Do you know what goes into a good resume?

Often, a resume is your first impression to an employer. It can open the door to an interview or can completely disqualify you from an opportunity.

Your resume should focus on applicable skills, achievements, and qualifications, while highlighting pertinent information, figures, and results. We've compiled a list of common mistakes and best practices to help put your best foot forward.

Prepping for an upcoming job fair?

READ THE FAQ FIRST to learn what to expect, including why to bring a couple of paper copies of your resume.

Do cover letters matter?

A cover letter serves as a good preface to your resume by allowing you to discuss your work ethic and ability to function as a team player. It also lets you provide more detail about one or two achievements from your military background or perhaps positions in the civilian world, post-service.

Your cover letter supports your resume - it does not repeat it. Be sure to follow the rules of professional business correspondence in your cover letter, and use the same active voice and terminology you use for your resume writing.

1. Start by Listing Your Skills and Experience

Your years in the military have given you specific skills, attention to detail and an unparalleled work ethic that make you a desirable commodity in the civilian workforce. Understand and appreciate the value you bring to a prospective employer, and communicate that value.

By focusing on your character as well as your achievements, successes, and unique skill sets, you can show that you are “the” someone who will make a difference at their company.

Choose the Best Resume Format

Depending on the type of position you seek, you will need to create either a reverse-chronological resume format, a skills-based resume format, or a hybrid of the two. For example, when applying to the federal government, you will want to use the reverse-chronological resume format. Why? This format is easier for an applicant tracking system to scan.

When outlining your resume, your dates must match up and be in order. In reverse-chronological resumes, your most recent experiences will be at the top, and less recent experiences will be towards the bottom. Date each position with the month and year and a brief description or a few bullets that describe your responsibilities.

If there are gaps in your work history, employers may ask you about it. Be prepared to explain any training, education, experience, or skills you picked up during times of low or no employment.

Limit the range of experience you record. Stay within the latest 10 years for your work experience and keep the resume to two pages. If you have 20 years of experience, focus 80% of your resume on the most recent 10 years and then condense your remaining experience, while outlining your title and years in the position.

De-Militarize Your Resume

It’s important to translate your experience and skill sets into civilian terminology.

Employers may not be familiar with certain military terms or job titles, so breaking it down to the basics is a must. Your years in the service have prepared you well for the civilian world - your resume should show that.

Ask one or more non-serving friends or family members for their perspective on your resume. Do they understand everything you did without needing more clarification? If not, ask them how to better describe it in their view.

Use Professional Language

When providing contact information, use an email address that is just your name. Avoid number sequences when possible.

Even if you don't link to any of your social media accounts on your resume, make sure they do not show or say anything that could be potentially offensive or in bad taste.

They say a lot about you, and employers check them, especially after the application process. Even if you don't link to any of your social media accounts on your resume, ensure there are no controversial information or statements. Employers will certainly check.

Double-check for spelling and grammar

Basic spelling or grammar errors on your resume create a poor first impression and possibly even disqualify you for some positions. Many employers are looking for someone who shows attention to detail, and errors in your resume indicate the opposite.

Remember that the spell check feature may catch a misspelling but does not catch and correct context errors. For example, it will not catch the error in “Thank you for yours consideration” because technically, all the words are spelled correctly. Double-check everything and then ask a friend to check as well.

Read Create a Winning Resume: Part 2