Duncan Mathison, co-author of "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: Six Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough," recalls working with an ex-Navy SEAL who was trying to land a civilian job.
"He realized that most people thought his skills consisted of landing on beaches and blowing things up. Impressive skills, but not really needed in the business world," Mathison says. "As a result, we reframed his experience to highlight his abilities to lead small teams as well as creative problem solving and planning in the face of uncertainty."
While civilian employers may respect military experience, they may struggle to see it as relevant to their workplace. The challenge for veterans is to present their background in ways that civilians can understand and appreciate.
Talk the talk
The first thing that must go is military jargon. Job titles and codes that are second nature to military personnel are like a foreign language to many hiring managers, so translation is essential.
Lisa Rosser, author of "The Value of a Veteran: The Guide for Human Resource Professionals to Regarding, Recruiting and Retaining Military Veterans," suggests converting military skills to civilian equivalents using a tool such as O*Net Online. "The service member can type in his or her Military Occupational Code and see what a civilian equivalent would be and some alternate civilian job titles. The civilian job description will also list skills, knowledge and attributes commonly held by someone in that position. So, for example, a 90A (army logistics officer) would be a logistician or, alternately, an integrated logistics support manager or a production planner."
Armed with this information, Rosser then recommends job seekers "get busy on a site like CareerBuilder and search on the very general and the very specific job titles." Reading through ads will give the applicant a better idea of qualifications needed for various civilian jobs and will provide insight about key words to use on a résumé.
Putting your best self forward
"Military professionals are groomed to lead others and excel in a team-oriented environment," says Abby Locke, master résumé writer and personal brand strategist for Premier Writing Solutions in Washington, D.C. "Consequently, they find it hard to really market and promote themselves as effectively as they should in the job search process."
Experts offer these tips to help veterans sort through their experiences when creating application materials:
- Focus the cover letter on skills most pertinent to the given position; don't give a generic summary of everything you're qualified to do.
- Tailor the résumé to the specific job, and keep it to a maximum of two pages.
- Scour military performance reviews for relevant achievements (and to jog your memory).
- Use numbers, percentages, statistics and other concrete examples when possible to demonstrate competencies.
Education and training
Locke notes that military professionals often have completed hundreds of courses, training assignments and certifications. Instead of turning the education section of the résumé into a laundry list, however, she recommends "cherry picking" to make sure the training that is most relevant to the given position is apparent.
Mathison suggests listing any training that is applicable to the job whether or not you have a degree or a certificate. "For example, you may have had one class in wireless communications and another in management out of 355 hours of training on a wide range of topics. In the résumé under a training or education heading, write 'More than 350 hours of professional development training including wireless communications and management.'"
Remember you're a civilian now
While a veteran's military background will always be a part of his identification, it is important to keep in mind that hiring managers encountered for civilian jobs may not have the same thoughts or experiences.
"Everyone has an opinion about the war," says Michael Coritsidis, a career coach from Lido Beach, N.Y. "Keep emotion out of the equation, and stay neutral."
Experts generally recommend avoiding potentially charged words such as "war," "warfare" or "weapons" (unless applicable to the specific industry). Likewise, it is better to concentrate on your skills and why you are the best candidate for the position rather than focusing on the military conflict or combat.
Remember, though, that military experience has helped you become who you are today, so bring confidence to the civilian job hunt.
"Most, if not all, learned skills can be transferred to any company or industry, whether it is around the block or around the world," Coritsidis says. "The armed forces also instill the highly regarded qualities of being all that you can be as well as being a team player. What company wouldn't want to hire a person who can communicate how their military skills and qualifications can save time, save money or make money for their business?"
Get the latest job search news and advice on CareerBuilder.com's job blog, "The Work Buzz," and follow us on Twitter @CBforJobSeekers.