Posted October 05, 2016 by

How to market military experience on a resume and cover letter

Recent college grads and entry-level job seekers with military experience can set themselves apart from other job seekers because they have experience beyond the classroom that employers covet.

But the only way to do that is to create a resume and cover letter that highlights how military experience translates to the professional world.

It’s easier said than done, and takes practice, patience, and persistence. Recent college grads should reach out to their college career services department for resume and cover letter writing assistance, as they are skilled at helping veteran students and grads market their resume and cover letter.

At Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, veterans are about 10% of the MBA student population.

“Most of them have amazing backgrounds, but some of their best characteristics can get lost in translation,” says Eric Johnson, Executive Director of Graduate Career Services at IU’s Kelley School of Business. Johnson is a Kelley grad, an executive coach and the leader of the team responsible for career management and professional development of Kelley graduate students. Kelley students are required to meet with career services on a regular basis, where career experts advise them on all aspects of professional development and career management, including resume and cover letter writing tips.

Here are some of Johnson’s resume and cover letter writing tips for veterans:

Female military veteran

Lose the military jargon

Military terms like “dustoff” or acronyms like BCT, TIF, or MOS mean something to military audiences, but are a foreign language to most civilian recruiters.  “Use layman’s terms in resumes and cover letters so recruiters can easily understand what you’re talking about,” says Johnson.

Focus on your transferable skills

Veterans rarely bring traditional marketing or finance experience to a job interview, and sometimes lack confidence as a result. They shouldn’t – hiring managers are often more enthusiastic about the transferable skills of veterans than they are about the marketing backgrounds of their classmates. “Companies can teach marketing – they can’t coach initiative,” says Johnson. So veterans need to highlight their leadership, teamwork, learning agility, language skills, global immersion, problem solving, ability to deal with ambiguity, and ability to cope with change (among other things) when building their resumes, cover letters and networking profiles. These areas will make their resumes stand out.

Don’t be too humble

“My experience with veterans is that many view their experiences as having ‘just done my job,'” says Johnson. “Initially, many are reluctant to talk about awards they won, commendations they received, or honors that were bestowed on them because they didn’t do tasks for glory – they did them out of a sense of duty or patriotism.” As noble as that is, civilian recruiters are trying to answer the questions, “how good were you at your past job?” and “how do you stack up against others from your past profession?” “It’s not bragging to cite these awards if they are presented as facts and in the context of the job that was done,” says Johnson. “It’s honors like these that can differentiate one candidacy from another.”

Dennis Davis is the Chief Translation Officer for MetaFrazo, a company whose mission is to maximize veteran employment opportunities in the private sector and provide best in class tools and expertise allowing corporations to identify, attract, hire, develop, promote, and retain veterans.

When it comes to writing resumes and cover letters, “defining what you have done and the values you used to achieve success are the best way to set yourself apart,” says Davis, author of Not Your Average Joe: Profiles of Military Core Values and Why They Matter in the Private Sector. “You have tremendous value that you can bring any employer.”

Do that by writing a resume and cover letter that focuses on achievements and responsibility and how it translates into the professional or corporate world. Employers crave job seekers with experience outside the classroom – those who have worked in the military have that. They have learned a wide variety of skills – leadership, communication, operations, logistics, troubleshooting, analytical, and interpersonal skills, teamwork, and much more. Highlight those areas on a resume.

Examples of the right words to use on your resume

Create bullet points backed with proof of accomplishment that translates your military experience to the civilian world, like this example:

  • Leadership: Oversaw a team of 20 that operated in multiple remote, overseas locations throughout the world.
  • Developed communication, interpersonal and troubleshooting skills by working closely with leaders from other countries and military units.

“Separate yourself from all other recent college grads,” says Davis. “You have had far more responsibility than many recent college grads, prove it on your resume.”

When recruiters read resumes, they scan them first, so put key achievements or successes in bold to stand out. Note: Bolding doesn’t often apply when submitting a resume via an applicant tracking system, but it can be effective when emailing a resume to a specific contact or uploading a word document of a resume into an online system.

Justin K. Thomas is a Media Placement Specialist for the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He’s also retired from the United States Navy, and has had success writing resumes that connect his military background to the needs of civilian/corporate/professional jobs.

Many recent college grads with military backgrounds may tend to write how they speak in their branch of service, says Thomas. For example, military language may call for this type of comment:

“Was a leader of 8 soldiers who created journalistic products for Army leadership.”

A better and more concise statement could be this:

  • Served as a news editor to 8 public relations specialists that created over 300 feature news articles, video and graphic design products for civilian media outlets on behalf of the U.S. Army.

The second sentence gives the hiring manager an idea of the cause and effect of your abilities. “It helps them understand what you did in the military,” says Thomas. He provides these additional tips:

Always write a cover letter: Resumes can be rigid, and it’s sometimes hard to explain in detail all of one’s experiences, especially in the military, says Thomas. A hiring manager can’t always fully understand a key accomplishment or skill set. Cover letters allow one to expand on these details.

“Cover letters allow you to convey your skills and experiences in greater detail and prove you have the ability to work for their organization,” says Thomas.

Always proof your resume and cover letter

Check your work for common mistakes such as punctuation marks and sentence structure. Read it from bottom to top to gain a different perspective. Print the resume and cover letter and proof them. Let it sit for a day before submitting, if possible. Reviewing it with fresh eyes can help find or correct mistakes.

“You will not believe what I caught after I hit submit on the job application,” says Thomas.

Customize each resume and cover letter to the specific job

The best military resumes are like those of any other job seeker – they are customized and tailored to the specific job for which you are applying. Read each job description and highlight your related skills to the company needs, using the job description as your guide. Tweak it, update it and change as needed for each job. A one-size-fits-all resume doesn’t work.

Many employers covet hiring veterans – but they have to understand what you did in the military to know the true value and expertise you can bring to their company. “If an employer is looking for someone with both a degree and experience, the military veteran will always win that battle when properly defined – beginning with your resume,” says Davis.

Want more tips and advice on how to market your military resume and cover letter? Then stay connected to College Recruiter by visiting our blog, and connect with us on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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