Turn Military Experience into Civilian Selling Points on your Resume

For military veterans, getting a job interview means showing prospective employers how servicemember experience translates into civilian success. Crafting cover letters and resumes that effectively demonstrate just that, however, is a task requiring significant attention to what civilian employers are looking for.

Think of your resume as a movie and your cover letter as a preview. The purpose of a preview is to hook viewers and persuade them to watch the whole movie. Similarly, a cover letter provides your first opportunity to draw attention to your skills, achievements, and experience. It should deliver a glimpse of your professional attributes, but its primary aim is drawing attention to a resume that highlights more specific details about you as a candidate.

Veterans offer distinctive skills. Here’s how to translate them.

The reality is that veterans do possess unique talents and abilities that distinguish them within the applicant pool. In order to make military experience a greater selling point, keep the following tips in mind when writing your cover letters and resumes:

Identify military-specific skills

Regardless of whether your military duties have surface-level relevance to the positions you’re investigating, your status as a veteran likely means you possess qualities employers want.

Think about what you have to offer: Perhaps you’re a disciplined, goal-oriented worker. You’re respectful and patient of team members. You’re a leader. While it may be apparent to you that military experience is a testament to these statements, that’s still something you’ll have to make clear in your application materials.

Connect traits to job functions

Once you have identified several military-specific qualities that may be to your professional advantage, figure out how they relate to the positions you’re considering.

If you have experience working with subcontractors, leading a team, or even packing up your family and moving at a moment’s notice, recognize how those experiences will help you perform tasks in a job description – and how you can be an asset to your employer.

Provide specific examples

While connecting military-specific skills with tasks you’ll perform on a future job, make sure you note specific instances in which you demonstrated these talents and abilities.

For instance, you don’t want your cover letter to simply state you have “experience leading teams.” Rather, write about a specific time, place or group in which you demonstrated leadership skills and what results were achieved. This makes a more convincing case for your experience. Similarly, your resume should reference specific performed duties that provide you with the unique skills you say you have.

Omit extraneous information

Although it’s helpful to provide specific examples of demonstrated skills, be careful not to be so specific that you inhibit civilian understanding.

Whereas military personnel know what you have achieved by viewing your rank, unit, specialties, and awards, excessive military jargon may confuse a civilian employer and make it difficult for him or her to understand your achievements. Be sure you’re communicating in a way that someone with no military experience can understand.

Use your resources

Online tools can help you incorporate military-acquired skills into cover letters and resumes. CareerOneStop.org’s Military to Civilian Occupation Translator is one such tool that will provide you a good sense for terminology used in matching civilian jobs. Military.com’s Translate Military Skills to Civilian Careers service works much the same way.

Using these tools or similar ones is a great way to convert your military skills into terms civilian employers appreciate. CareerOneStop.org even has an online Skills Profiler that will gauge what your current inventory of skills and interests may be.

Create multiple resumes

Different employers are looking for candidates with different skill sets, so choose carefully which traits you’re highlighting in the materials you send to each employer. A common mistake made by job seekers is responding to multiple job ads with the same resume and cover letter.

Take the time to identify how your military experience relates specifically to each job you consider. Doing so will make you a more attractive candidate and greatly increase your chances of landing an interview.