As a transitioning veteran, you may be in the position of having to write a Military to Civilian resume for the first time. And although you may have a lot of help — Military TAP class, Military Veteran career websites, the discarded resumes of friends and family that have been offered up for you to use as templates — you may fall into the trap of including so many key words and snazzy phrases that you sound like a resume template yourself instead of a dynamic potential employee with meaningful military experience. Here’s why this happens, and how to avoid it.
You’re right! My resume does sound, uh, robotic and boring. How did this happen? Well, it’s partially the advice you received, and partially the computers that run companies’ job searches. Let’s focus on the advice first. Your TAP class instructors, career counselors and even the odd (ahem) online article tells you to focus on key words and to make sure you incorporate the requirements of the job posting so that you appear to match up exactly to the job. This is good advice, as far as it goes, and you should follow it … except, remember that you’re supposed to incorporate the job requirements into your story and your experiences, not trim your experiences to fit the job requirements. More on that in a bit.
As for the computers, well, they’re designed to look for certain key words and phrases. Just like online publishers try to jam popular, oft-searched words and phrases into their articles so that search engines direct traffic to their websites, so do job-seekers cram their resumes full of the most popular corporate buzz words and job requirement key words so that resume-searching engines return their resumes to company searches more often. This element of the modern job-search is why you get the advice you do about key words and job descriptions in the first place.
However, if you only focus on the mechanics of a good resume (or military to civilian cover letter, or interview), you will look exactly the same as every other candidate to a recruiter. The bullet point about military service? It’s probably written in jargon indecipherable to a civilian recruiter, and lost amid the repetitive adjectives of corporate lingo. You might need the key words to show up on a search, but you need to sound like a person to grab a recruiter’s attention.
Is “sounding human” another way to say “bragging?” No. But in an effort to avoid bragging, many veterans purposefully cut out anything human in their application documents. They restrict themselves to bare facts, trusting that the results of their service will speak for themselves. That’s often how it is in the military, which has rigid metrics for success (passing a PT test, for example, or completing a class), and there’s a military culture that disapproves of bragging as a consequence of putting the team before the individual. But while you won’t often find those virtues in the civilian world, you will find the same distaste for bragging.
Creating a human-sounding resume is really about presenting yourself as someone who is valuable and likeable, especially as a member of a team. It’s showing that you came from somewhere, that you have the ability to contribute (beyond corporate-speak like “results-driven” and “oriented on the bottom line”), and that you can connect with others. It’s about crafting a narrative, telling a story through your experiences that gives the person considering your application an idea of you as a person rather than a bundle of accomplishments and adjectives.
I have to write a story? That doesn’t sound like very good resume advice. To put it baldly, the trick is to tell a story through your experiences, within the framework of a resume. The idea is that you want to use all the right key words and job requirements to prove that you’re a fit for the job, but also that you appeal to the recruiter personally because he or she will begin to like, admire and become interested in you. You want to make them say, “This veteran is qualified, and I’d like to meet him or her!” As long as your qualifications are up to par, the level of interest you spark in your application is what will separate you from the rest of the candidates.
This is starting to sound very complicated. I’m supposed to be all “human” and “tell a story,” but I still have to use key words and job requirements? There’s an easy way to put this together, actually. It takes a little time, however, and it’s something you’ll have to repeat for each job you really want when you apply. But it comes down to a couple of steps. Here a a few Military to Civilian resume examples you can use to land that job!
- Make a list of your previous jobs. It’s easiest to do this on the computer.
- Look at the job for which you’re applying, and see what they want from their applicants. This is where you focus on the “job requirements” part of the job posting.
- Under each of your previous jobs, list accomplishments and experiences that directly relate to the job requirements. Make sure you frame achievements as times when you overcame challenges and succeeded, and write about experiences as times when you developed knowledge about a subject or a specific trait important to the job.
- When you are finished, review your list of jobs and resume bullets and make sure there is narrative continuity. Basically, your earliest job should read as starting you on a path of constant growth and successive achievement that naturally culminates in the job for which you’re applying.
- Write your introduction paragraph as a summary of that story you developed. Make sure you include the most important (usually the most common) key words and phrases.
- Rinse and repeat for other job applications.
Wow! That seems so manipulative! It’s not manipulative as long as you don’t tell any lies. If you get the job, then your past experience will have helped you succeed exactly as you wrote it in your resume. Another way of looking at it is that you’re focusing your past experience on the job you plan to do, and explain what that specific experience actually is.
Ultimately, you’re taking your experience and telling it as a story. That story has a protagonist that is more than a jumble of key words and corporate lingo: YOU. The narrative element and your role as a human actor will make it easy for a recruiter to sympathize with you and to see your qualifications as human traits rather than job-search boilerplate. That, combined with the fact that this story ends with the success of the company to which you’re applying, means there is a very happy ending for a recruiter … which makes you a very easy hire.