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 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. For those transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce, understanding the aspects of a strong resume is critical.

Your resume should focus on applicable skills, achievements, and qualifications, while highlighting pertinent information, figures, and results. The point of the resume is to land an interview. From there, you can speak in more detail about how your experience or training translates to the open position.

The Best Resume Format for Your Experience

There are two main types of resume format. We recommend using a chronological resume for most cases, since this is the most widely accepted through applicant tracking systems, though people with gaps in their work experience (like some military spouses) may want to consider the functional format. Functional resumes do not allow you to properly chronicle your accomplishments and often make it difficult to understand your current duties and responsibilities.

  • The chronological resume will highlight your career progression on a reverse-chronological timeline.
  • The functional resume will highlight your skills and often de-emphasizes your timeline of experience.

Your resume should be 1-2 pages long and include the following sections:


See the breakdown of each section in Create a Winning Resume: Part 2.

Make a Master Resume of Your Entire Career

Your years in the military (or as a military spouse) have given you specific skills that make you a desirable commodity in the civilian workforce.

Before you can target your resume for a specific role, build a master resume. A master resume will be significantly longer than a resume you would submit in an application. Your master resume should include all of the skills, certifications, and experiences you have had in your career.

It might help to start by thinking about your career timeline in six-month blocks. Consider your role at the time and write down personal and professional milestones that took place during each period.

For example, military evaluations and awards are a good start but be careful to avoid simply transcribing them to your resume. The tone and intent of those reviews are very different than a well-written resume.

In addition to accurately describing your job in a clear and concise manner, think carefully about your top two or three accomplishments. Be prepared to discuss your accomplishments in a cause-and-effect statement. EX: “Accomplished [X] By Doing [Y] Which resulted in [Z].”

When you are ready to apply to a job with with a targeted resume (one that is aimed at a certain role or industry), it is much easier to pull sections from your master resume, rather than starting from scratch each time.

This process will also help you understand and appreciate the value you bring to a prospective employer, but you will still need to communicate your story in a way that civilian hiring teams will understand.

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.

Translate Your Military Experience for Employers

Employers may not be familiar with certain military terms or job titles, so breaking it down to the basics is a must. Spell out all acronyms the first time that they are used and then put the condensed version in parenthesis immediately following the spelled out word/phrase, you can use the acronym from that point forward. Do use an acronym at all if the phrase occurs only once. Always strive to replace military specific systems with plain language descriptors.

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.

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. List numbers consistently. Double-check everything and then ask a friend to check it again.


Use a font that is clean and easy to read. Use a font size between 10 and 12 points. Some popular font types to consider include: Tahoma, Arial, Times New Roman and Verdana.

To highlight certain information, don't be afraid to use bold, italics, underlining and CAPITALIZATION in your text.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a short introduction that communicates your interest in a specific job and how your experience or skills relate to the job description. Your cover letter supports your resume - it does not repeat it.

While resumes show specific times and places where your effort contributed to an individual or team accomplishment, cover letters serve as a good preface to your resume by allowing you to discuss your work ethic and ability to function as a team player, and provide more detail about one or two achievements from your military background.

Be sure to use professional business correspondence in your cover letter, and use the same active voice and terminology you use for your resume writing.

NEXT: See what to include in each section of your civilian resume: Create a Winning Resume: Part 2

Industry-Specific Resume Templates