Create an effective resume
and cover letter
These two tools are pivotal in achieving your main goal at this stage: getting an interview. And remember, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
With a resume, remember that first impressions are everything
This is your professional life on a sheet of paper. Make it look great. Keep it short. Print it on a quality piece of paper that feels good in your hand. Make sure it looks good on a computer screen. When it comes to the resume, the details are everything.
Speak hiring managers’ language
One of the biggest challenges transitioning service members face is translating their military experience into language that civilian hiring managers can understand. You can find help with this online, with sites like resumeengine.org that feature skills translators. All you have to do is input your military job code, and the translator uses HR-friendly language and keywords to describe your duties and responsibilities while in the service. Years of living with highly specialized military talk and acronyms often results in veterans speaking a language an employer may not understand. So it’s important to use terms and descriptions that they use to make them fully appreciate your experience and skill levels.
Customize it based on your audience
The goal of your resume is to get someone interested enough to bring you in for an interview. So what should you put in your resume to get there? The first rule is to know your audience. Sniper school may be relevant only if you’re applying for an FBI job. Mention only what directly applies to your dream job. You will probably want to craft multiple versions of your resume that are specifically tailored to each different position you are seeking.
Include relevant accomplishments
It’s not unusual for you to be reluctant to talk about your accomplishments in the military. You’ve been trained to be humble, to put others before yourself. But when you are looking for a job, you must be willing to speak up on your own behalf. You’ll need to let employers know what you have accomplished and what you are capable of doing for them. Suppose you received a medal for an innovative computer application that helped track down terrorist threats. If you’re applying for an IT security job, not only should you mention the medal, but you also should describe how your outside-the-box thinking could help safeguard the employer.
Your DD 214 can be considered your military resume. You can look to it as a source of information about your work history, skills, education and recognitions. All these categories belong in an effective resume. They will have to be translated into civilian language, of course.
Ask others to read it
As we’ve discussed above, military jargon and acronyms will make civilians’ eyes glaze over. It’s a great idea to ask civilian friends and family members to give your resume a once-over. If you know someone in the career field you are trying to break into, having them read your resume would be a huge benefit. If they don’t understand something, change it. Finally, have someone proofread it for typos and other errors.
Make everything easy for the employer
If you work in a field where it’s necessary to show the employer a portfolio of your work, make those materials as accessible as possible: In your resume, include a link to a site where a company can easily view it.
Emphasize all the qualities that the military ingrained in you
It’s not just about degrees; employers want people with integrity, poise, strong communication skills, adaptability, leadership ability and a can-do attitude. All of those traits and more are attributes you possess that were strengthened through your military experience. Teamwork, accountability, efficiency and diversity are values that both the military and U.S. companies demand.
Make the cover letter personal
In addition to being an introduction for you and your attached resume, a cover letter is your chance to establish a personal connection with the employer. Show you’ve done your research and offer specifics about how your military service makes you a valuable asset to their business. Do not create a one-size-fits-all cover letter. Each employer should receive a letter written just for them.
A good cover letter has three parts, and each is critical to its success
Start your letter with the reason you’re applying. It’s not enough to state your name and where you found the listing. Also, both you and the hiring manager know who connected you. Mentioning that will quickly give you more credibility. Explain why the position intrigues you, followed by a short explanation of how a particular military skill, experience or training makes you a strong candidate. But don’t go overboard with adjectives in describing your skills or in praising the company; too much can seem insincere or exaggerated.
Tell the employer why you like the company and try to work in an interesting fact that you found in your research. Then explain what you bring to the table to boost the bottom line and/or overall mission of the company. Be careful not to simply restate your resume. Instead, tell a story that’s not on your resume about what brings you to this company or about who you are. Remember to avoid military jargon and acronyms. In the plainest possible language, talk about how your experience as a veteran makes you qualified for the position. And consider tailoring this so that it specifically addresses the needs that are cited in the job description.
At the end of your letter, ask if you can interview with them. Suggest a method for contacting you and let them know you are available at their convenience. Summarize your qualifications and how you will benefit the company, then thank the reader for their consideration.
- Highlight the qualities you sharpened in the military
- Translate military experience into civilian language
- Customize it to the audience
- Be selective about accomplishments
- Check for spelling and grammatical errors
- Ask someone you know to read it for suggestions or possible errors
- Make sure the formatting is consistent throughout (fonts, bold headings, bullet points, indentations, etc.)
- Make sure your name, home address, phone number and email address are at the top
Military terms and their civilian translations
combat – hazardous conditions
company – company, department or section
medal – award
military personnel office – human resources
mission – task/function/objective
Military Occupational Specialty classification – career specialty
squad/platoon – team or section
reconnaissance – data collection and analysis
regulations – policy or guidelines
security clearance – security clearance
service members – employees
subordinates – employees
TAD/TDY – business trip
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