your resume

By Julie Wilson

Whether you’ve served in the military for two years or for 20, you’ll need a strong civilian resume when you transition. With fewer jobs and greater competition, it’s critical to make your military experience shine in a way that civilian employers understand. Here’s how.

What do you want to do?

While this may sound like a simple question, determining what you want in your post-military career isn’t always easy. “Focus on where you want your career to go by examining your knowledge, skills and abilities and using your personal interests as a frame of reference,” advises Brian Orczeck, a U.S. Air Force veteran and veterans employment representative with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Websites like and Mil2FedJobs can help you evaluate your experience and talents and find a good job fit in the private or government sector.

“Think about what you want to do next and target your resume toward your next career,” stresses Kathryn K. Troutman, president and founder of The Resume Place, Inc. and Federal Career Training Institute and author of the Military to Federal Career Guide. Once you know your career goals, it’s time to get to work on your resume.

Professional career guidance

Your training probably didn’t teach you how to draft the perfect civilian resume. However, the military offers resources to help you do just that. “I think almost every military installation has a [U.S. Department of Defense] Transition Assistance Program (TAP) or Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC),” says Wendy Enelow, executive career consultant and author of Expert Resumes for Military-To-Civilian Transitions. “Those are available at no charge, and you certainly should investigate and take advantage of them.”

Troutman seconds the suggestion to enlist the help of a professional with your civilian transition. “If you get sick, you go see a doctor,” she says. “When you need career help, go see a career counselor.”

Beyond the military’s free offerings, private career advisors can help you along your path to a successful civilian career. These experts will find a resume format that fits with your goals, experience and desired industry.


A winning civilian resume

Though you may think your military experience speaks for itself, if a prospective employer is unfamiliar with military jargon, it doesn’t translate. “Many employers will not understand ‘COB,’ let alone ‘NAVPACINSCOM,’ says Orczeck. “Leave the acronyms behind.”

Enelow agrees. “Be inclusive, not exclusive,” she says. “Translate those military words into corporate words.” For example, what the military calls “procurement” is often referred to as “purchasing” in the business world.

While your military duties might not align perfectly with the responsibilities of the civilian job you’re seeking, your skills do. Troutman worked with a retired crew chief who wanted a new career once he retired. “We analyzed his competencies as a crew chief—critical thinking, problem solving, team work, scheduling—and we featured those skills so human resources would see what his background was.” Stating these transferrable skills clearly on his resume helped him find a job outside of his area of expertise in the military. Today, he works as an intelligence analyst at a Department of Homeland Security agency.

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all civilian resume. “You have to tweak your resume for each job announcement, changing the language a little bit to emphasize the skills [employers] want,” stresses Troutman.

In the end, putting in the extra effort can mean the difference between stagnating in your job search and getting the career you want. ★

Civilian resume basics


  • Take advantage of resume resources available to you, including Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP), The Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) and other on-base career offerings.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile and post your resume highlighting your skills, experience and education.
  • Focus on your competencies, such as leadership and problem-solving skills. These easily transfer from military to civilian jobs.
  • Translate your military jargon and acronyms into common English that civilian employers can understand.
  • Have a civilian review your resume, along with a description of the job you are applying for, to make sure it fits.
  • Keep your resume to a maximum of two pages.


  • Use one resume for every job application. Customize each one to highlight skills that are relevant to the position you are seeking.
  • Include every assignment on your resume. Instead, focus on the experience and desired outcomes that directly relate to your desired position.
  • Forget to proofread. Do it yourself, and then have a friend do it, too, to make sure your resume is error-free.
  • Be afraid to ask the experts. Both military transition programs and private career coaches can offer resume advice.
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