Branding as a Veteran in the Business World

Private sector? Easy transition bro… just dive right in!

Private sector? Easy transition bro… just dive right in!

You’ve seen the action movies, read the books, and listened to the podcasts. Yes, today’s Veterans have accomplished quite a bit. From Special Operators to fearless convoy commanders, fighter pilots to submariners, everyone has an intense story that can inspire courage or render solemn silence. 

They’ve walked the walk and talked the talk… we get it. But why doesn’t that translate well in the business world, especially when you’re looking for your next job? (And it’s happened to me quite often!)

Experienced, mid-career Veterans have the skills and leadership competencies to accomplish the mission and “get the job done” at all costs -- to be resourceful, build teams, communicate effectively, analyze ambiguous situations, make difficult decisions and so on -- but without articulating their experiences through a functional lens, they are at risk of being just being labeled just a “generalist” leader. Which doesn’t get you hired. 

What do I mean about a functional lens? It’s how Corporate America can view you as a value-adding member to their organization. Whether it’s through making things (production/operations), selling things (sales), or teaching and mentoring people (human resources). The Veteran should be able to highlight how her experiences in the past have taught her to be a successful, contributing employee. 

And this should by crystal clear on your resume. When I speak to Veterans about their resumes, I usually tell them one of three things (or all three): 

  1. Keep it short! An employer will typically look at your resume for 6-10 seconds, then move on. A long, complex resume will only confuse people. No one wants to read an almanac of every. single. thing. you’ve. done. For up to 25 years or experience, try to keep it two pages (preferably one). Less is more. 

  2. Be crystal clear. Your resume is something like your personal branding mission statement. You want to leave a very clear image of your avatar to your reader. After the 6-10 second scan, your employer should be able to see you as that established sales manager with a top-tier MBA, who can apply his Veteran leadership as a former pilot. Boom.

  3. Support your mission statement. Just like we did in the military, each of the subordinate command’s mission should nest into the higher’s command. Hence, your resume should focus the reader to what you’re trying to convey -- it should all plug back into that avatar you created in bullet #2. Highlight how you as a leader were able to be super resourceful, build amazing teams, and get everyone rowing in the same direction through effective communication.

    But you don’t have to include everything you’ve done in your professional career. If you have a random, short jobs in the middle (e.g. non-profit Director of Volunteers), then list it at the bottom of your resume under the heading of “Additional Work Experience.” 

Being a Veteran is a powerful statement of you. In order to accentuate its benefits, learn to tie it into the skills and careers Employers are looking for you to have. Usually that starts first with branding yourself on a resume, but this should stay consistent with your personal story -- in job interviews, networking sessions, and coaching sessions.