Military-to-Civilian Resume Tips

Skills you learned in the military are generally ones that are highly sought after by civilian companies, especially large and small defense contractors. The discipline, teamwork, communication, and organization necessary to make a good soldier are exactly the attributes most companies desire most in new hires…

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Skills you learned in the military are generally ones that are highly sought after by civilian companies, especially large and small defense contractors. The discipline, teamwork, communication, and organization necessary to make a good soldier are exactly the attributes most companies desire most in new hires. Plus, having worked with specific military technology makes you valuable to defense contractors upgrading and supporting those technologies. You should have an advantage when applying for jobs over candidates that don’t have a military background, especially in an economic recession.

When you’re separating from the military after years of service, it can be daunting to look for a civilian defense job. If you haven’t been through your local TAP program and visited your Family Service Center, get over there today. Sure, you’ve got experience that most other job seekers don’t. (Has any other applicant jumped out of an airplane in the middle of the night? I don’t think so.) But the question is, how do you get potential employers to look past “military” and see how your incredible experiences will benefit their company?

It’s not such a difficult task, but it does require more finesse than the typical job seeker has to put into a resume. There are several mistakes that many former military personnel make when writing a resume designed for defense jobs. Fortunately, the tips below will help you understand what potential employers are looking for and how to design your resume to meet those needs.

•   Stick to the point. As the commercial says, you probably did more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, but don’t put it all in your resume. Outline your military jobs and the transferable skills applicable to the job you’re applying for. If you worked in communications, for example, and are now searching for a communications job outside the military, focus on how you developed a new information system, what technologies you had the most experience with, and what your superiors looked to you for help with. The honors you received for shooting accuracy isn’t going to interest the typical HR recruiter.

•   Don’t deluge with meaningless details. Similar to the tip above, when you’re describing the finer points of your job or skills, a good rule of thumb is to avoid using more than one line to do so. Be clear and be concise. Leave out why you did something (i.e. a personnel shortage prompted you to volunteer) or minutia that aren’t critical (i.e. the exact street address of that embassy you worked at in Kyrgyzstan). For greater effectiveness, keep text simple and provide calculable results when possible: “My retention program resulted in a 20% increase in re-signings.”

•   Learn a new language. The military has its own language and terminology that people on the outside don’t always understand. Since the point of a resume is to clearly communicate your skills and strengths, you need to research the non-military way to phrase your skills wherever possible. Also, when you use military acronyms or abbreviations on a resume, make sure you define what it means (i.e. “I practiced Close Target Reconnaissance (CTR) with new satellite technology.”) HR and recruiting staff searching resume databases use keywords. Don’t assume they know what all military abbreviations and acronyms mean. Make your resume as easy to understand as possible.

•   Include relevant courses and programs you’ve completed. Remember those IT or management classes the military made you take? Those are very transferable into defense jobs. Employers won’t care that the military paid for them; they care about the knowledge you gained. List all of the classes you completed that are relevant to the job you’re applying for under the heading “Relevant Training”. If there are other classes you’ve completed that you feel are important, list them under “Other Training”. Make sure to include the month and year you completed the classes to employers know how recent the training was.

•   Take advantage of your documented evaluations. In the military, you receive constant evaluations of how you’re doing in your job—unlike most civilians. You’ve got proof that you met or exceeded expectations, so don’t forget to include that data. Use more than words, though. Highlight the numbers and percentages that prove your point and backup your claims. Examples would be the number of personnel you supervised, how much you slashed a budget, or the number of PCs in the network you managed.

•   Separate your skills from your achievements. You undoubtedly have many of both as a result of your military career. For a more readable resume, don’t try to include both in the same section or it will look like a mess of text for the reader to sort through. Hiring managers want easy-to-digest information in bullets, so give it to them.

The current fiscal year budget for homeland security and defense tops $450 billion. With thousands of defense contractors getting in the game, your military skills and security clearance are highly valuable. Use the tips above to make sure your resume does its job – to get you noticed, and get you in the door to an interview.

"Jason Kay is a professional resume writer who specializes in military and federal resume writing. He is a regular contributor to KSADoctor.com, which provides KSA writing, resume writing, and other federal job application assistance."