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Using Military Experience on a Resume

Transitioning from military service to civilian life can feel like a complex process with lots of decisions to make. The good news is that plenty of resources exist to help guide you. However, it is essential to know that military experts have not written or vetted every resource.

One reason it’s essential to always look for vetted information is that when you’re preparing to enter the job market, it’s vital to understand how your military experiences can translate into the requirements you’ll need to land a civilian job.

Active duty service members prepare to separate or retire from the military about one year out. Before leaving the military or graduating from school, this transition period is a great time to work on your resume, start building a professional network, and decide on your path forward.

Whether you are joining the workforce after graduation or separation from service, here are some tips to help you get started.

>> Find opportunities with job recruiters and staffing companies looking to assist veterans and military spouses.  Get started today!

Building Your Resume

First, ensure you have a copy of your Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET). Your VMET gives the overview of all the skills you gained during your time in the military. If you need a copy, request it through the Department of Defense. You can use this to help you translate military skills into civilian job descriptions.

The components of your resume should include:

  • Contact information: Name, address, phone number, and email address go in the header.
  • Objective: In one or two lines, explain what kind of job you’re looking for and how you are uniquely qualified for it
  • Summary of qualifications: This can be a bulleted section below the objective. Here, you should include a paragraph highlighting the skills that qualify you for the job. Include your relevant military experience, certifications, and any related training.
  • Employment history: This section will include dates of any specialized positions you’ve held and your responsibilities.
  • Education and training: List any schools, colleges, and military training programs you have attended. If you received certifications, be sure to list them.
  • Special skills: Include foreign languages, technical and computer skills, medical training, and other relevant skills that will set you apart. Be sure to include non-tangible skills such as leadership, work ethic, and discipline.
  • Volunteer Work: Include any volunteer work you’ve done if it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for or showcases your unique skills. Did you volunteer off-base while stationed overseas? Be sure to mention that where relevant.
  • Additional Duties: Are you a fitness monitor or safety monitor for your unit? If your additional duties are relevant to the job you want to get, list them on your resume.

Customize Your Resume

Tailor your resume to each job listing rather than sending out the same resume repeatedly. Taking the time to customize your resume will help you stand out when applying.

Emphasize your strengths and include everything you’ve done that relates to the job you’re seeking. Leave out experiences that might not be relevant.

You should further customize your resume to translate military jargon into something non-military hiring managers can understand. Putting “combat camera” on a civilian resume isn’t as easily understood as “military photographer”, and “Security Forces” isn’t as immediately understood as “military law enforcement.”

When listing your job experiences, if your resume is primarily military experience, it may be best to view each PCS as a separate job and list them accordingly.

If your resume combines civilian and military experience, it may be best to consider grouping your military work according to job type.

Did you work as a Russian linguist for 8 years and a military Public Affairs officer for 12? You may consider grouping those experiences according to job type where appropriate.

Organize Your Resume

It helps to organize your resume chronologically to list your experiences, starting with your most recent experience and working your way back.

Be Consistent

Because your experience needs to address the required qualifications in the job announcement, the hiring party will look for specific terms in your resume. Be sure to use terms related to that particular experience throughout your resume. Consider your resume a collection of keywords an automated resume sorter will search for.

Related: Military Spouse Education Guide

Use Numbers

Use numbers, percentages, or dollar amounts to showcase accomplishments. Look at your past performance reviews, previous job descriptions, awards, and letters of recommendation. Include specific examples of how you saved, earned, or managed time and money.

Using metrics like dollar amounts helps to showcase your accomplishments in concrete terms. If your work had an impact above your unit level, mention that.

Responsibility at the unit level is impressive, but duties that are elevated to the base, major command, or theater level have significance you should use to your advantage where appropriate.

Include a Cover Letter

You should always send a cover letter with your resume. Your cover letter will explain why you’re interested in the position and how your skills make you the best choice for the job.

Get the name of the person in charge of hiring, and email your cover letter to them. You can call the company directly and ask for their name and email address or try to locate it on their website.

In the first paragraph of your cover letter, you should mention the job you are applying for by name. Then, keep the content focused on how your skills and abilities will help the company succeed.

Keep your letter to one page, and use a business format. Mention in closing that you will call to follow up and set a reminder to do so.

>> Find opportunities with job recruiters and staffing companies looking to assist veterans and military spouses.  Get started today!

Resume Resources

Federal Jobs

Military experience will often lend itself to working for the federal government. The government offers unique hiring paths for veterans and active duty service members.

As a veteran, you may get preference over other candidates when you apply for federal jobs. Veterans’ preference does not guarantee that you will get the job; only some veterans will be eligible.

What Your Resume Should Include

In most regards, your resume will be the same whether you’re applying for a job in the private sector or with the federal government, but there are a few things you should consider when applying for federal employment.

Your total military service is important, not just active duty. If you have Guard or Reserve time, be sure to include that time and job descriptions where appropriate.

Are You Qualified?

Ensure you have read the job listing thoroughly and understand the required experience and education before applying. Federal jobs often require experience in a particular type of work for a specific period. You must showcase how your skills and experiences meet the qualifications and requirements listed in the job announcement.

Always include the dates, level of experience, and specific examples of your work for each of your past job experiences. If you have military experience in a job radically different from the one you are applying for, find common ground in both.

For example, your primary duties may not directly translate, but what about additional duties? Are you an equipment custodian, safety officer, or fitness monitor? Have you ever served in such a capacity?

Remember that civilians don’t understand the concept of additional duty the same way servicemembers do. To many, additional duties are just part of the job description.

Related: Military Spouse Education Guide

What to Know:

The federal government does have a standard job application. Your resume is your application. Hiring agencies use the job announcement to describe the job and list the required qualifications and responsibilities.

After applying, the hiring agency uses the information in your resume to verify that you have the qualifications stated in the job announcement. Once the hiring agency has determined who is qualified, they may use other assessments, such as interviews or testing, to determine the best-qualified applications.

Private Sector Jobs

Entering the private sector is also an excellent option after service or college graduation.

Military experience is valuable to employers looking for candidates with a proven work ethic and dedication. Look for organizations committed to helping veterans find good jobs. A few examples are:

Where to Find Job Listings

There are several avenues for finding and applying for federal government and private sector jobs. Websites that act as job bulletin boards let you post your resume for employers to see, search for, and apply for jobs in various industries. These sites include Monster, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and ZipRecruiter.

However, the only place to apply for federal jobs is at USAJOBS.gov.

On the Job Training

If you’re currently employed but want to level up your career, options are available. Post-9/11 GI Bill training programs can help you pay for books, supplies, and housing while learning a trade or skill through on-the-job training or apprenticeships.

>> Find opportunities with job recruiters and staffing companies looking to assist veterans and military spouses.  Get started today!<<


About the author

Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.

Andrea Daniell

Andrea Daniell is a freelance writer based in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Specializing in copy and blog writing, she has ten years of experience writing across many industries. In addition to her love of both writing and reading, she enjoys boating, cooking, and spending time with her husband and two kids.