Thousands of people enter the armed forces every day, and much gets said about the things they do while they’re out in the world, defending our country and whatnot.
But it’s easy to overlook the fact that all of these people need jobs once they come back from their service.
And it’s not always easy for them to explain to those who haven’t served just what makes their service so valuable to the workforce at large.
So how does someone in this position relate their experiences to someone who has no frame of reference for what those experiences might mean?
1. WHAT DO EMPLOYERS LIKE TO SEE IN APPLICANTS WITH MILITARY EXPERIENCE?
More than anything, someone with military experience understands how a chain of command works, and knows how to follow through with pretty much any set of marching orders they’re given.
Even if serving in the military came with no additional experience or other benefits, this would still be massively valuable to employers.
It’s tough to understate how much incompetence people in most industries face on a day to day basis, no matter what level of the company they’re in.
So when someone shows up who knows how to get things done quickly and efficiently, employers take notice fast.
But of course, these skills aren’t the only ones employers need to see when they’re making the decision to hire somebody.
And people who have spent years in the military don’t always know the best way to describe the things that they’re capable of doing in less — well — military-specific terms.
2. HOW TO BRING UP MILITARY EXPERIENCE ON YOUR RESUME
The first thing to remember when you’re trying to decide how to include your service on your resume is that you should absolutely include as much of your service as you can.
Never feel self-conscious about describing the specifics of the work you did — just keep in mind who’s going to be reading it.
You might get lucky and send it along to someone who knows exactly what certain terms mean — but you’re much more likely to encounter an employer whose closest connections to military service are through the Call of Duty matchmaking games they play on weekends.
So keep the following things in mind when you’re listing your military experience on your resume:
- Avoid acronyms and military-specific jargon. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can be tough to remember which terms you’re familiar with because you’re a human who’s been alive as long as you have, and which ones you only know because of your service. Take care to exclude the latter ones where possible.
- Leave out irrelevant certifications. If you trained as an electrical engineer while you were in the service, that’s probably a good thing to bring up. Weapons training is probably not quite as relevant.
- List it the same way that you would any other work experience — even if the truth is a bit more complicated, anyone reading your resume should be able to understand the short version of your experience at a glance. Stick to a few short bullet points, and make sure to list dates.
- Lastly, make sure that any training or certifications you have that isn’t totally self-explanatory gets at least a cursory description — and remember that you might have a different perspective of what is or isn’t self-explanatory.
3. HOW TO USE MILITARY EXPERIENCE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE DURING YOUR INTERVIEW
When you list military experience on your resume, that isn’t the end of the story.
Odds are that, one way or another, you’re still going to have to talk about it during your interview.
And depending on how well you’ve prepared to do so, the experience can be either easy enough or totally excruciating.
Keep these things in mind when describing your military experience during your interview:
- One way or another, keep the conversation on topic. An employer might spend far too much time grilling you on your military experience, which can sometimes paint you in a light you’re not comfortable with. On the other hand, some civilian employers might be hesitant to bring up your military background out of nervousness. In either case, a balance is necessary — make sure it gets brought up, but don’t let it take things over.
- If you have a decade or more of military experience, remember that the rules are the same as with civilian job experience — talk about the most relevant thing first. It’s not super useful to talk about your early training if you’ve been in the Armed Forces for a dozen or so years.
- If the questions someone is asking regarding your service are inappropriate or too personal, don’t be afraid to shut them down. Your military experience is your own, and not for them to dissect — bring up what’s relevant, and make sure they respect your privacy about the rest.
That’s all for this one! Just keep in mind:
When talking about your experience, framing it as a story is the most important thing.
Regardless of whether you really “learned anything” in a big cosmic sense from your military experience, people are going to expect you to be able to codify the experience into some kind of employment-related fable.
That means becoming comfortable saying things like “doing [this particular thing I did] in the military really taught me about [some hogwash like responsibility or respect or something like that].”
It’s possible you really feel that you have some sort of major, easily-digestible takeaway from your experience — in which case, congratulations!
But life is messy, and often what an experience means to you can be tough to parse out.
So whatever you do, make sure you think about what your own service means to you beforehand, because — fair or not — people are going to expect you to have an answer on that count.