Military to Civilian Resumes
Each year, thousands of service members leave active-duty and transition into the civilian workforce. Transferring your military experience into relevant civilian roles can be very challenging on a resume. Military jargon is practically another language that only other service members speak. The military does offer transition assistance to aid with job search preparation; however, military personnel often leave with an inaccurate understanding of the job market and don’t know how to effectively write a resume. At Empire Resume Career Services, we’re here to help break down the jargon and provide you with the information you need to get your civilian career started.
Military Transition Assistance Programs
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) was established to assist people separating from the military during their transition into the private sector by providing information, training, and job search assistance. TAP was originally developed in 1990 when Congress authorized benefits to assist service members in the transition into civilian life. In 2011, TAP was redesigned by the Veterans Opportunity Work (VOW) Act of 2011 and made the pre-separation counseling program a requirement for all military personnel with at least 180 continuous service days. The current TAP includes career readiness standards, pre-separation counseling, and five days of classroom-based instruction.
TAPs are structured by having a team of facilitators (contractors) retained to teach the various parts of the core curriculum. As with all contractors, their quality varies considerably. For the job search component, you may have an exceptional contractor who truly understands the job market and knows exactly how to help you develop a strong job search profile (resume, cover/follow-up letter, LinkedIn). On the other end, you may have the lowest bid contractor for the job search component who has little understanding of today’s job market and the best ways to develop your job search profile.
Although TAPs seek to help people transition from military to civilian life, there are unfortunately some potential shortcomings when it comes to job search preparation including adequately helping a service member write a marketable resume, developing a LinkedIn profile, job search preparation, and interviewing skills. TAPs can vary significantly in their effectiveness from base-to-base and from branch of service.
In 2015, The American Legion conducted a review of the transition assistance program and highlighted to need for improving the contracts with the TAP facilitators who are evaluated with a limited scope of performance measures and have little incentive for them to perform their best. In 2017, LinkedIn published an article about how no transitioning soldier’s resume is perfect and criticized how the Army cannot expect a soldier to effectively transition into the civilian world by providing them a fill-in-the-blank resume template that many of these TAP facilitators (along with several online companies) attempt to do.
As a former Air Force Captain, my experience with TAPs was very forgettable and provided little benefit to help me with my job search. Today, as a career services entrepreneur who sees many resumes coming from military personnel transitioning into the civilian world, I am constantly amazed on how many low-quality resumes come across my desk from service members who just completed TAPs.
Use Easy to Understand Wording
When I served in the Air Force, I was responsible for leading a large team of security force personnel that protected intercontinental ballistic missiles. As with any role in the military, there were hundreds of acronyms used that become commonplace for people in my field. Terms such as Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), Missile Alert Facility (MAF), Launch Facility (LF), Reentry Vehicle (RF), Enlisted Performance Reports (EPR), and Continental United States (CONUS) are just a few examples that would sound like another language to most civilians. Simply defining what I did in layman’s terms was not very easy, especially for most recruiters and hiring managers who have no military experience whatsoever.
You want to make your responsibilities easy to understand and relevant to the civilian world. For example, rather than copy information from my Officer Performance Reports (which defined my job roles and how well my performance is for each area) I needed to convey to civilian hiring managers something they could understand and something that was relevant to the positions I was applying for.
After much contemplation and feedback from recruiters, my job description became listed as, “Led and mentored up to 80 assigned personnel within the flight, responsible for safeguarding the nation’s nuclear assets with more than $6.4 billion dispersed throughout a 12,600-square mile tri-state region.” This description is easy for a civilian recruiter to understand. The achievements also needed to be just as clear as my job description were, so I included such things as, “Awarded Flight-of-the-Year 2003 and Flight-of-the-Quarter 2004 for outstanding leadership and performance.” Again, this is another easy to understand value item that emphasized my leadership quality with demonstrated results.
Essential Resume Elements
All great resumes have five key elements: 1) proper formatting, 2) keyword rich, 3) resume summary, 4) achievements, and 5) two-pages or less. First, proper formatting doesn’t just refer to a certain resume style or format; rather, proper formatting means that your resume is designed to work with applicant tracking systems (ATS) that companies use to sort through the thousands of resumes they receive to find a qualified candidate. Second, a keyword rich resume ensures that it will pull up correctly in employers ATS by including the most important keywords from the job description. Third, a resume summary is a brief introductory paragraph that concisely describes who you are and your qualifications/expertise. Unfortunately, some TAP facilitators still include “Objective” statements that are antiquated and will severely undermine your chances for an interview. Fourth, including your achievements is a key element of a great resume since you want to clearly showcase your value of how you performed above and beyond expectations. Finally, all resumes should be a maximum of two-pages or less, regardless of your extensive background. Think of a resume as a marketing document that highlights your qualifications and achievements versus a laundry list of your extensive job duties. Including all five elements in your resume will significantly increase your chances for an interview.
LinkedIn (2017) conducted a detailed study of hiring managers and discovered that the average recruiter spends only 6-seconds reviewing a resume. All resumes need to be concise, with clear language and keeping everything under two-pages. This is usually very challenging for a service member who’s been in the military for many years and has pages upon pages of performance reports, awards, schooling, and deployments. Remember, your resume should be a concise and compelling marketing document that immediately showcases your value and entices a recruiter to invite you for an interview.
Writing a resume that’s appealing to employers is difficult enough. Adding the element of being a military service member, transitioning from the military to the civilian world who only knows military jargon makes the process far more challenging. The most important things to remember is that you want your civilian resume to be easy to read and understand by people who’ve never entered military service. Keep your resume concise and clearly showcase the value you bring while omitting most (if not all) of the specialized acronyms.
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