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Ten Key Words Every Resume Should Include

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Your resume will play a critical role in your military to civilian career transition. It describes your past experiences, training, certifications and accomplishments in ways that future employers will value. Hopefully, you have tailored your resume to the industry, company and type of job you are pursuing – resumes should not be “one size fits all.”
In addition to proper formatting, spellchecking and customization of your resume to the job you’re applying for, be sure to:

  • Describe the difference between hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills identify your qualifications for a specific job and include specific training and certifications (i.e. training on certain software platforms and products.)

    Soft skills are personality traits, or things you are good at simply because of who you are. Remember to always portray yourself in a professional light, and avoid listing traits that have nothing to do with the job. Soft skills to list on a resume are those that will add value to a team, such as “personable” or “effective communicator.” While soft skills are harder to quantify, you should describe those skills using action verbs. For instance, instead of listing, “Problem-solving skills,” write it as “Solves challenges and problems with a can-do attitude.”
  • Speak the truth. Don’t embellish or exaggerate for the sake of sounding impressive. Resumes should be defensible and accurate. Double check all assertions and claims you make, to be sure you can back them up if challenged, or if your references are asked about them.

Ten Key Words
When writing your resume, one of the hardest parts is that the experiences happened to you, so you are very close to the content. This makes it hard to edit and refine your narrative. In this case, be sure to ask a colleague, friend, or resume writer to give it a read before you send it out.
On a resume, some words work very well. Ten key words to include are:

  • Achieved (shows that you attained results and have accomplishments)
  • Improved (shows that you took something and made it measurably better)
  • Trained/mentored (demonstrates your leadership and service to others)
  • Managed (civilian hiring managers will use this term, instead of “led,” often)
  • Created (shows that you built something or used your creative skills to enhance a process or project)
  • Resolved (being able to build bridges between disparate parties, or working through challenges are important to hiring managers)
  • Volunteered (an easy one for a veteran!)
  • Negotiated whether it’s conflict resolution, or negotiation between companies, this is a great skill to highlight)
  • Launched (showing initiative and actions that indicate a “self-starter” are valuable to employers)
  • Under budget (demonstrates efficiency and effectiveness)

As you edit and refine your resume, take note of key words and phrases mentioned in the job posting, job description, and company website. Do they refer to “projects” or “initiatives”? Do they call their employees “team members” or “staff”? Using the words your target employer uses shows symmetry with their culture and language.

Finally, be sure you can speak to all the jobs, responsibilities and accomplishments on your resume. If you aren’t confident about the specifics, leave it off. You should be able to speak to everything you list on your resume with clarity, confidence, and credibility.

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Lida Citroën, a branding expert based in Denver, has made a career of helping people and companies create new or enhanced identities. She is passionate about helping veterans learn how to compete for careers in the civilian sector. A TEDx Speaker, Lida presents her unique personal branding training programs across the U.S., at military installations and events, serves on the Board of Directors of NAVSO  volunteers with ESGR, and has produced numerous programs and materials to help military veterans successfully transition after service. If you have a transition question Lida can help answer, email her at She is also the author of the best selling book, "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition," available at and on Amazon.