Making the transition from the military to a civilian job can actually be quite tough. Most managers are not veterans and so they don’t seem to understand how military experience can work within their company.
For this article, we are going to assume that the veteran already knows what it is that they want to do. Instead, we will be focusing on how to convince a hiring manager that your skills will translate.
We will be looking at some of the most important skills that are picked up in the military that you should make sure and emphasize on your resume.
Before moving on, I need you to understand a few things first:
- You need to be willing to start over – despite all of your military experience, you will have no idea how the company that you are applying for works. You should take the time to learn the organizational structures of potential employers many months before actually entering the job market. You can gather this intelligence from recruiters, employment counselors, hiring managers, etc.
- Don’t expect – there are over 500,000 resumes posted on Monster every week. Hiring managers certainly don’t read the resume of every single applicant. Because of this, I would advise that you don’t upload your resume to such job boards as Monster. Instead, upload them to niche job boards and make sure that your resume is targeted specifically for the jobs you apply to.
- Don’t write a book – A long resume is an instant turn off and will likely go in the trash without being read. You don’t need to write down every great accomplishment or every duty you performed, only those that are transferable for the position that you’re applying for. Let’s say that you diffused a bomb at some point, if you’re going for an office job it wouldn’t be relevant so don’t include it.
- Always proofread – it is all about attention to detail. Don’t rely solely on your own review as it can be easy to miss your own mistakes. Have your resume reviewed and critiqued by as many eyes as possible. If there is bad spelling and poor grammar on a resume, they won’t expect any different of you.
- Don’t go unprepared – before going for an interview, practice. If you think that because you’re ex-military that you won’t need to do this, think again. The reason is that you need to be conversational, convey the right energy and yet let them know you’re aware of what their business is and who their competitors are. You need to distinguish yourself from the regular job seeker and you need to be passionate. Have a set of questions that they haven’t heard before.
Military Skills You Can Use to Land a Job
While we mentioned above that you shouldn’t write down every little experience within the military, it is crucial that you highlight key transferable skills which we are going to look at here.
When we talk about your communication skills, we don’t mean how well you can operate a radio. These are the skills that you have developed that allow you to effectively talk to the variety of people that you encountered in the service. You will know and fully understand how to talk to people from the lowest to the highest rank. Employers value this.
Many people enter the workforce with a natural aversion to doing what they’re told, but deference and respect for the chain of command is probably second nature to you by now.
Along with the way you communicate verbally, you also probably have very good written communication skills. You will understand how to write clear, goal-oriented writing, with a focus on critical information and this is what employers want to read. If you learned to write like that and did so frequently, be sure to mention it on your resume.
When applying for a job, there is a good chance that you will have better teamwork skills than almost all other applicants. Even if you were never in high stress situations, the fact is there are few places outside of the military that develop teamwork skills quite like the military does. Teamwork is all about knowing when to take the lead and knowing when to follow.
In the workforce, “Winging it” is never a good approach. The ability to create a plan and carry it through is a highly sought after skill. Civilian leadership positions like managers and executives have to constantly create plans to stretch resources, make schedules and figure out where the best places to put the money are. You will also know how to adjust the plan to unforeseen circumstances. The ability to plan well means recognizing when a plan isn’t working, not panicking when a plan has to be discarded and being able to think of a new, effective one on the spot.
In the military you can’t hop from one job to another. You enlist and agree to commit yourself to the armed forces for a certain length of time. There’s no bailing if things are too tough or if the unexpected crops up. That kind of loyalty is hard to find out of the military. Highlight your willingness to devote yourself to a particular cause or position.
This refers to your ability to identify the central conflict in a situation and calmly assess and implement a variety of solutions. You will have been exposed to a wide range of problems in need of solving while you were in the military. It doesn’t matter what type of problems you had to face, what is important is how effectively you solved them.
A common question that you will be asked at an interview is “What is a significant challenge or problem you’ve faced and how did you solve it?” and this will be your time to shine.
If you worked as a mechanic, in any sort of telecommunication position, financial management position or in health care, then you’ve been lucky enough to have been trained in skills that relate directly to corresponding civilian jobs.
In my opinion, respect is the most important skill that the military will have instilled in you. There is no workplace in which this isn’t important. Respect for your team members, your colleagues, your clients, your customers, your boss, your superiors, etc. An employer wants someone that can treat every single person with a level of professionalism, kindness, and regard.
Translating Your Experience
The skills that you gained are valuable but they mean nothing unless you know how to present them to an employer. Too many people make lots of copies of a resume and just send it out to all jobs that they are interested in. Bad move! Each resume should be tailored to fit each specific job.
You need to be particular when you’re translating your military experience to civilian employment in order to emphasize certain military skills depending on the job you are applying for. As an example, if you want a position in human resources, you should play up your interpersonal skills. Focus on your experience in effectively leading subordinates and all of the social conflicts you had to solve while doing so.
If you are looking for a managerial position, you can still mention those skills, but should shift the focus to the logistical side of things and emphasize experience dealing with inventory.
The idea is to show an employer exactly how well suited you are for the position.