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Veteran Resume Writing Guide

A Veteran’s Guide for Writing an Effective Resume

By Shareem Annan

Covered in this guide:

  1. Organize Your Documents
  2. Do Your Research
  3. Choose Your Resume Format
  4. Write Your Resume


Over the next few years tens of thousands of veterans will be entering the civilian workforce as the military shrinks to coincide with the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many – if not most – of you will unfortunately be ill-equipped with the knowledge of how to best navigate the civilian workforce as you make your transition. One of the first and most important steps you must take is to create an eye-catching resume that effectively translates your military experience, and does so in a manner that relates to civilian employers. That’s why I put together the following step-by-step guide to generating a military resume specifically with veterans and transitioning military personnel in mind. Follow this guide and your military resume is certain to stand out from the rest.

Organize Your Documents

Organizing your documents is the first – and probably most important – step in creating your military resume. Once you organize your documents, you may create a portfolio with your information. The portfolio should include the following items:
Military Records

  • DD 214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge. If you do not have a copy you can request one through the National Archives
  • Performance Evaluations
  • Awards
  • Training Records
  • DD 2586 – Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET)
  • Security Clearance Information
Education and Work Experience
  • College Transcripts
  • Certifications
  • Licenses
  • Work History and Volunteer Experience

Trying to write your military resume without these documents at hand will make the process much more difficult, and most importantly almost guarantee that your final product will turn out lackluster and thin on your accomplishments. This step becomes incrementally more important – and probably more difficult – if you’ve been in the military for several years. So don’t try to skip over this step and try to jump right into writing.

Need help with your Military to Civilian Resume?

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“Thank you for all of the work you put into my resume ! I really like it!”
- Todd, U.S. Marines

“I got the job! Thank you so much. I will be in touch and will refer fellow veterans to you! I should have come to you a long time ago.”
- Barbara, U.S. Army

Do Your Research

Determine the type of position you are interested in and research the industry. Your military resume should be relevant to the position you are seeking. This will help you target your military resume and decide which format would best suit the position.

Time and time again I get military clients requesting a “generic” resume – basically one that can be used for every job application for the foreseeable future. The idea here is that the clients want me to make a list of all the places they’ve worked and everything they did since they graduated high school; and they believe this will be just enough to get them an interview. This is an absolute myth, and not only is it a myth, but it is probably the most dangerous myths out there when it comes to resume-writing and job hunting.

Submit a “generic”, and rest assured that you’ve essentially written your ticket to job-hunting limbo land. The main reason is recruiters just don’t have the time to weed through your resume with a microscope to figure out if you would be a good fit for the position and organization. Studies show that the average hiring manager or recruiter spends approximately 20 seconds looking at your resume. In fact, a recent article published in Business Insider indicated that many recruiters spend as little as 6 seconds examining your resume. Some organizations are even having computers do the initial scrub.

So only put the information that is most relevant to the position you’re applying for on your resume. Make it jump out at the recruiter immediately, instead of asking them to sift through your resume to find it. Think about it this way: If you don’t want to take the time to tailor your military resume to fit the job, why would you expect someone else to take the time to basically do the same. When literally hundreds of people are applying for the same position, you need to be more strategic. And if you’re applying for a job that will attract mostly military veterans, you shouldn’t feel safe then either. Nearly one in three Americans who fought to defend us in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot find a job once they leave the military are unemployed.

Choose Your Military Resume Format

Most military resumes will fall into two categories, chronological or functional format. Most of you will use a chronological format. It’s ideal for those with a consistent work history over the past five years, and who are seeking a similar position. For example, if you were a truck driver in the Air Force, and you’re applying for a job as a truck driver in the private sector, a chronological military resume is what you need. On the other hand, if you were a truck driver in the Air Force, but you’re applying to be a nurse in the civilian world, a functional format would best suit you. Hopefully you would have gone back to school; and so you would emphasize your education and any medical training you received while in the military. This format is also good for those of you with significant gaps in your work history, or if you feel that you might be overqualified.

Need help with your Military to Civilian Resume?

Take the stress off! Get the job! We can create your Resume through a
relaxing and enjoyable process and have it ready in as little as 48 hours!

View Resume Packages | Call Now for FREE Resume Guidance: 1-800-651-6303

“Thank you for the great job with my military resume! I also appreciate all the great advice and resources about career fairs and job leads!”
- Andre, U.S. Air Force

“Thanks for the great resume work...I was accepted to the Project Management Master’s program at George Washington University.”
- Stephen, U.S. Army

Write Your Military Resume

Okay, so you’ve organized your documents, researched the company, and decided on a format. Now you’re ready to start the heavy lifting – putting pen to paper. Some veterans find this process overwhelming…and it can be if you’re not used to writing a lot. Some people have a hard time just bragging about themselves. Don’t worry, this is also quite normal. But there’s no getting around this. Your job is to make it painfully obvious to employers that you’re the most awesome candidate among the pool, and they would be making a huge mistake not to bring you in for an interview.

