One of the most important and perhaps disheartening steps in transitioning from military service to the civilian job market is composing an effective résumé. Simply translating military experience into convincing business-talk is a first great challenge. But there’s help out there, and even business leaders are starting to change the ways they look at veterans.


The greatest expectation that needs to be managed is yours. Once you accept that résumé writing is very, very difficult and takes hours and hours, even days, to really make your profile look expert and distinctive, then you’re on your way. Then you can begin to believe that the big problem isn’t that you’re a failure, or that you’ll never fit in the civilian business world. The big problem isn’t a problem at all. It’s just the way things are. Like the challenges you faced in uniform, which were monumental and you and your team overcame, challenges in the job hunt are imposing. But nobody’s shooting at you. Usually.


Once you have a good start on building a résumé—which can and should probably take several days, especially if it’s your first cut, and often if it’s not—you have to determine exactly how to format the information on a page, or two, or three, or more, and that’s a decision depending on a variety of factors. Then, when you’re “done” with your resume and ready to start applying for jobs, guess what.

Résumés aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. In general, different industries expect different résumés. And the more you research particular employers, the more likely you are to discover that what works for Company A may not work as well for Company Z. Indeed, the Center for New American Security’s (CNAS) recently released study “Onward and Upward” on veteran transition reports that “veterans tend not to tailor their résumé to individual jobs, do not always translate skills well, and either overvalue or undervalue themselves.”

It’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up and quit. I know. I’ve been there. But look around—all those employed people in the world overcame them. So can you. So will you. It just takes some research and some work, and a lot of help from people who know.


Veterans have proven leadership skills and invaluable, innovative problem-solving experiences that very, very few can match. That’s a fact. But translating a firefight, an impossible logistics problems you routinely solved, or how the SECRET NOFORN surveillance software you designed into business-ease is difficult. More difficult is translating those experiences and skills into language a computer will recognize.  “With many companies using online résumé scanning software,” CNAS explains, “the lack of understanding of military experience or of missing components such as certain certifications or a four-year degree requires further efforts to ensure veterans are given a fair chance to compete for roles.”

There’s a lot of help out there helping you capture the immense value of your experience and skills in language hiring managers can understand, and appreciate. For instance, if you’re after a Federal job, you should spend some time exploring USAJobs. It’s the largest doorway to civil service. The USAJobs resume builder is not what you need for the average private sector job application, but it’s exactly what you need for Federal jobs.

If you’re a cleared veteran hoping to get back in the TS-SCI world, ClearanceJobs.Com has a host of resume help for cleared veterans. You can easily find resume samples for Intelligence Analysts, Geospatial Intelligence skills, Cybersecurity experts, Signals Intelligence experts, Force Protection skills, and many more. Additionally, ClearanceJobs.Com offers some detailed resume advice. Just go to News & Advice and search for resume, grab a cup of coffee, and start taking notes. You’ll increase your understanding exponentially.


Thankfully, there are a significant number of professional organizations and advocacy groups willing to help—sometimes for a charge, sometimes for free. But with an abundance, again, comes variety in quality. CNAS reports, “Though many acknowledge the concrete steps that have been taken to improve transition programs, there is still a marked variance in the quality of veteran résumé and application materials that belies a distinct difference in quality among various programs.” So part of your job in finding a job is using your judgment in finding—or building—a transition team that you trust. As a veteran, if you’re being asked by some transition service to lay out big bucks, beware.

As more and more employers understand the valuable role veterans can play in their industry, services that facilitate transition are getting better. In fact, CNAS found, “Recent efforts to improve the transition assistance programs have made significant progress in areas such as résumé and interview preparation . . . .”

Likewise, savvy business leaders are changing the way they welcome veterans to the interview line. “Given the robust approval of veteran performance by supervisors and managers,” CNAS found, “opening the pipeline so more veterans are given the initial opportunity to interview may yield greater hires, as managers will be able to evaluate holistically rather than based on a résumé.”


Remember, there are thousands upon thousands of veterans who went before you and succeeded. They are out there. There are only a very few who are not willing to help you succeed, too. By nature, it’s difficult for veterans to reach out for that kind of help. But you have to. It’s how civilian-civilians succeed, and it’s how veteran-civilians succeed. So do it.


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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.