If you’re like me, when you leave the service, you want to work in an industry that’s different than your military career field. But corporate employers often want to see that you have skills and experience before they hire you. In some cases, you can’t even get past the Applicant Tracking System if you don’t at least have some of the keywords on your resume.

Using your GI Bill to go back to school is certainly one option—and one I’ve taken advantage of. However, if you’ve transferred your GI Bill benefits to your spouse or children, don’t have the time or patience to dedicate two-plus years to higher education, or you want to get started building your resume while you’re still on active duty, there are other options.

10 Unconventional Ways to Get Experience Added to your Resume

Here are ten ways you could boost your resume and improve your chances of landing that dream job.

1. Enter contests and competitions.

As we all know from our service, nothing gains you instant recognition like winning an award. The same is true in the civilian world. From cybersecurity to photography to advertising, contests and awards abound. Find ones that align with your employment objectives and start competing!

2. Join the gig economy.

Thanks to the gig economy, doing independent, one-time work for companies and individuals is becoming commonplace. Want to try a new skill? Find one of the many legitimate sites dedicated to gigs and do a couple of side hustle jobs. Bonus: many of these sites allow customers to leave reviews for you. If you rack up excellent testimonials, you can add those to your resume or cover letter proof of your skill mastery, customer service performance, etc.

3. Take a short certification course or online skills test.

What if you don’t have a skill set you can apply to a side hustle? Or if your dream job requires familiarity with specific software that you’ve never used? Find a certification or online skills test! (Hint: many of the legitimate gig sites have online skills tests you can take!) With COVID, many online skills platforms have also opened up their libraries for no or a reduced fee, while others have free trials you can make use of. Many local libraries also have agreements with online forums that allow their patrons free access.

4. Start a project.

How many times have you seen headlines about someone raising thousands of dollars for a cause or walking across the country to raise awareness for an issue? Remember Captain Tom, the British WWII veteran who raised $22 million for their national health system by walking laps? Find a local problem you can solve or start a campaign for, and then make sure people take notice. Even if you don’t make the evening news, something like this demonstrates your initiative and creativity. It also gives you all-important metrics you can add to your resume to impress hiring managers and demonstrate business acumen marketing skills.

5. Write.

Want to work in HR but don’t have any credentials? Write articles that speak to the requirements you’re seeing in the HR job postings and demonstrate that you understand the concepts and how your military experience is applicable. Post articles to LinkedIn or submit them to online publications. Have a specific company you want to work for? Write them a letter or tag them on social media telling them how much you love their product.

6. Apply for an internship or fellowship.

Internships and fellowships are great ways to break into a new industry or company, learn about all aspects of the organization from the inside, and add experience to your resume. And many companies offer veteran-specific programs, many of them paid, to make the post-military employment process even easier.

7. Volunteer.

Not only can volunteering distinguish you from your competitors, but it’s also an effective way to make connections and add new skills to your resume. Whether you contribute at a one-time event, as an ongoing member of a group, or as a board member for an organization, volunteering can give people a chance to see what you have to offer before you apply for a job. It might even net you a letter of recommendation or a referral.

8. Take Advantage of Veteran-Specific Programs.

According to a 2015 Guidestar report, over 45,000 non-profits are dedicated to helping veterans and their families. That number doesn’t include the for-profit companies offering veteran-specific programs, universities that have veteran-geared assistance, or federal, state, and local government programs specifically designed to help veterans succeed in the civilian world. Find the resources that most closely align with your goals and sign up for them!

9. Connect with people.

People hire people, not resumes, so if you can connect with individuals inside a company or industry you are interested in, especially if you can do it before you need the job, you can improve your chances of getting hired. As a veteran, you’re part of one of the largest alumni networks in the world—over 200,000 service members transition each year. Take advantage of it! Look for employees, recruiters, and hiring managers, especially military or veteran-specific hiring managers, and start building that relationship.

10. Join a professional association.

Every industry has one or more associations or organizations that provide professional development resources to people in that industry. Not only does joining the organization give you access to its members, but these associations often have other resources, such as magazines or newsletters, chat boards, webinars, online conferences, and courses where you can learn about skills that are required for or topics that are trending in that industry. Some also offer a portion of their resources for free or at a reduced cost to non-members. And many even have directories, where you can locate people in the industry, see their employers, and sometimes even see their resumes.

Keep the End in Mind When Climbing

Finding a job after the military is a challenging experience. If you’re changing career fields, it can be even more of an uphill climb. But, if you know your desired end state, there are plenty of ways you can get the skills and experience you need to achieve it.

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Sarah Maples is a former Air Force intelligence officer turned freelance writer, editor, and coach. She writes regularly on After the DD-214, a resource blog she founded to help her fellow veterans navigate civilian life. You can find out more about Sarah at www.sarahmaplesllc.com on her blog at www.afterthedd214.com.
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