Vets should be proud of military service

During today’s veteran employment webchat with TodayMoney.com I answered a question from a reader named Jim about whether he should be open about his military experience to employers. My short answer was yes.

I love live webchats because they are an opportunity to reach out to thousands of people and try to answer their unique questions. However, these have such limited time to respond that you just can’t get to everyone’s questions in the detail that you’d like.

So I’m offering a follow up here.

Veterans shouldn’t have to hide who they are and the powerful things they have learned and experienced during their military careers. Those experiences are part and parcel of the amazing skill sets they can bring to a workplace. It would be the greatest tragedy to remove “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from LGBT service members only to inflict a new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on all veterans when they look for civilian employment. My long-term advice was that being in the closet about years of your life is not the way anyone should have to work, and a job gotten through self-censorship will only make him frustrated over time.

I did try to provide some practical information about restructuring his resume using job skill translators so that his experiences would make sense to civilian recruiters who would be reviewing his resume. (Some good examples are available at http://www.mynextmove.org/vets/, http://www.vetsuccess.gov/military_skills_translators, and http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/skills-translator/.)

Then the conversation moved on to talk about things for employers and how they can improve their efforts to recruit, retain, and develop their veteran employees. Many of those resources are available here.

Yet, as the chat was ending I could see in the bottom corner of the question list a follow-up from Jim asking whether he should put his military experience on his resume and I realized that my answer was only a start to his question even as I was out of time and signing off. He wanted concrete advice about how to take that first step in the job hunt.

So I hope he checks out our blog and sees the rest of the answer I would have given if I’d had more time.

Jim, I would suggest putting your military experience down on your resume as you would any job. You should try to reformat your military experience to be easier for people without any military background to understand. For example, military ranks are not as meaningful to civilian recruiters. I’d suggest breaking up your experience into smaller job titles as subheadings under your official titles. It doesn’t matter if no one ever officially used those subheadings so long as they honestly describe what you did in less military specific terms.

Don’t use military language and jargon to describe your work. Instead, use the vocabulary in the job description even if it’s not a technically accurate description of your experiences. I’m not advocating making things up but when you have the right skill set but the details of the advertisement don’t match (e.g., inventory control in a weapons depot rather than a store) it’s OK to let the confusion about your work experiences act in your favor long enough to get to an interview. During the interview (which you should practice for with civilians who can help you come up with easy to understand answers) you can be more specific and explain how your experiences are similar to the job the employer wants done.

If the published job description doesn’t provide good vocabulary, try looking up the job description on onetonline.org. This is a federal data base of job descriptions for every kind of position in the U.S., you can get the vocabulary you need to describe your experiences in a manner that is tailored to the job you are applying for.

Finally, cover letters become much more important for veterans and other people who are changing careers or fields. Make sure you have one that is tailored to the job you are looking for using relevant vocabulary and which provides some specific experiences that illustrate the underlying skills essential to the job you are applying for even if the details don’t match.

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