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Tips for Crafting a Military-to-Civilian Resumé

By Samantha Costanzo Carleton
June 10, 2020

Developing a resumé for civilian jobs after spending time in the military can be a challenge. Whether application processes have changed since you had your last civilian role, or it’s your first time applying for one, following a few basic tips can make the job search easier. Here’s what you need to know about writing a military to civilian resumé that helps you stand out in all the right ways. 

4 Tips for Crafting a Military-to-Civilian Resume 

1. Create a unique resumé for each job.

Many professionals find resumé writing a tedious task and send the same one to every potential employer. Though this strategy significantly cuts down on the time spent creating your resumé, it can also be a critical mistake, says Andy McCarty, director of Northeastern University’s Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers

“Employers want to know that you’ve read and understood their job description,” he says. “It’s not possible to do that with a single resumé when every organization and every position is unique.” 

Making a master resumé that catalogs every job you’ve held and your responsibilities and accomplishments within it can help. Though it may take a great deal of time and effort to remember and list each one, the exercise will make it easier to identify and spotlight specific skills—like leadership, communications, and technical knowledge—for specific jobs. 

After creating a master resumé, assembling each individual one can be a matter of copying and pasting relevant experience and bullet points into a new document. Look for opportunities to incorporate keywords from the job description into your new resumé before submitting it. This can help ensure that your resumé makes it through any review software a potential employer uses and onto the hiring manager’s desk. 

2. List accomplishments, not duties.

Many resumés read like a series of job descriptions, which does little to showcase your talents. Strengthen your resumé by listing more than just what you did as part of each job. Instead, talk about your accomplishments. Use numbers whenever possible to paint a picture for hiring managers and illustrate your achievements in greater detail. 

McCarty recommends using a formula popularized by Laszlo Bock, Google’s former senior vice president of people operations: write about what you accomplished, how it was measured, and how you did it. For example, instead of writing that you successfully led a platoon, you might write “Led a team of 25 people on three successful missions by clearly communicating objectives and effective strategies.” 

Taking ownership of your accomplishments may feel uncomfortable, but giving yourself appropriate credit for your actions is a clear way to show hiring managers what you’re capable of doing for their company. 

“The military does a great job of teaching the importance of teamwork,” McCarty says. “Good leaders don’t take credit for their accomplishments and instead point to the efforts of the team as a whole. While that mindset served us all well in uniform, it can be lethal during the job search.” 

3. Avoid jargon.

The military has its own language, but not every civilian speaks it. That’s why it’s important to be as clear as possible in your resumé, and translate job titles, responsibilities, and accomplishments when necessary. This ensures that everyone understands and recognizes your skills and experience, making it easier for them to consider you a good fit for the job. Many hiring managers won’t have the necessary time to do their own research into the meaning of each new acronym or phrase, so helping them out in this way can help set you apart. 

“Few civilian organizations know what to do with an NCO, but they can all use people with supervisory and leadership experience,” McCarty says. 

Think about how you can rephrase your job titles and accomplishments while still retaining the core meaning of each. It may be helpful to have a friend who has never been in the military take a look at your resumé and point out areas in which more clarity would be beneficial before you submit your application. 

4. Use available resources.

If you need extra help with your resumé and job application materials, don’t be anxious about reaching out for it. Many organizations provide free or low-cost job support for veterans. You can also work with friends who are more familiar with applying for civilian jobs and veterans who have made the transition into civilian work in your industry, as each may be able to provide additional tips based on their own experiences. 

Northeastern’s Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers (CAVS) provides dedicated career and academic support through various resources and programming, including the Career Studio, in which students at the university’s Boston campus can get feedback on their resumé and apply for jobs and internships. 

CAVS also provides job search and career management support for all students, including those who learn online, through Northeastern’s Employer Engagement and Career Design Office. Staff members offer live phone support for any career-related question you may have, no matter the stage of your career. 

Learn more about how CAVS and Northeastern can help you begin the next phase of your career here

About Samantha Costanzo Carleton
Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a reporter and content marketing writer who treats every story like it’s her latest big scoop. Her winding career has taken her from financial services to full-time freelance writing, and she now spends most of her time asking Northeastern professors for crash courses in their areas of expertise.