When a woman leaves the military and begins to look for work, gaining a solid understanding of how her skills gained in the military might be helpful in a civilian role is paramount.
While the connection between military experience and a new position might seem obvious, many recruiters and hiring managers need help understanding military job titles and the skills associated with them. The first step to writing a resume and cover letter that will attract the attention of private-sector employers is to articulate your transferable skills in a way that will have them standing at attention.
The key for military women transitioning to civilian life is to focus on transferable skills — the skills and abilities developed during your service that will be of use to civilian employers. This should include both your transferable "hard" skills, such as IT certifications or language proficiencies and your transferable "soft" skills, like communication and collaboration.
For example, if you're applying for a system administrator job, highlight your technical skills, such as experience maintaining file servers for the job and how you're able to solve problems and communicate well with a team. Or, if you were a squad leader, transferable skills would include team leadership, staying on budget, setting productivity goals, and keeping people engaged and motivated.
Those are all skills that can be valuable in various sectors such as sales, customer service, and warehouse management. Adding these skills to your resume can help the civilian hiring manager draw a line between what you accomplished in the military and what you will bring to the table in the role at hand.
How to use transferable skills from the military on a civilian resume
If you're still not sure about how some of your skills can transfer, think of what you learned in the military:
- An ability to think on your feet and stay calm under pressure. When applying for a logistics job, you can highlight that you won't get overwhelmed by deadlines or customer demands because you've helped transport munitions, troops, and supplies.
- A talent for clear communications. In the military, orders must be conveyed clearly and correctly, which can be an asset in any job. Military personnel are also taught to be respectful in their communication efforts.
- A focus on good leadership. Military personnel are taught how to assess a situation, consider the risks, make decisions, and take the necessary action. Inspiration, motivation, and teamwork are hallmarks of leadership in the military, and those attributes are desired in the civilian world in a team leader or supervisory role.
- The need to be analytical. The military collects data both on and off the field, and this data must be carefully compiled, interpreted, and applied. You could fill roles where information needs to be analyzed, such as in marketing.
- How to stay organized. Time management, prioritization of tasks; recording information; managing resources; and multitasking are critical in military life — those same skills are transferable to private companies. A busy customer service or warehousing role would fit your skills.
- Behaving professionally. Showing respect, having discipline and self-control, being loyal, showing resilience, and having a can-do attitude are transferable skills applied to any job in any industry. Any business that relies on customer service, working collaboratively, or solving challenging problems in logistics would be a good fit.
3 ways to add transferable skills to a civilian resume
Once you've determined your transferable skills, then you need to add them to your resume. While a dedicated skills section will work, that isn't your only opportunity to weave these skills into your document. Here are some other ways:
- Create a special section. Create a section on your resume titled "Military Experience," which will be separate from other civilian work experiences. Avoid military jargon and titles (for example, on your resume, you'll want to say that you were a "supervisor" instead of a "commissioned officer" so that recruiters better understand the role.) Use a bulleted list to showcase your skills for each job.
- Choose the right resume format. Choosing the right resume format is critical to getting your relevant transferable skills front and center. Suppose you have limited work experience outside the military. In that case, you might consider a functional resume format, which will bring your skills and training to the forefront instead of focusing on your work history. With a functional resume, you focus on your skills, listing them in specific categories of expertise (such as computer skills, communication, or leadership). For those who had work experience before joining the military, choosing a combination or chronological resume format might be more appropriate.
- Be sure to customize the resume for each role. Regardless of the resume format you choose, customizing your professional summary, skills, and work experience sections to each job you apply for is critical to your success. Carefully study the job ad and make sure your resume targets the requirements of each specific job or company. To further call out your transferable skills, use your work experience section to show employers how you used these skills in your past roles by calling out specific accomplishments. For example, writing that you "managed a budget of $300,000" or "cut training time from 26 weeks to 24 weeks" is more effective than vague terms like "managed budget" or "trained people."
By crafting a unique resume and cover letter aimed at the job specifications and highlighting transferable skills, military vets significantly improve their chances of transitioning more easily into the civilian working world.