Posted by: Dan | June 17, 2012

I’m a new vet. This is crazy. But here’s my resume. Hire me, maybe?

It’s remarkable… You excelled in the military without a resume. Your services were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you were selected to join elite teams.  No resumes were needed. But now you’re a civilian, and the resume is your key to unlock future opportunities.  It won’t guarantee entry into every organization, but it’s a necessary step. 

FollowSwitch’s list below, and you’ll be on your way:

1.  Keep it simple, keep it brief. You can’t explain what a sonar technician, infantryman, etc, is in a line or two.  So don’t try.  Also, don’t use words that are too fancy.  The resume must focus on brief descriptions of what you did in a particular role. This closely ties to #2.

2.  So what??  Use the PAR model as much as possible.

Problem (what was the challenge?)

Action (what did you do?)

Result (what was the result of your efforts?)

The resume isn’t a list of everything you’ve done.  You need to describe the impact, and you should quantify it as much as possible. For example, you organized 120 convoys that traveled 6000 miles to deliver all supplies to the base throughout the deployment.

3.  It’s all about the verbs. Each position will have two or more bullets under it. Each of those bullets should start with a verb (“Led”, “Organized”, “Maintained”, etc). You can google “resume verbs by category” to find a list of suggested verbs for your resume. Click here for an example. Note – the verbs are all past tense unless you are currently doing that particular role.

Two hints… First, the past tense of “Lead” is “Led”. Second, instead of using “led” multiple times throughout the resume, consider synonyms (“Managed”, “Directed”, etc) or simply focusing on a different action for that description (“Planned”, “Facilitated”, “Implemented”, etc).

4.  Lost in translation.  You know at least two languages – English and Military. Unfortunately, your future employer doesn’t speak military, and they aren’t going to find an interpreter. That means you have to work a little harder. Use a military skills translator to get you started.  But, make sure that you adapt the translations to the job and role that you’re applying for.

5.  Help me help you.  The resume isn’t simply a way to showcase all that you’ve done. The company posted that job for a reason – They need help solving a problem.  Study the job description and write your resume to show how you can help.  If you’re going to a job fair, you may not know specific positions available, but you can study the companies that will attend and create resumes that generally match a company’s strategy.

6.  Qualifications and awards.  Earning the expert pistol and expert rifle certifications are impressive accomplishments in the military.  Civilians may think that they’re cool, but unless you’re applying for a job that requires small arms expertise leave this out. Are there any qualifications that you earned in the military that are relevant to civilian professions? Were you Sailor of the Quarter/Year?

You should list your top medals and awards, but don’t list your entire ribbon/medal collection.  If you earned a Bronze Star, for example, list it.  It should appear in the description for a particular role.  For example, “Awarded Bronze Star for executing 130 combat missions while overseeing 75 personnel.”

7. Contact info.  Of course you’re going to survive the zombie apocalypse, but please keep your personal email professional.  If your email is, make a new one.  Consider, or something similar.

8. Triple check. Even then… you’re not done. You want to ensure that the resume reads correctly.  Check the spelling.  Read it out loud.  Ask people who have no military background to read it.  Do they understand all of the terms?  Do they think it highlights your greatest skills?

Please send any questions and comments to

© 2012 SwitchStarter, LLC



  1. This is practical, solid resume advice – thank you for posting it! I’ll tweak my resume accordingly.

  2. Every minute we learn something in life. Truly I have just learnt new things by reading this resume advice. Thank you so much.

  3. All great tips. I’d just emphasize that many vets have trouble with #2 on this list and talking about their achievements since everything is such a team effort in the military. Also, they may not have the first clue how to go about identifying achievements since they think what they did is all just part of the job. But consider things like – for example, if you were a sergeant and helped organize security convoys – from the beginning of your deployment to the end was there an overall reduction in security incidents? Did convoys happen more quickly? Did you contribute to analyzing how to improve these operations by reviewing intel and other data and think of better ways to conduct convoys? Get creative!

    Also, it is a good idea to have civilians in your preferred area of work review your resume and give you feedback.

    • Very good advice, Rachael. Also, instead of listing an Objective, consider writing a Professional Summary that highlights your strengths and attributes pertaining to the position you’re seeking. Then, reinforce each of those with specific listed for each position you’ve worked. Remember, “one resume fits all – DOESN’T!”

  4. There are some great resources out there to assist veteran’s with re-employment whether you transitioned out the the service in 1972 or 2012. Here are some basic steps to follow.

    Match your experience both civilian and military to Civilian Occupations.

    Identify your skills and match them with employer needs, they tell us, it’s called a job description. You want to tell the employer exactly what you can do and how well you can do it, in civilian terms.

    Target the resumé and cover letter based on research.
    Highlight qualifications based on the employer’s needs.
    Follow the employer’s application instructions to the letter

    Easy to read (More is not always better)
    Priority Order or Most Important Information First
    Phrases vs. Sentences
    Lists vs. Paragraphs

    Include job relevant volunteer experience.
    Include salary history only when requested.
    Omit “References” and “References Available Upon Request” headings.
    Always take copies of resume to the interview for distribution to the employer and/or interview panel.

    Military experience is an asset and used as a stepping stone to success. Be proud of your service.

    Define civilian job skills.
    – Don’t make the mistake of creating a résumé that is too general
    to be effective.
    – Seek the advice of a employment counselor and attend the Resume Writing Workshops in your area in my agency we offer them weekly in our OneStopCenters. Each State has Veteran Representatives in their workforce service agencies to assist veteran’s during their job search. Ask for help.

    Think in terms of “skills” and “experience” rather than “jobs.”
    Don’t downplay military experience; capitalize on relevant
    leadership, discipline, dedication, positive work ethic, teamwork and transferable skills.

    Demilitarize duties, accomplishments, training and awards by using civilian terminology; assume the employer has no knowledge of the military.
    – “Workers” instead of “soldiers”
    – “Vehicles” and “equipment” not “tanks” and “weapons”
    – Show résumé to nonmilitary friends and ask them to
    point out terms they don’t understand
    – Refer to job announcements and postings to help in substituting civilian key words for military terms
    Use documented military evaluations to sell yourself and quantify your resume. Leave out non-relevant combat or battlefield details.

    Military Language

    Logistics Sergeant

    Oversaw OEF projects with responsibility for field equipment, logistics, tracking of budgets and allocation of project funds.

    Civilian Language

    Project Budgeting & Funds Allocation Manager

    Managed multi-million dollar projects tracking distribution and allocation of funds and oversaw up to $20 million in equipment and supplies.

    Most of all Don’t Tell It Sell It!

    Quantify job duties . . . instead of simply telling employers what you’ve done, sell them on how well you’ve done it.




  5. Trish absolutely nailed it!! Just want to underscore some points:

    your marketing docs must speak to the employer’s need, Read the job description carefully and try to mirror key words in your CUSTOMIZED resume and certainly in your cover letter. Yes, you’re gonna have as many customized versions of your materials as needed. BIG issue in civilian workplace is “fit” — hiring managers want to make sure you fit the culture of the organization. Language is one critical element.

    Understand that getting the job is not the endgame: performing, delivering and succeeding in your new job is!! This will take awareness, intention and commitment. Check out the link below for an interview I did with ABC News Now on tips for newly hired vets.

  6. Very catchy title and a very accurate description of the challenges that our veterans find when transitioning out of the military. Thank you for sharing your great, practical and to the point tips!

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