To civilians, military members might as well be speaking a foreign language. With our acronyms, abbreviations and other “lingo,” they are lost without a conversion to “civilianize” they can understand.

The same thing can happen when a veteran writes his/her first resume for a civilian job. If the hiring official doesn’t have a military background or a lot of contact with veterans, your resume stands a good chance of making it into the circular file without consideration regardless of how well-qualified you are for the job. Is it fair? No. Is it real? Yes. But here is how to fix it.

The O*Net Advantage

If you write your own resume, one tool to help you write in civilian terms is the website O* Once onto the site, click on Crosswalks, then select a branch from the drop-down box. Next enter your military job or MOS and click Go.

As an example, I used Army as the branch and 11B infantryman as the MOS. It returned a list of civilian jobs meeting the algorithm in the program. Choosing the first job listed, Training and Development Manager, I went inside to look at the task requirements of the job:

  • Evaluate instructor performance
  • Analyze training needs
  • Plan, develop and provide training

Listed further down under Work Activities I found:

  • Training and teaching others
  • Communicating with supervisors, peers and subordinates
  • Establishing interpersonal relationships
  • Organizing, planning and prioritizing work
  • Getting information

The tasks and work activities listed are things most of us having spent time in the military have done a thousand times. Next, once you have found an actual job listing for that position, look for words relating to that industry called buzzwords or keywords. They are usually easy to identify because they appear several times in a listing. Without the appropriate buzzwords, many human resource screening software programs will overlook your resume as they are programed to look for certain words when creating a short list for further review by an actual human.

Show Them What You’ve Got

As a military veteran, you have more to offer than you may realize. Civilian employers need people that not only have the credentials to do the job, like an appropriate four-year degree, but also the experience to go with it – something usually not found in new college graduates without work or military experience. Specifically, they look for “soft skills” that can be universally applied like:

  • Planning
  • Decisiveness
  • Team player
  • Leadership
  • Resourcefulness
  • Loyalty

Your mission here is to weave these “soft skills” and keywords in civilian language into your resume and wow hiring managers with your military experience and abilities in terms they can understand.

Use the Modified Functional Resume Format

This resume format works best because it puts your value proposition (what you can do for the company) and skills right at the top of the resume. After that, address your capabilities for each task or requirement listed in job posting. Then, add your experience and education as separate sections further down in the resume.

Using this format shows a logical upward progression of duties and responsibilities that happens as one progresses up through the ranks while serving, something hiring managers look for. For examples, search the Internet for sample modified functional resume formats.

The Cover Letter

Don’t overlook this first opportunity to show what you have to offer and how you can benefit the company. Mention your honorable discharge, but instead of dwelling on your military past, expand on a couple of things mentioned in your resume, like a problem related to the job you are applying for and how you solved it.

Most civilian employers already realize what veterans have to offer. However, the job of your cover letter is to create enough interest to read your resume. The job of your resume is to get you an interview offer. Once face-to-face at the interview, continue to wow as far as what you can do for them.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.