HLS students who are military veterans or members of the Reserves or National Guard (shortened for ease of use as “student veterans” below) have unique professional and life experiences to discuss on their resumes, in cover letters, and in interviews. Review these do’s and don’ts for tips to put your best foot forward when applying to public interest employers outside of the military.
What to Do:
Share your military service, even if your duties were not law-related.
Some student veterans may feel that their military service is disconnected from their time as a law student or their future as an attorney. Understand that your decision to volunteer for military service is a marker of demonstrated commitment to public service generally, which public interest employers seek. Whether you were an officer or enlisted member, retired after a career or separated after your first term of service, employed in a law-related Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) or not, your military service is relevant for your public interest internship and job applications.
Some student veterans may fear that sharing their military service will alienate them from some civilian public interest employers. Know that many public interest employers consider veterans a valuable part of the diversity of their interns and staff — and they want to hear from you! Additionally, consider that if an employer does not value your military service or would be turned off by this part of your background, you may be avoiding a poor fit early by sharing that you served.
Contextualize your MOS, training, assignments, and awards.
Thoughtfully framing your military involvement on your resume and in your cover letters will help you communicate about these experiences to a civilian employer without a military background. Consider how to briefly explain your duties while highlighting transferrable skills like leading and managing groups, communicating orally and in writing, briefing or aiding more senior leaders, and working under time pressure. Quantify your accomplishments where possible (e.g., leading groups of particular size, executing trainings of significant scale, or rating highly in a course as compared with peers). If a training course occupies a significant period of time on your resume, explain the relevant skills you learned there. If you received an award of particular note, briefly explain the reason for which it was given.
Submit your resume and cover letter for review by an OPIA adviser, for help with wording these experiences and crafting your individual narrative. In addition, set up a mock interview with an adviser to talk through how to discuss your military service in an interview with a public interest employer.
Check your security clearance.
Some student veterans were able to obtain their Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance during military service. Check the current status of your security clearance, and add this information to your resume when applying to employers for which this could be relevant. If you have an active TS/SCI, this credential can provide a significant boost for opportunities in fields related to national security, foreign policy, and intelligence.
What Not to Do:
Over-use acronyms or jargon.
Even acronyms that feel commonplace to servicemembers and veterans can be totally unknown to civilian employers. When in doubt, spell it out – or alter language altogether. For example, instead of saying, “My MOS was 27D,” you could say, “In the Army, I served as a paralegal.” In addition, consider that civilians without military experience may not be familiar with the size, mission, location, or tempo of particular military units – or even basic rank structure. The more context and clear language you can provide, the more you can help a potential employer understand your experience and how it relates to their work.
Focus solely on military experiences and interests.
For many student veterans, military service is a crucial part of their background, experience, and fundamental identity. When applying to public interest positions in a civilian context, however, keep in mind that employers are trying to relate to you and see how you can fit into their organization. Consider diversifying your resume by highlighting relevant volunteer or community experience, inserting detail about your activities and involvements at HLS, and adding a section focusing on your hobbies and interests outside of a military context.
Feel that you must cater your legal job search to your military background.
Some student veterans may be interested in pursuing legal careers that build directly on their military background, which might include work on national security or foreign policy issues in a federal government or international setting. However, you should not feel that your military service necessarily limits you to opportunities in these fields; do not underestimate your transferrable skill sets or the doors that your future HLS degree can open. Take advantage of the wealth of opportunities at HLS to discover different areas of law, network and learn from practitioners, and identify the best practice fits for you. Take the time to weave together this narrative in your cover letters, tying your military experience into your activities at HLS and your motivation for pursuing work in a new field.
Hesitate to ask for a second opinion or assume you have to go it alone.
You do not have to figure everything out by yourself. As you work through identifying your public interest goals and applying for related positions, look to those around you – OPIA advisers, other HLS staff, classmates, faculty, alumni, family, and friends from both military and civilian spheres – for second opinions, feedback, and support. Make an appointment with an OPIA adviser or come to drop-in office hours to talk through your individual plans, questions, and concerns, however big or small.