7 Common Military-to-Civilian Resume Mistakes

Career Advice resume

It has often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s truly the case, we might also be able to say that the resume is the mirror that reflects our experiences, abilities and potential to would be employers.

So, tell me gentle warrior, what exactly do those employers see when they look in your proverbial mirror? If you’ve done your work right, they won’t see any of the following mistakes often found in military to civilian resumes gone bad.

Mistake #1: A resume written in a language only a fellow Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine could truly appreciate.

Command and control. Tactics. Execution of battle plans. OPTEMPO. Combat. Weaponry. Subordinates. Baseops. Insurgency. MTOE. MOUs. ABS. Line of sight.

You get the technically camouflaged picture. If it sounds military, it is military. Now to answer the question of the moment. Does it belong in your resume sans a civilian makeover?

If you are targeting an employer in the greater DoD family (federal or contract), you may be able to get away with a certain level of military jargon but don’t over do it. The first person to actually look at your resume (and decide whether or not to keep it) may not be of your unique world.

If, on the other hand, you are applying to companies not within that realm, then translate you must.

Mistake #2: A resume filled with vague accomplishments.

You’ve been accountable for people, dollars, programs and equipment. Your resume says as much. What it fails to say, however, is the extensive scope of that responsibility or breath of those accomplishments. In other words, you shortchange yourself. Fix that by plugging in actual dollar amounts, percentages of savings, number of employees and dollar values of equipment.

Mistake #3: A resume that lacks any type of direction whatsoever.

You’re not sure what you want to do in your post uniform career and it shows exactly that on your resume. One work experience narrative is focused on one thing and the next on an entirely different area. An objective statement? What’s that?

The time has come, dearie. You have to decide now what you want to be when you grow up. You can always change your mind with the next version of your resume, but for this one resume, at this particular moment in time, you have to focus on one career direction.

Mistake #4: A resume that goes overboard on showing education and training.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s important to show your academic education and applicable training. It looks desperate, however, to list every single course you’ve completed in the last ten or 20 years. It is also unnecessary to show course work that clearly supersedes a previous one.

For example, if you mention that you earned a certificate for an advanced leadership development course, then you don’t need to list the basic one that preceded it unless you know that the employer is looking for mention of that course specifically.

Mistake #5: A resume that is too short or too long.

It’s difficult to cram a whole career onto one page and yet you somehow manage it in a bold case for brevity. Or perhaps brevity isn’t the issue. You have done too many things or been too many places to limit your resume to a mere two pages.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember why you are writing a resume in the first place. You want to get the attention of an employer within a 20-30 second time frame and you want that attention to lead to ultimately an interview. You want to do that in a concise and visually appealing way. You want to limit it to no more than two pages unless you have been specific directions from the potential employer to the contrary.

Mistake #6: A resume that sounds a little too perfect.

Your work narratives sound familiar…a little too familiar. If you were to compare them with your past performance appraisals or with an entry from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), you would find striking similarities.

The temptation to copy (plagiarize seems like such a harsh word) is great. Don’t do it. While you might enjoy a warm fuzzy feeling over the accolades bestowed upon you by a past rater, those aren’t your words and they are probably not the best ones you could use anyhow. If you pulled them from the DOT, they are far too generic.

As painful as it may be, you have to use your own words. You can always get assistance massaging the words from your friendly transition assistance program counselor.

Mistake #7: A resume that is guilty of random acts of capitalization and other crimes against grammar.

If you ever wrote an MOU, a SOP or an OPS plan, you understand the crime in question all too well. If it was important, you capitalized it. If it defied every rule taught you by former English teachers, it passed military muster.

If your resume is guilty as charged here, then you may need to review the basic rules grammar before sending it out into the civilian world.

Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.

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