Transitioning out of the military into civilian sector employment is never easy. After years of service to your country as a decorated soldier with many awards and medals, from maintaining military equipment to full fledged combat, it has become all you know for the past several years. Sometimes translating your prior experiences into civilian terms can seem like an impossible task when you are trying to talk about how your background handling various weapons systems or armored vehicles relates to what a civilian employer might be looking for in a candidate.
Throughout my 10+ years of resume writing and career coaching, I’ve worked with many candidates with career military experience, reservists, combat and administrative duty, and individuals with decade-long engagements and shorter stints of less than four years. I’ve always been impressed by the discipline, early abilities to take on management and leadership roles, and diversity of qualifications and skills they possess. Employers also see much of their experience as impressive. However, even though the military experience impresses in general, you still need to be able to sell your specific military background in a way that appeals to the civilian sector.
This is where many of my clients have failed after submitting resume after resume and not getting any hits. Once they finally decide to turn their documents over to an expert resume writer for civilian preparation, I usually discover a document with mounds of irrelevant verbiage and terms that make no sense to an employer who has never handled advanced weapons systems nor seen a day of combat in his life. NCOER’s are helpful to provide a general basis of what a candidate has done with the military, but not every single detail should be included in a civilian resume.
All resumes in general, no matter which sector, need to be concise and straight to the point – including relevant skills and qualifications prominently over irrelevant information. When writing a military transition to civilian resume, you more than likely possess certain skills that an employer would look for such as team leadership, equipment maintenance, transportation logistics, etc. As a Platoon Leader overseeing the safe transportation of military personnel, these civilian level skills would most definitely apply to you and they should be displayed according to the types of jobs you are targeting. For instance, if you are seeking employment with a warehousing company that requires experience in managing freight operations and your role in the military was to oversee the transportation logistics of government assets, you would most likely have a fair shot at the position as long as your skills are conveyed properly on the resume.
Avoid trying to explain how you dealt with stressful and difficult situations in a war zone. Instead say that you have strong decision making skills under pressure. Don’t list every single Army Achievement Medal you won during each deployment. Instead list that you have won many awards based on performance. While these achievements and honors are impressive to everyone, the actual names of the awards do not matter to a civilian hiring manager who is looking for someone to streamline business operations. The point is, there are proper and improper ways to explain your military background – and unless you are a resume writing expert, it can be a very difficult task to accomplish.
When you finally get to the work experience section of your new civilian resume, the same concepts apply. Writing this section can also be very difficult for someone who is fresh out of the military and has never had to do this before. Huge blocks of information about the different types of technologies you worked with in most cases do not always apply to civilian businesses. For example, a technician in the Navy who helped in developing the AEGIS weapon system should never say just that. Instead, he should say “assisted with the development of advanced technological systems using various computer technologies” if he happens to be applying for a civilian Information Technology job or a position that requires advanced technical skills.
Below is a general guideline to follow which may help you include relevant information and exclude irrelevant data from your new civilian resume so an employer can grasp the idea of you being a viable candidate who can contribute to the daily needs of the business by utilizing the skills you have gained throughout your military career.
1) Decide on a career path or the types of jobs you want to target.
2) Make a checklist of the strongest qualities you gained from the military.
3) Jot down a short list of achievements or awards you received to show you produce results.
4) Demonstrate any experiences where you supervised military personnel to show leadership skills.
5) Include any skills or training of high-tech systems or computers to show strong technical proficiency.
6) List any special certifications or degrees you earned through the military or university.
7) Choose a format that is clean, organized, and scannable for applicant tracking system databases.
Overall, if you know how to do all of this on your own, you should be fine. If not, you might want to seek the help of a military to civilian resume service that will make sure everything is properly conveyed and formatted.