Resume Help

I review more than 200 resumes every day and I notice that resumes from military folks have common pitfalls. What happens when these types of resumes find their way to a civilian employer's desk? In most cases, they end up in the trash bin or buried in the inbox. Your skills and talents are way to valuable to end up in no man's land, so give employers a reason to hold onto your resume.

Below are some common mistakes followed by an example of a "poor military resume" and a good resume.


Too many Acronyms and Military Jargon -Ditch them

After spending any amount of time in the military, I’m sure it’s natural for military acronyms to become part of your everyday vernacular. But when you use acronyms in your résumé and any other communications with civilian employers (e.g., e-mails, phone calls, job interviews), you’re speaking a foreign language. Employers don’t want to have to ask or research what an acronym represents. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re conveying information clearly.

To be frank, it’s more annoying than anything else to see an acronym in a résumé. It shows the applicant’s laziness and inability to anticipate that the acronym might be a stumbling block for the employer.

Here’s a line taken from the top section of a military résumé: “I am a Certified DOD Mediator to hear EO complaints.”

Leave the certification for the bottom of the résumé. In the body, the employer is more interested in hearing about the quality of work you’ve done. Here is what he’s probably thinking, Tell me the details of your work as a mediator. Give me a glimpse of the types of disputes you mediated and how you resolved them. And by the way, I know DOD means Department of Defense, but what the heck is an ‘EO complaint’?

Military Vocabulary -Translate for the Average Person

Aspects of the corporate world are actually quite similar to the military. But when you use a different set of vocabulary, you end up making your background seem alien. For example, when you use verbs like “command” and “order” in your résumé to describe your job function, the person reviewing it might envision a dictatorial drill sergeant. You’ll give the impression that the people you managed obeyed you only because you were their superior—not someone they truly respected as a leader. Instead, use verbs that demonstrate your ability to work and communicate with people and their diverse perspectives.

Take a look at this chart for ways to translate your “military speak” for civilian employers.


Military Terms

Civilian Terms

colonel, lieutenant colonel, major general, lieutenant general, general, division commander

senior manager, member of executive management

command, order

lead, champion, train, direct, implement, support




goal, objective



platoon leader, platoon sergeant, company commander, directorate

department head, department manager

programs (when used as a stream of money, e.g., program for maintenance, buying new vehicles, helicopters)

resources, budget

section chief

team leader

superior, commanding officer, commander

supervisor, manager



From the very beginning of the process, translate as much of your experience as possible into civilian language. This applies to all your communication with potential employers, including your résumé, e-mails, conversations, and of course, job interviews.

Too Many Numbers, Too little Explanation

Numbers aren’t necessarily bad. If they demonstrate something meaningful about your previous experiences (e.g. you introduced a new policy that reduced processing time by 30 percent), then include them. But often in the military, some numbers are so intimidating that they deplete the importance of the accomplishment you’re trying to showcase. For example, if a veteran says he was responsible for 200 soldiers, the employer would know he couldn’t have possibly had much personal contact with all 200 of them. But if he mentioned that he trained five sergeants to lead their groups of forty soldiers each, the statement is more meaningful.

Overemphasis on Technical Skills -Show your soft skills

If you’re applying for a technical position, your résumé should play up your technical skills. But you’re not a robot. You have a personality and internal drive that fuels your technical aptitude. Make sure that comes across in your résumé. No matter what job you’re applying for, employers want to see soft skills, too, such as leadership style, communication skills, motivation to make a difference, and more.

Lengthiness, Longwinded Language -Be Concise, Get to the Point

No matter how many years of experience you’ve had, no one should have a résumé that’s more than two pages. If you’re applying for a technical job and want to highlight specific projects, I recommend attaching a separate sheet of case studies or projects.       

Highlighting Decades of Military Service Makes You Look Old.

It’s perfectly understandable why you might feel proud of having served, say, twenty years in the military. But don’t create additional hurdles through misconceptions by explicitly stating at the top of your résumé that you had a twenty-year career in the armed forces. When employers see that a person has held a position for a couple of decades, they automatically assume the candidate must be old when, in fact, the individual could be as young as thirty-eight if they joined right out of high school. Let the employers see your skills and experience first and do the math later. Don’t give them an easy reason to reject you. If you’ve spent many years in the military, I recommend writing “extensive experience” instead of the number of years served.

The Word "retired" Evokes Undesireable Assumptions

For many people, retirement conjures up images of sixty-something perpetual vacationers sipping piña coladas in Florida. The assumption is that they’ve spent multiple decades in their careers and are ready to sit back and enjoy their golden years. They’re receiving retirement benefits, so whatever job they’re applying for now is a nice way to pad their current income. They don’t need this job, so they won’t try as hard as the other applicants who are still in mid-career.

Obviously, I don’t buy into this stereotype. But I’m also a realist. Like I said before, don’t give employers an easy reason to reject you. Leave the word “retired” out of your résumé.

Create Multiple Versions

I’ve already mentioned that if you are looking for jobs in multiple industries, you’ll need to tailor your résumé for each industry. We’ve already pointed out the different languages of the military world and civilian world. Now think of the various industries in the same way. Law firm staffers talk very differently from tech startups. People in the medical field use different terminology from people in manufacturing. The more you know about your ideal employers, the better you will be at determining what they are looking for, and therefore, what to include in your résumé.

Use a Hybrid Profile-Objective-Company (POC) Heading

I often see résumés with the applicant’s objective listed at the top. Here’s a typical example: “To secure employment as a project manager at an information technology firm.” As an executive recruiter who knows how hiring managers think, this type of statement is not helpful. It tells the employer what you want, not what you can offer.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen résumés with a profile heading that highlights key skills, qualifications or summarizes the applicant’s experience in a sentence. The profile heading can be helpful, but it runs the risk of repeating included in the résumé.

I propose a hybrid model that incorporates the applicant’s profile, their objective, and a complimentary description of the company the applicant is applying for. Think of it as similar to the value statement I describe in Chapter 2.

Here’s an example of the hybrid POC heading:“Electrical designer with expertise in automation and relay logic systems searching for an innovative manufacturing company.”

Lacking Education? Highlight Your Professional Development

If you’ve never completed high school or college and you’re wondering what to list in the education section of the résumé, no need to worry. I recommend following the advice from Monster Résumé Expert Kim Isaacs, which is to create a Professional Development Section where you highlight vocational training, certifications, courses, even seminars or conferences you attended.

If you did not complete high school and instead, passed the G.E.D., don’t include the G.E.D. on your résumé. Employers tend to assume that candidates graduated from high school. You may hear differing opinions on this from other career counselors, but I firmly believe it’s better not to highlight the fact that you did not earn a high school diploma.

Avoid Unnecessary Personal Information

-Social Security Number

Sample resumes click to enlarge

Poor Resume Example       Good Resume Example