What Veterans Need to Know to Write an Effective Private Sector Resume
Leaving the service and not sure how you will tackle a search in the private sector? Many veterans with successful military careers find themselves navigating un-chartered waters once they are ready to move out of the service. This is not an insurmountable gap and many people can navigate this transition successfully with the right strategies.
Whether you are leaving the service entirely or moving into the National Guard, this process of looking for a job in the private sector will require you to re-write your resume for the private sector. Your private sector resume is different than your service resume in a number of ways. Here is what military veterans need to know when writing their resume to start their job search in the private sector:
1. PRIVATE SECTOR RESUMES SELL YOU FOR THE FUTURE AND DO NOT REHASH YOUR ENTIRE PAST
The single biggest difference between the government resume you have been using and your new private sector resume is the focus. Avoid this common mistake of transitioning veterans by focusing your resume on what you want to do next. This forward looking approach to writing your resume as a transitioning veteran will help you to not only dramatically shorten the length of your service resume but also to help focus on your transferable skills. A few things to think about:
- Sell your qualifications not your motivation. Employers in the private sector want to know that you are capable of doing their job. Keep the focus of your resume on what you can do and have done as it relates to the position rather than trying to say you can learn quickly.
For example, use the following:
“Skilled communicator capable of selling new ideas to diverse groups”
“Transitioning veteran capable of learning to sell.”
Although you may have sold different things or ideas while in the service, the point is all in how you frame that experience so that the employer knows you can step into their role successfully.
- Substantive skills matter. The ability to compete for a position requires that you meet the basic qualifications as set forth by the employer. To do this, make sure to read the job description carefully and incorporate all of those requirements that you meet on your resume. Depending on the nature of your service, you may also consider adding some explanation of how these skills/experiences were acquired in the service so that it can be understood by the average recruiter.
- Soft skills also matter. Many employers are focused on finding the right fit for their organization which extends beyond the substantive qualifications for the role. For this, make sure to include details on your resume about who you are as a leader and employee to help demonstrate fit for the organization.
*Pro Tip: Look at the job description and the company website to find details on their culture and incorporate the relevant ones on your resume.
2. REMOVE THE JARGON
Every employer wants to know what you can do for them in a way that they can understand. The military is filled with tons of acronyms, terminology, and rankings that most civilians do not understand. Avoid including any of these on your resume if at all possible. If you can’t remove a particular term or phrase from a sentence, then think about how you can explain the meaning of the military term or phrase in a way that a civilian can understand. A few things to think about when evaluating the jargon on your resume:
- Sometimes it helps. Keep it in if you see the particular phrase or term on the job description you are applying to. This CAN happen if you are applying to a company/job that will work directly with the US military as a contractor.
- Test the phrase. Consider testing a phrase by googling it or asking significant other/spouse/friend when on the fence about whether the general public would understand a word. If the results are mixed, that should be enough proof to you that the phrase won’t be received by the potential employer in a meaningful way.
- Look at the job description. This is the best test to determine whether the particular phrase/term is helpful to your resume for the position. If you don’t see it on the posting and don’t think that the particular item would show up in the job, then that’s also probably good indication to find something else to put on your resume.
- When in doubt, explain. Writing out the explanation for the particular military phrase or jargon will probably help you to remove the term entirely. At a minimum, it will provide context to the potential employer (and their applicant tracking system) what the word means so that they can make their own determinations.
3. INCLUDE ALL OF YOUR RELEVANT CONTACT INFORMATION
Another common mistake that many veterans make is that they forget to include all of the relevant contact information so that the employer can contact them to schedule an interview. It seems simple enough, but this is a common mistake for veterans and non-veterans alike. At the same time, don’t over-include details in your contact section because you don’t need to reveal everything personal when applying. So, what information should be included in the contact section of a veteran’s resume?
- First and last name. Seems obvious, but don’t forget to include your full name as you would like to be called at the top of your resume.
- City and state. This will enable you to appear in the recruiter searches that are for local candidates – whether it is the immediate position you apply to or down the road when the recruiter is searching their ATS for candidates for another role.
- Phone number. Only 1 phone number is needed and most people include their mobile. Just make sure you pick a number that you have access to and will be able to receive messages at.
- Email. Most employers or recruiters want to email you about an interview or opportunity before they call you. Make sure to include an email address that appears professional and that you check frequently.
- LinkedIn, GitHub, AngelList, IMDB, portfolios, or other relevant social media profiles. Many people will incorporate the links to their relevant social media profiles in the contact section of their resume because these profiles include more detail relevant to the applications. Depending on the site, they can include portfolios, work samples, additional skills, network, etc. Plus, this helps to make sure that when the employer is searching online about you (and most do) that they find the RIGHT person.
That’s it. No need to include street addresses, military ranks, marital status, pictures, or anything else on your resume. Doing so can only opens doors to questions that aren’t relevant to your application with this employer,
4. MULTIPLE RESUMES ARE OK
Many veterans will have broad job searches as they transition out of the service. This is frequently because their skills and interest can be applicable to a variety of different job titles or industries in the private sector. To do this effectively, you will want to consider developing specific resumes for each type of job that you are pursuing as having a general resume will appear as though you don’t qualify for the particular role. Consider the following when deciding whether to develop multiple job title/type resumes:
- Experiences. Most veterans will have a variety of experiences professionally and some of those will be more relevant than others to different jobs. If you are finding that you are running out of space to capture the experiences relevant to a particular job, then you may want to simply break the resume apart so that you can focus on the relevant experiences within the particular resume.