Contact Information - Ensure you have a valid phone number and email address on your resume. While this sounds like common sense this is a very common mistake on resumes. Also, ensure your email address is professional! 1shot1kill@email.com or stillhotat40@email.com will turn off some potential employers, or cause them to start forming preconceived notions about you before they even look at the information in your resume. As a side note, the same goes for phones. Use generic voicemail greetings, and avoid special rings that substitute rings for songs that could cause potential employers to misjudge you. General rule of thumb when job hunting…let your accomplishments shine prior to the interview, and let your personality shine during the interview.

Summary of Qualifications – The first section of your military resume should be a qualifications summary. This is a stand-alone blurb which provides a snapshot of your key skills and attributes that are relevant to the position. Use this section to sell why you are a good fit overall. Recruiters and hiring managers have very limited time to review resumes and often only glance quickly initially. A well-written summary will entice them to read your resume further. Remember what I said earlier, you resume might only receive a few seconds. If they don’t see what they’re looking for right away, you may not get the closer look you deserve.

Core Competencies – I like to include this in my clients’ military resumes for the same reason as the summary of qualifications. It also draws in employers and highlights your core competencies. I’ve found that most vets have performed many tasks – some of which are totally unrelated to their main job. These first two sections help to hone in your focus. For example, leave off the fact that you were a HAZMAT certifier if you’re applying to be a targeting analyst. Make sure the core competencies you highlight are taken from the job description as they relate to your skills. Core competencies can be terms such as Strategic Planning,Accounts Payable, Project Management, etc.

Professional Experience – Your professional experience should include your job functions but more importantly, your accomplishment or impact statements.

Posted Job description – Responsible for maintaining files and implemented system to improve file management.

Your Accomplishment/Impact – Maintained 100% accountability for files for over 500 personnel. Eliminated two-year filing backlog; created new filing systems and procedures that ensured critical material was easily accessible at all times.

Note that this bullet didn’t just say ‘what’ you accomplished; but also
mentioned ‘what the actual impact’ of that accomplishment was.

Limit Military Jargon– In my experience this is where most veterans get tripped up the most. Assume that no one outside of the military knows what titles such as First Sergeant, Company Commander, and Petty Officer mean. Nor do they know what the acronyms NCO, AAM, or SAM mean. In fact many of the acronyms and terms you’re familiar with may be unique to your branch of service. Sure the average civilian may have heard some of these terms and titles floated around in movies and TV shows; but the majority of civilians would be hard pressed to accurately associate a title to the correct echelon. And this is where your accomplishment will get lost. If you write that you were a NCOIC of a mission, and the employer doesn’t understand that you were the non-commissioned officer in charge of that mission, and be able to understand what exactly your responsibilities were for that mission, you’ve just sold yourself short. Or worse, he/she might just decide to push your resume aside and move on to the next candidate.

Education, Credentials, Licenses, Training – Here relevance is key. As you know, training is a constant in the military. However, the fact that you’re a certified life-saver doesn’t matter to the employer looking to hire an administrative assistant. Include information that is relevant to the position. The same goes for your civilian education. Your Master’s Certificate in Government Contracting won’t be relevant to an employer that does not get involved in contracting.

Awards – The awards and recognition section of a military resume is anther somewhat tricky area for veterans, because the military offers a wider range of formal awards. So most of my clients have a difficult time figuring out which awards are appropriate for their military resume, and which ones should be left off. Some awards demonstrate your ability to perform the task at a high level. For instance if you received a Navy Accommodation Medal for performing your job at a high level during a mission, certainly that’s worth putting on your military resume. Other awards don’t demonstrate your capability to perform a task, but rather serve as a testament to your character. Even though these may not be directly relevant to a job per se, most employers are also looking to hire people with leadership ability, dedication, and strong character. Therefore, stand-out awards such as Purple Heart or Bronze Star should be included because they can accomplish that very effectively.

Awards can be added as a separate section on your military resume; or you can add
them as part of an accomplishment statement. For example:

Ex: Received Meritorious Service Award for outstanding and exceptional leadership in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Ex: Bronze Star Medal-Received Bronze Star Medal for heroic actions and going above and beyond to save the lives of comrades in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Resume Length – The [unofficial] standard for a resume is one to two pages. However there are exceptions to this rule. Generally speaking, if you have less than ten years of service, or were an E-6 or below or O-4 or below, you should try to keep your military resume to two pages or less. However, for senior leaders (E-7 and above and O-5 and above), or those with over ten years of service it is perfectly okay to extend that to three. However, try your very best to not go over three. The more important rule to follow here is to make sure the information is relevant to the job. If you find yourself going well into four pages, there’s a good chance that you’ve included some information that simply isn’t pertinent to the job you’re applying for, but instead using a ‘generic’ resume as a catch-all – which as we discussed will get you nowhere.


I hope you found this information helpful. If you would like more information about translating your military experience, or would like me to take a look at your current military resume, email me at sannan@veteranccs.com or call me at 1-800-651-6303. If you are interested in having me re-write your current military resume or create one from scratch, check out our services and military resume packages »

Good luck with your transition, and thank you for your service!