According to popular career author, Martin Yate, "A résumé is the most financially important document you will ever own." When a résumé works and you apply for the opportunities that match your background, interviews can come pouring in. When your résumé doesn’t work—even though you have lots of relevant experience—you may not hear from anyone.

Creating a résumé for the civilian world can be daunting, particularly if the military is your only major work experience. Here are a few tips to help you "civilianize" this important document.

  1. Make it Easy to Read. Studies have found that an experienced résumé reader generally spends about eight seconds per résumé when reviewing résumés for the first time. As someone who has seen thousands of résumés, I can attest that it typically doesn't take long to quickly see whether an applicant is qualified or not . . . especially if they submit a well-organized résumé. This means your résumé should:
    • Use concise headers that are written in bold, capitalized, and/or underlined so they stand out. Headers include important sections like Work Experience, Education (for your college-level education), and Military Training (for the relevant training your received in the military).
    • List the section of the résumé that would most interest the employer first. If you are changing careers, your education is likely more relevant to your target employer than your work history, so list that section first. If you want to move up, lead off with your work history, and move your education further down. If you have or plan to take a break from work to focus on school, consider listing your education first even if you do have relevant work history, so employers aren’t distracted by a large employment gap on your résumé.
    • Be brief. Unless written for federal jobs, résumés should be no longer than two pages in length.
    • Think Concisely. Since most résumés need to fit on a two-page document and are read in a matter of seconds, using bullet points can benefit both you and the employer. Bullet points take up less space and encourage you to be specific about your achievements. For the employer, bullet points are easy and fast to read.
  2. Remove the Acronyms. The military uses countless acronyms to simplify everyday life, but many of these are unique to the military or even your job, and should never appear on your résumé. Spell them out using civilianized terminology. PCS = moving or relocating; FITREP = evaluation; soldier/sailor/airman = employee or team member. Be sure also to explain your positions so that the hiring manager understands the scope of your responsibilities.
  3. Focus on Accomplishments. To help your résumé stand out from the rest, add numbers that describe your experience. How many soldiers did you oversee in your most recent assignment? What was the dollar value of the material that you were responsible for? Better yet, did you ever come up with an idea that helped save the military time, money, or other resources? These are the types of experiences that grab the attention of any employer and should definitely be on your résumé. Use numbers to show how much you improved the process, how much money you saved, etc.
  4. Proofread Thoroughly. Perhaps most importantly, your résumé should be error-free. Write and edit your résumé, then come back to it at another time and try again. You will likely pay greater attention to detail when reviewing your résumé with a fresh set of eyes. Better yet, ask a friend or family member with editing skills to look at your résumé. UMUC students and alumni can also use the tool Vmock, which provides 24/7 access to free résumé feedback. Vmock is available through CareerQuest.

Preparing your résumé for your job search will likely be one of the most important things you will do. As a UMUC student or graduate, you are not alone in this endeavor. UMUC Career Services provides lifetime résumé assistance and help with all aspects of the job search to UMUC students and alumni, so please reach out whenever you need us. Wishing you a successful transition!


About the Author

Kristin Schrader is the associate director of InternPLUS and military career programs at UMUC. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities. Most recently, she was the lead trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop, where she taught transitioning servicemembers about the civilian job search. Kristin is a proud military spouse, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their goals.