Unemployment among veterans has been steadily improving for the past few years after reaching rates of nearly 15 percent during the most recent recession. Veteran unemployment hit a record low in 2017, dipping under 4 percent for the first time, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and Military Times.
If you’d like to be one of those veterans getting work in the private sector, you’ll need a great resume — even with this favorable employment landscape. To find out how veterans can optimize their resume for the civilian workforce, we reached out to Christian Bilich, a Navy veteran and founder/principal of the Baton Rouge business The Talent Consultants. Here are three ways Bilich suggest veterans adjust their resumes when seeking civilian jobs.
Bilich, whose business helps place executives in a range of industries, says veterans need to put a skills section on their resume above their experience so a recruiter or human resources professional who has no military experience is more likely to read it.
He suggests adding skills directly under your name and contact information, with a special emphasis on highlighting the skills and certifications you have that translate to the job for which you’re applying. “Just providing cogent skills that employers are looking for is going to allow them to look at the resume for a little longer,” he says. “The typical resume is looked at for about 20 seconds, if that.
“In the modern job market the resume is indispensable. They are ways to translate military experience into a civilian workforce analog. Say you’re in charge of a warehouse of M-16s. In corporate parlance that’s ‘supply chain.’ ”
When you get down to the experience section, Bilich suggests focusing on specific achievements you or your team achieved during each position. Use hard facts and figures as often as possible, in bullet points if necessary. “Use something like ‘increased efficiency by 50 percent’ instead of ‘we really achieved efficiency,’ ” he says.
The military is known for using lots of jargon and acronyms that the civilian community often doesn’t understand, particularly when it comes to IT, supply chain management and avionics. It’s vital to translate any military jargon to civilian business language to increase the chance the person sifting through dozens of resumes will pay attention to yours and move it forward in the process.
“Remember, the hiring manager is typically not going to open the resume,” Bilich says. “It’s going to be a recruiter or an HR person or a third party. That jargon doesn’t make any sense to them, so avoid that.”
Bilich says even commonly used military acronyms, such as FPO, should be translated into civilian language when they’re part of your experience. At the very least, he says, spell out what the acronym stands for.
For midlevel positions and up, Bilich says including a carefully crafted short bio with your resume can highlight your experiences and humanize you in the eyes of hiring managers. Even for lower-level job seekers, it’s a good exercise that can help frame your experience in a way that’s more attractive to civilian employers, Bilich says.
“Even if I get a lower-level staff position, I make them do it,” he says. “The writing sample can’t be overstated. This is in their own words; they’re telling you about their career, why they’re the candidate and who they are outside of work. A resume is a chronology; this is a narrative.”
Bilich suggests making the bio three-quarters to a full page in length, with the final paragraph containing some basic information about your personal life. “I have a lot of clients that like former military for the typical reasons — they’re easily trainable, they come to work every day, zero drama — but they also don’t want to hire robots,” he says. “The bio humanizes the candidate and is also a good chance for the veteran to state in their own terms what they learned in the military that is going to make them the candidate for this particular job.”
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