If you haven’t done it in a while (or ever), job hunting in the civilian world is confusing and overwhelming.
There are corporate buzz words to learn, military experiences to translate into “civilianese,” and even strict but unwritten formatting rules for your Military to Civilian resume.
To top it all off, there’s the fact that your resume is only one of hundreds or even thousands floating around the Internet … so how do you even make sure it’s read? The answer is your cover letter. These four tips will help you craft a Military to civilian cover letter that ensures hiring managers and employers will read your resume (and probably give you a call).
1. Make the cover letter personal. The purpose of a cover letter (besides introducing yourself and your resume) is to get the interest of the employer so that he/she actually reads your resume in the first place. And the best way to seize someone’s interest is to address them personally.
Although good resumes are specific to a particular job posting (Read: How to Use a Job Description to Your Advantage), they are also fairly impersonal. Even the catchy paragraph at the top of the resume where you establish your personal brand is impersonal. It doesn’t engage the reader by talking to him/her directly … so no matter how interesting you make it, you may not convince anyone to read it.
The easiest way to make your Military to Civilian cover letter personal is to address the hiring manager by name, if you can find it. And make sure to express interest in something business-related the company has done, such as a recent product launch or acquisition, to establish that you care enough about the company to have done some research. It’s surprisingly easy to do this via the Internet and social media. If you can’t find the name of the hiring manager, then you can at least still express interest in the company: “Congratulations on winning XYZ award” or “I saw that you acquired ABC company — you must be very excited to utilize such-and-such capability.”
2. Sympathize with the company’s issue(s). Because so much of a job search involves you talking about yourself, it’s easy to forget that most people don’t like listening all that much. The fact that you’re supposed to talk about your experiences, your talents and your achievements in resumes, interviews and (yes) cover letters does not make that kind of conversation any more palatable to a hiring manager or employer. You try listening to a bunch of people talk about themselves for an entire work day, and see how you like it.
Being personal while talking about yourself, as if you and your needs are the most interesting thing in the world, makes you come off like a used-car salesman. That’s not appealing. You want to come off as knowledgeable and likeable instead, and a slam-dunk way to accomplish that is to sympathize with the company and its needs. Specifically, you want to address the need hiding behind their job posting.
This takes a little guesswork on your part. But if you look closely at the job requirements, you can make out the outline of a hole or gap in their organization. If they’re looking for someone with a lot of work experience, for example, maybe they’re struggling with the technical or administrative side of a particular function. If they’re looking for someone with a specific skill set, you can bet they lack that very skill set.
Once you have identified their need (at least generally), sympathize with it in your cover letter! Something like “I imagine the increased growth of XYZ product has really taxed your customer service team” (probably their production and distribution teams as well) or “I know that integrating new people and skill sets presents unique challenges” shows that you understand a vital company issue. For many hiring managers, just that indication that you are familiar with their issues is enough for a call-back.
3. Offer yourself as a solution. The natural conclusion to this Military to Civilian cover letter is to offer yourself as a solution to the company’s issues. This is the easiest part of the cover letter to write: simply tell a story where you solved a problem similar to the one faced by your prospective employer. With a little imagination, you can imagine any military problem that you’ve faced matching up to civilian problems: how to deal with increased task loads (such as patrols or intelligence reports); how to develop new capabilities (perhaps in response to a mission change); how to get stuff safely and quickly from one point to another.
Remember to tell this part as a story, however. Stories resonate with people much more than facts, and your cover letter is the place to connect personally, so leave the bullet points in your resume. As a general rule, only include enough facts to demonstrate your success: “After my maintenance unit arrived in Afghanistan, our vehicle pool doubled in size. It was a major challenge, but I helped start a third shift of workers and standardized the category of maintenance assigned to each shift. Ultimately, we increased our finished maintenance actions by 175% and never failed to provide vehicles for patrols and convoys.”
At this point, most hiring managers or employers will be very eager to talk to you. Your cover letter will have introduced you as a person who understands what your role will be, and demonstrated that you will be successful. There’s just one more thing you need to do to make sure your irresistible cover letter is read.
4. Send a paper copy of your cover letter (with resume) directly to the hiring manager. All your work, making your cover letter perfect, is wasted if it disappears into an online hiring portal. Even today there is something so compelling about a piece of paper — it’s tangible and harder to forget than text on a computer screen. So even when you see a job online, and apply to a job online, go the extra mile and send it in an envelope too. That way you’re much less likely to be screened by a junior recruiter monitoring a website. And there’s just something irresistible about receiving a personal letter, even for a hiring manager.
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