Tips for Writing Military-to-Civilian Resumes, Cover Letters and More

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Category: Military Support

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Military service can help you learn valuable skills and gain experience you can use throughout the rest of your career. When transitioning from a military role to a civilian job, one key to success is conveying this experience effectively to potential employers. Identify what makes you an attractive candidate, and communicate that in your resume in a way that's easy to understand.

In this article, we’ve compiled our favorite tips for military-to-civilian resumes, cover letters and other professional correspondence. We’ll start with what to include, and then we’ll provide some basic tips for how to do it.

What to Include in a Military-to-Civilian Resume

1. Resume Summary

Many resumes start with a short statement or paragraph that summarizes your background and emphasizes why you're an ideal fit for the role. It's often the first thing hiring managers read, and it’s your chance to make a strong first impression. A resume summary can briefly include your skills, goals, achievements, degrees, certifications, and military experience.

Here's an example that incorporates not only the individual's military experience and expertise but also their ability to deliver results:

U.S. Marine Corps Navigation Officer with six years of leadership experience overseeing a team of more than 20 personnel. Exceptional delegation, communication, problem-solving, and time management skills. Collaborated with the commander to oversee aircraft position, meeting 100% of deadlines and maintaining a flawless safety record.

2. Work Experience

Resumes typically include a section listing previous professional experience, most commonly in reverse chronological order. If your military experience is relevant to the job you're applying for, treat it like any other position. Include the dates you served, the positions you held, and examples of your responsibilities and accomplishments, ideally using figures, percentages, and data to quantify your achievements.

If you only have military service and no other professional experience, consider naming this section “Relevant Experience” or something similar. Alternatively, if you've held several relevant nonmilitary positions, make your resume easier for hiring managers to scan and understand by listing your military experience in a section separate from your civilian experience.

3. Education

When detailing your education background, list the military academy from which you graduated, if applicable. These schools are often well-respected institutions. As you would with any other education, include your graduation date, degree, and accomplishments or designations.

4. Military Awards

If you earned a military medal or award during your service, create a section on your resume such as "Military Honors." These awards often show potential employers that you're dedicated, trustworthy, have a good work ethic, and work well on a team. You might also add a brief description of the awards so hiring managers can understand their importance. If you don't have room on your resume for a separate honors section, you can also include info about awards in your work experience section, describe them in your cover letter, or both.

5. Transferable Skills

Many of the hard and soft skills you gain during military service are the same ones employers value and seek in job candidates. These transferable skills and qualities might include:

  • Adaptability.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Communication.
  • Integrity.
  • Leadership.
  • Management.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Teamwork.
  • Work ethic.

Identify the skills and qualities that best suit the job you're applying for and emphasize them in your summary, work experience, and skills sections of your resume. Describing your developments in these skills can also be an effective use of your cover letter.

How to Write a Military-to-Civilian Resume

How you explain and convey your military experience can make the difference between getting passed over or landing an interview. Here are some tips to consider when adding military experience to your resume and other professional correspondence:

  • Use easy-to-understand language. Translate your resume so it makes sense to civilian hiring managers, and avoid military jargon and codes. Instead of listing your title as a “commissioned officer,” for instance, try “supervisor,” which laypeople can immediately understand.
  • Add keywords. Review the job posting for the role and find key terms – such as communication skills or management experience – that you can incorporate into your resume. This makes it easier for recruiters and automated systems to pinpoint you as a good candidate.
  • Focus on your most relevant experience. You might not want or need to include all your military achievements, awards, and responsibilities on your resume. If the job you're applying for involves metalwork, for example, absolutely include the welding certificate you earned in the military. Alternatively, it’s typically best to not include details about combat experience, for example.
  • Show your versatility. Use action words and civilian terms that demonstrate to hiring managers that your skills extend beyond the military. To convey leadership, for example, you might say you "provided your team with strategic advice and guidance to help them meet operational goals."

Job Search Resources for Veterans

Transitioning from military service to a civilian job can be challenging. Knowing how to showcase your active-duty experience in the most effective light, however, can present you as a competent and strong job candidate.

Here at Columbia Southern University, our Veterans Center helps military students get the most out of their education, including connecting them with various career services. Our academic advisors and career services team can provide you with job search resources so that you’re as prepared as possible heading into a job interview.

To learn more about CSU’s online academic degree programs, visit our website.

Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. CSU does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, eligibility for a position, or other career growth.

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