Creating an effective post-military resume can be a daunting task. How do you translate your life on base into a one-page document? From capturing core skill sets to demonstrating leadership experience, there’s a lot to consider.

Recently, I sat down with Joe Allen, the manager for New Business Project Implementation at FedEx Supply Chain, to discuss the most common mistakes transitioning veterans make when applying for their first job. A Marine veteran, Joe understands first-hand how challenging it can be to make the leap from military to civilian jobs. He’s also reviewed hundreds of veteran resumes and knows veterans often struggle to convey the full scope of their skills and capabilities.

These are the three most common mistakes Joe and I see when reviewing veteran resumes and three easy solutions:

  1. Failing to customize your resume for the position.
    A common problem transitioning military professionals face is how to translate military experience into business-friendly terms that a hiring manager can understand and are relevant to the position at hand. Joe says, “Oftentimes candidates have the required experience but since this experience isn’t included under a certain job title or function, civilian companies can miss it. It’s the applicant’s job to make it easy for hiring managers to quickly find needed information.”How to fix this: Study the job description. What terms or phrases does the company use to describe its desired qualifications and experience? Now, compare your resume with the job description. What can you rephrase or re-label to better align with the job description? As my colleague Eric McMath discusses in his blog post on Phone Interview tips, hiring managers may not understand an acronym like MEUs, but they will understand emergency response and global logistics. Finally, consider the order of skills and experience on your resume. If you know a hiring manager is looking for a specific skill, list this first.
  2. Exaggerating skill level or qualifications.
    While it’s great to include relevant skills, you also need to be careful that you aren’t exaggerating experience or including a skill you cannot speak to in detail. For example, Joe recently interviewed a top-choice candidate who listed “Six Sigma Certified” on his resume. During the interview it became apparent this candidate had no actual Six Sigma experience or certification. All he knew about Six Sigma came from a brief lecture he’d once attended on the topic. This exaggeration called the candidate’s credibility and integrity into question and ultimately cost him a follow-up interview.How to fix this: Buzzwords are great– as long as you can back them up. Qualify your skill proficiency. If you know Six Sigma is a plus but you’ve only taken an intro class, be honest. A basic familiarity and willingness to learn is far better than claiming proficiency without any credentials or true experience.
  3. Not showcasing leadership.
    Demonstrating leadership potential is another area where transitioning veterans can struggle, notes Joe. “Specific military training may not have an apples-to-apples equivalent for civilian jobs. For example, training on a tank or missile launch system involves a tremendous amount of teamwork. While your technical experience manning a tank won’t translate directly to a civilian job overseeing a warehouse team, your leadership experience will be a tremendous asset. You’ve managed a complex system and process while leading a team in a high-stress environment that requires real-time problem solving. Your resume needs to communicate this.”How to fix this mistake: Again, it comes down to communication. If you just list “Trained group on tank”, then you’re glossing over all the intricacies this training required. Spell out your accomplishments: how many people, what type of environment, what type of equipment complexity, etc. “Hiring managers are looking for demonstrated leadership potential,” says Joe.

As you polish up your resume, keep in mind that there are also different approaches depending on whether you’re a junior veteran aiming for a mid-level position or a senior veteran aiming for leadership positions. Younger veterans should focus on capturing core skill sets and positive evaluations. More senior veterans should focus on their last ten years of service, discussing supervision responsibilities and leadership successes.

Questions about how to improve your resume or the recruitment process for transitioning veterans? Please ask below and we will reach out to you.


A special thanks to Joe Allen for sharing his military transition and veteran hiring insights with Lucas Group.