- Achievements. Every employer looks at your past results to determine if you can deliver for them. To demonstrate this, make sure to add numbers of some kind and a result from your work. You don’t have to disclose confidential information to do this, but providing explanation in the form of categories or other relevant situational details about your role in the result will go a long way to convince that employer to give you an interview.
- Keywords. As explained below, the keywords that are relevant to 1 type of job will be different than another. For example, a business development manager is more of a hunter going out and finding new customers where an account manager is frequently a job where the person grows existing accounts. These 2 jobs require different skills and the recruiter/ATS will be looking for those on your resume to see if it makes sense to schedule an interview.
5. STAY FOCUSED ON THE TRANSFERABLE SKILLS
As noted above, removing the military and government jargon is only the beginning to focusing your resume for the private sector. This requires you to also think about what skills, achievements, and responsibilities are relevant to the specific position you are applying to. To do this effectively, consider the following:
- Use the job posting as a guide. Most ATS run an algorithm on resumes to determine how well they match with the job posting and they provide analytics to the recruiter about which resumes to read. To avoid being in the nearly 75% of resumes that are automatically rejected by the ATS, make sure to use the specific words in the job posting whenever they are relevant to your experience. This will go a long way to ensuring that you have the best foot forward and help to beat the challenging ATS filters.
- Reach out to people that work there. Connecting with anyone you know at the organization can be a huge help to getting your foot in the door. An advocate on the inside can share important details about the organization, search, and even help to put you in a short-list. Never be afraid to expand and leverage your network when it helps your job search.
- Look to similar people in the field. Use LinkedIn or other social media to identify the skills that people with the job titles you want have. This can be a great way to sort through what details you should include on your resume and what can be excluded.
6. DRAW ATTENTION TO YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
As noted above, veterans should explicitly call out their professional achievements on your resume so that the employer can understand that you can deliver for them. These achievements can be in the form of big results, career highlights, or specific role accomplishments. Make sure to relate these achievements to the types of jobs you are applying to in order to appear qualified (not over-qualified) for the position you are pursuing. Consider the following when drafting achievement statements for your resume:
- Numbers matter. People generally cannot comprehend what they cannot count. Make sure to include a number of some kind in every achievement that you include on your resume as a veteran to demonstrate the scope of your achievement.
- Use skills keywords. Tie together the skills in the job posting or that you think are relevant to the civilian job in order to clearly demonstrate the importance of your role in the result.
- Focus on your role in the result. Employers want to know what you did to get to the result and this is the most important part of the achievement statement. Avoid phrases like “we” or “us” and focus on the specific tactics or functions that you performed to obtain the result.
- Provide a result. An achievement isn’t an achievement if there isn’t some result that came from your efforts. Make sure to include this information clearly on your resume and be careful not to provide details that shouldn’t (or can’t) be shared with the private sector.
7. JOB TITLES ARE IMPORTANT
This is probably one of the most challenging parts of writing a resume for veterans transitioning to the private sector because the job titles in the service do not always translate to the private sector. The best thing for veterans to do to overcome this obstacle on their resume is to provide an explanation and details that the employer can understand. Here are a few examples of how to tackle this challenge on your civilian resume:
Example of What to Do:
United State Marine Corps
Corporal (2013 – 2018)
Served as a data analyst supporting the project leadership in a variety of security and IT related projects with high-stakes impact for global operations.
United States Navy
Lieutenant (2012 – 2017)
Assisted officers by leading the 10 person unit in a variety of operations needs including purchasing, human resources, and contract negotiations.
Thus, providing an explanation of the scope of your role, who you reported to, and the function you served before diving into the specifics of the role will enable the employer to understand the job title.
8. KEYWORDS ARE DIFFERENT BUT STILL AS IMPORTANT IN PRIVATE SECTOR APPLICATIONS
Most veterans know the importance of reporting everything they did in their past ranks in order to hit the required boxes when applying to their next step in the military. The private sector isn’t that different – their applicant tracking systems simply use a different set of keywords and standards to evaluate resumes. Once you know what those keywords are and how they work it becomes a lot easier to focus your resume for the civilian sector. Here are the fundamental things that veterans need to know about keywords for their civilian resumes:
- Substantive skills. These are the keywords that are foundational to performing the job and should be included on your resume whenever applying to that type of position.
- Specific skills. These are the skills keywords identified in the job posting and they can vary between companies – EVEN when the job titles are the same. So, make sure to read the job posting and use these words whenever possible.
- Soft skills. As noted above, soft skills are an increasing determinate for employers about whether you are a good fit for the company culture. Make sure to include some of these words on your resume to help peak their interest in you as a candidate.
- Technology. Software, technology, and other tools can be a keyword for some organizations regardless of level. Focus this list on your private sector resume to those systems that are identified on the job description or that are commonly used in those types of roles. Many veterans will include an explanation of the systems they used in the service to help relate them to their civilian counterparts (i.e. CRM, ERP, proprietary databases, etc).
- Job titles. These can also be keywords in the private sector. So, consider using these on your resume in the summary or in the explanations where possible to help improve the performance of your resume with the civilian ATS.
Transitioning out of the service can be challenging for many veterans. Writing your civilian resume is the first step in finding your next career. The key to do this effectively is to remember that you are focusing on what you want to do next and NOT reporting on what you have done in the past. To do this, add explanation and context to your resume to elaborate on how your past experience will serve you well in your next endeavors. And, don’t hesitate to tap into your network and the resources afforded to veterans to support your search.