Resources for Transitioning to the Civilian Job Market
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult. Not only do your day-to-day schedule and responsibilities change, but you might also need to deal with relocating and a lapse in your income. Because of all of these factors, this transition can cause stress for many retired service members.
If you're struggling with writing your first resume or editing your military resume for the civilian market, there are plenty of available resources. The Veterans Affairs Careers and Employment page is a great place to find online and in-person help when hunting for a civilian job. You can also contact your local Veterans Affairs office or a nearby university's career center for additional help.
10 Tips for Using Your Military Experience on a Civilian Resume
Your military resume might seem clear to a fellow service member. But you will often need to make significant changes for the civilian market. These changes might require a total overhaul or just some simple edits.
When altering your military resume for the civilian job market, don't eliminate your service experience. While it might feel like the easiest way to enter the workforce after retirement, your military experience brings valuable skills that many applicants lack. Below you can find some of our top suggestions for creating the perfect civilian resume that still highlights your military experience.
1. Search for pro-veteran workplaces
The U.S. job market is filled with companies seeking veterans for their staff. While the availability of these positions will depend on your location and chosen industry, these companies offer a variety of opportunities for retired service members.
One of the most obvious benefits of choosing a pro-veteran workplace is that the hiring manager will probably understand your service experience better than the average civilian. But benefits also come in the form of a veteran-friendly workplace environment and special accommodations. If you're worried about transitioning from military life to the civilian job market, check out local businesses that target veterans. One of these companies might be the perfect stepping stone to make that transition a little easier.
2. Assume that the hiring manager has zero military knowledge
If you're lucky, the hiring manager for your chosen job will be a veteran or have a loved one who served. But in most cases, the person reading over your resume will have little to no pre-existing military knowledge. To accommodate this knowledge gap, you might need to adjust the way you refer to military organizations, personnel, and protocol.
While a classic military resume relies heavily on ranks and other terminology, you will need to make some changes for the civilian job market. For instance, a hiring manager probably won't know the difference between a Major General and Lieutenant General. And with countless resumes to read and search through, they're also not likely to take the time to research these terms to better understand your resume. You might not need to eliminate these terms, but consider clarifying them with language that the average person would understand.
3. Translate military terms to civilian language
When writing a military resume for a civilian job, remember that most hiring managers are looking for keywords. Sometimes, this job is even done by a computer program that searches for specific terms or skills within dozens, or even hundreds, of resumes. If your resume doesn't include the proper terms or language, then you probably won't receive an interview.
For help translating your military experience for your civilian resume, check out the Military Skills Translator. By translating your valuable military skills to more civilian-friendly language, you can ensure that your resume includes these keywords. Once you receive an interview, you can then go into further detail about your military experience.
4. Draw parallels between your military and civilian careers
This is not just for the benefit of your new employer, but also to make writing your new resume a little easier. When sitting down to transform your military resume into a civilian-oriented one, you might feel overwhelmed. But take the time to find connections between your service experience and common skills or tasks required by your chosen industry. Not only will this help make editing your resume less daunting, but it will also help prepare you for common interview questions.
The most obvious parallels between military and civilian work experience include leadership, time management, and following instructions. But there are plenty of other opportunities to draw parallels with your military resume. For instance, an ammo technician has valuable experience cataloging and overseeing hazardous materials. This responsibility can translate seamlessly to countless civilian industries.
5. Highlight licenses and security clearances
Many civilian industries handle sensitive information or require security protocols. As a military veteran, you can offer invaluable experience in these areas. Your military resume probably includes all of your relevant licenses and security clearances, including weapon-specific experience. Even if you don't think these translate directly to the civilian workplace, consider leaving them on your resume.
While a hiring manager might not entirely grasp the context of some clearances, they show that you were trusted with sensitive or potentially dangerous situations. If they inquire further, you can provide more information. Otherwise, simply include them as a way to highlight your responsibility and reliability.
6. Include military education and training
Traditional civilian resumes always include the applicant's education. You should do the same with your military resume, even when applying for a civilian job. Formal education is a universal concept, so even if your hiring manager isn't familiar with an institution it is still a valuable addition to your resume.
If you have a secondary education outside of the military, you might choose to prioritize this or list them both. But since many military credits transfer to civilian schools, listing them together is an acceptable approach. If you're struggling with putting your military training or education into words, your joint services transcript is an excellent resource.
7. Ask for references from your trusted superiors
Just like a civilian employee would turn to their managers for quality references, you should do the same. If you are nearing retirement, now is an excellent time to approach your superiors for references. With their permission, you can include their statements or contact information on your military resume.
While the military is structured differently than most traditional jobs, remember that most hiring managers will view your military superiors as your boss. If you have little or no work experience outside of the military, this is a great way to fill gaps.
8. Embrace self-promotion
In general, civilians expect service members to be overly confident and share their military achievements. But this is usually not the case. The civilian job market expects applicants of all kinds to enthusiastically promote themselves. When applying to civilian jobs, you will need to embrace hiring managers' expectations for you to self-promote your skills, training, and experience.
Most service members will downplay their achievements, but you also must be careful not to embellish your experience or skills. It's important to remember that self-promotion does not equal bragging or exaggerating. Keep your self-promotion relevant to the job you're applying to and always stick to the facts.
9. Maintain a professional online presence
Every modern employee, veteran or not, has heard horror stories of their social media posts affecting their employment. But this doesn't mean you should eliminate your online presence when job hunting. Depending on your industry, LinkedIn is a valuable resource for networking and finding potential job leads. Facebook can also be useful, as long as you maintain an entirely professional profile. If you opt for a career-oriented Facebook account, we recommend creating one separate from your private account. This allows you to keep personal, family-related matters to yourself when necessary.
You should also consider posting your military resume online for potential hiring managers to come across. This allows more employers to view your resume and determine if you are the right fit for their position. But this also lets you share more of your experience and skills that would otherwise be edited out for length or relevance. If you already have a civilian career, remember that your current employer could stumble across your resume as well.
10. Don't abandon the basic rules of resume writing
Despite everything we've listed above, the most important part of writing a military resume is just creating a quality resume. Spelling errors, poor writing, and illegible formatting could disqualify you in an instant. No matter how relevant or impressive your military experience is, these issues will result in few, if any, interviews.
When creating your military resume for the civilian workforce, remember that you are selling yourself as a potential employee. While your identity as a veteran is important, in most cases it will have little sway over a hiring manager. You must view your service time as a past job, because to many employers that is all it is.
Enter the Civilian Job Market with Confidence
Creating the perfect military resume isn't always easy, but with a little work you could land the civilian job of your dreams. The right employer will see the value in your military experience and respect your veteran status. And if you ever experience discrimination or don't feel right in a certain workplace, don't hesitate to continue your search. It might not always feel like it, but the right post-service job is out there.
Fortunately, there are countless resources for service members of all branches transitioning into military retirement. Many colleges and universities maintain a Veteran's Department that may be willing to sit down and review your resume. But if you are ever unsure of or struggling with the transition into civilian life, don't hesitate to reach out to your local veteran's support group for help.