Writing Military-to-Civilian Resumes: Make Your Resume 'Interviewable'

Professional holding resume, searching for work.

Resume writing isn't easy, and there are many different opinions on how to do it. If you're stressed out about writing the perfect resume, consider using a free expert resume writing service. If you want to take the plunge yourself, visit our Military Skills Translator to make military lingo something any civilian employer will understand.

Consider the fact that your resume has three primary missions:

  1. To showcase your skills, qualifications and accomplishments in such a way that it attracts prospective employers.
  2. To entice a prospective employer to take action; specifically, to offer you the opportunity for a job interview.
  3. To serve as a tool to guide your job interviews.

Your challenge, therefore, is to write and design a resume that not only opens doors to prospective opportunities but can also be used as an effective interview guide. This is critically important for military-to-civilian job seekers who must focus their resumes on skills, qualifications and accomplishments that are transferable to the civilian workforce. In essence, you want to write a resume that paints a picture of who you want to be and not who you were. And, by doing so, you can create the perfect interview guide ... a tool (your resume) that leads your interviewers down the precise path you want them to follow.

Here's an example ... David Michaels is retiring after a 20-year military career with a specialization in manpower planning, force management and personnel deployment. His goal is a senior-level position in corporate human resources and organizational development. When David develops his resume, he basically has two options and the decision that he makes will influence his entire job search.

Option 1: Focus his resume on who he was. If he does this, his summary might read something like this:

Twenty-year career in Manpower Planning, Force Management and Personnel Deployment for the United States Marine Corps. Exceptionally strong strategic planning, analytical and organizational leadership skills.

Option 2: Focus his resume on who he wants to be. If he does this, his summary might read something like this:

Human Resource Leadership/Human Capital Management/Team Building & Team Leadership Workforce Optimization/Executive Training & Development/Organizational Design
Twenty-year career building and leading top-performing organizations worldwide. Consistently delivered the human talent required to support multimillion-dollar enterprises with critical goals and objectives. Dynamic public speaker.

The obvious answer is that Option 2 is, by far, the best alternative to the position that David wants in the civilian workforce. In the summary, David has used the right words to create the right picture of how he wants to be perceived in the market. And, in turn, these are the skills and experiences that each and every interviewer will ask David about. With his summary, he has created the picture of a talented HR and organizational development executive, and that's how people will perceive him and interview him. Mission accomplished.

The resume for (the fictional) Roberta C. Jackson is an excellent example of the "make your resume interviewable" strategy in action. Roberta has created a resume that effectively positions her for a civilian career in inventory control and logistics. What's more, the format works extremely well as an interview guide, clearly identifying her key areas of experience and success, and making it easy for her interviewer to just follow along the path that she has outlined.

Page 1 of Roberta's resume clearly shouts out, "I am an extremely well-qualified inventory control and logistics professional with substantial experience in all inventory control functions, management, organization, training, quality assurance and safety." By highlighting each of her core areas of expertise (bold print) and then showcasing her most notable responsibilities and achievements in each of these functions, she has created a powerful picture of how she wants to be positioned in the market (and the key points she wants to focus on in an interview).

Page 2 of Roberta's resume is equally well-presented. Her U.S. Air Force career is prominently presented, and her educational credentials are easy to identify. Her job descriptions are concise and focus on notable achievements, key projects and leadership competencies.

It's not necessary for her to go into any additional detail in the descriptions, because she has already highlighted the most important information on Page 1. What's most impressive is that Roberta has used "civilian" job titles so that the corporations to which she is applying will understand the capacity in which she worked. Anyone interviewing her will now be able to ask, "Tell me more about your job as an acting plant manager?" -- the exact type of position she is currently pursuing.

Your resume is a powerful tool on so very many levels. It's going to open doors and help generate interviews and, if done well, can serve as a remarkably effective interview guide. Take the time that is necessary to enhance your resume's "interviewability factor" and make it easy for someone to hire you.

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Military.com Job Search section.

Wendy S. Enelow is the author of "Expert Resumes for Military-to-Civilian Transitions." 

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