The Military Resume – Why Veterans Struggle with Landing a Job

Having a great military resume is key to finding a job after leaving the military is probably one of the most challenging and stressful parts of the transition. Veterans may submit resume after resume with few, if any, hits because they just don’t understand how a resume works.

I was medically retired 18 years as Chief Petty Officer.  Add to that my being a woman and you get “I know everything.”  Where once I was the recognized “expert” and someone that others came to for help, I was now like a fish out of water!  I now wished I had my own Chief to go to for help.  I was a Senior Enlisted Sailor and Leader with a degree who had managed millions of dollars of equipment and hundreds of Sailors. Now I was cashing in my last unemployment check worried how I would pay my mortgage.

Fortunately, I managed to get hired on with the Texas Veterans Commission as an employment specialist (OH the irony of that statement!).  It was the best “first” job to land.  It enabled me to understand why my military resume didn’t produce results.  It also taught me so much about the employment and HR process and the exact “why” for veterans not getting hired.  It really isn’t that difficult once you learn how the system (or “game” as I like to call it) works.



There are basically two types of resumes – Federal and Civilian.  I’ll briefly discuss the federal resume, but I really want to focus on the civilian resume in this post because that is where veterans struggle the most.



One common mistake that veterans make with their resume is that they don’t understand there are two main formats for resumes:  CIVILIAN and FEDERAL.  Most veterans go straight to and use the federal resume builder and use that multi-page resume to send to civilian employers.  WRONG!!





Federal Resume Builder is for the resume you will submit only through USAJOBS!!  You should NEVER send a civilian employer a federal resume. These resumes are long and include way too much information.  A civilian employer honestly only gives a resume an initial look of maybe 5-10 seconds on the first page.  If they can’t determine your qualification for the job in question during that time, it quickly ends up in the “NO” pile.






For more help in writing great a military resume for federal employment, USAJOBS has great resources and tutorials. It also has a breakdown to help you understand the process of how the federal system works.   Another outstanding resource for federal employment is Feds Hire Vets.  This site has a wealth of information for transitioning service members, veterans, and family members to include information about hiring preferences.  If you are more of a video person, USAJOBS has some great YouTube tutorial videos as well.



A good civilian resume comes in several formats:  chronological, functional, combination, and targeted.  They should almost NEVER be more than 1-2 pages.  All have a few common traits that are important and once you master these, you will have a great resume that gets results.  For most veterans, however, the military does a very poor job of teaching veterans how to write proper military resumes. This results in them sending out the same exact resume to every job they apply for.




So now you are out of the military and need to find a job.  I’ll just throw a resume together and be good to go.  WRONG!!  I often compare a newly transitioned job seeker to a teenager applying for their very first job.  Think about it.  A teenager doesn’t know about keywords or the proper format of writing certain things.  And think about this – HR staff goes to extensive training on how to use their HR software so how in the heck are you supposed to know how to make your resume progress through it?

Also, most veterans (especially career veterans) have worked in a multitude of jobs and duties.  If you put everything you’ve ever done into a single resume, well, HR is going to think you are a job-jumper and have no idea what you want to be when you grow up!  Seriously!  The reality is that you CAN do many of the jobs out there, however, you have to portray your skills for a PARTICULAR job.




 I can’t tell you how many veterans came into my office because they weren’t having luck with the job search.  Over and over, they would say they had paid anywhere from $200-$800 for a supposed resume expert service to make their military resume.  What they paid for was CRAP – as indicated by them being in my office!  Unless it is a service from a veteran affiliated organization (which shouldn’t be charging you anyway) do not let someone write your resume for you.

Each state has a State Workforce Agency that has over-site by the Department of Labor.  They also have staff trained to assist with resumes as well as offer resume classes.  Now, be careful in taking advice from all of them especially if they aren’t versed in military resumes.  Texas has the best ones because Texas Veterans Commission has Veteran Employment Reps located at many of the Workforce offices throughout the state and the majority of these reps are actual veterans!  This was the job I held for three years after my retirement.

I would also advise visiting other VETERAN service sites such as Wounded Warrior ProjectVA, and US Dept of Labor.  All of these sites have programs or resources specifically for transitioning military and veterans.




While it may be easier and less stressful to allow someone else to write it for you, the reality is that a resume is not a “one-size-fits-all” document.  It should be tailored to the job you are applying for.  This is especially true for military resumes because veterans have such a vast assortment of skills and have probably held jobs in many different categories.  Put everything on a single resume and HR is going to think you can’t make up your mind on a career field.  When you write it yourself, you are more able to edit and adjust it match each job you want to apply to.

The majority of the jobs you will be applying for will be accomplished online using HR software.  If you make a single resume and submit it for every single job, you may as well go rent some movies because you are going to be sitting for a LONG time!  HR software is set up to filter out those who aren’t qualified before the resume gets to the hiring manager for review.  That is accomplished through several means but the main one is by the use of keywords/phrases.  You’ll see in the image below of a job posting, the line items are very specific in duties and KSA‘s.  Your resume bullets should have some of those exact bullet phrases (that you have experience in).  Notice that NONE of them have military jargon or titles!  The HR software will be scanning your resume for stuff that is listed in the job posting.

The HR software will be scanning your resume for stuff that is listed in the job posting.  If you don’t have these exact phrases (not all of them but a handful), then you won’t even make it through the first weed-out that is accomplished by the computer software.  Your resume will never even make it to the hiring manager’s desk.






Have you ever gone home on leave and started talking to family about what you’ve been up to and they look at you like “huh?”  We speak a different language!!  Personally, I think we should be given a foreign language credit in college, but so far the colleges don’t agree.  Anyway, I was guilty of this in writing my own military resume.  It was written more like a FITREP or Performance Evaluation with all the acronyms and military jargon that we so fluently speak.  But news flash here – civilians didn’t take “Military Language 101” so they have absolutely NO idea what you are talking about!

You have to learn to speak “civilian” as far as how you present your experience and job titles.  There are some really great tools to help you translate your skills as well as job titles and such.  The one I used the most and recommended to the veterans I helped is ONET Online.  This one is great because you can type in your MOS/Rating and it will generate a list of CIVILIAN job titles that correspond to that MOS or Rating.




You can click on any of the job categories that are listed and then it will give you key words and phrases, including KSA’s (knowledge, skills & abilities) that you should be using in your resume.  For example, instead of saying “Supervised the receipt of supplies during UNREP,” you should write it as “Examined shipment contents and compared them with records…”  Now it is important to note that the bullets or information you put in the resume should reflect the actual details in the job posting (as mentioned in #2 above).








You WERE an expert in the military, however, you are no longer in the military and will need to earn your spot out here just like everyone else.  You are wasting your time if you continually apply for higher level leadership/management positions right out of the service.  You are no longer “Chief,” “Master Sergeant,” or “LT.”  You are simply “insert your name.”  Now, of course there are exceptions to this but for the most part, you have to start over – close to the bottom – and work your way back up.





Now this piece of advice may make you mad but I’m speaking from experience of both working with veterans AND with the employers.  Don’t list education that is higher that the “recommended” or “preferred” as listed on the job posting.  I know you worked hard for that degree and you are proud of the accomplishment, but if you have a Masters Degree and the job only requires an Associate’s, then only put the Associate’s degree on your military resume (as well as in filling out an online application).  You will receive the “over-qualified” response if you put your higher education on the resume/application.

I can’t tell you how many veterans can’t get hired at places like fast food restaurants or department stores (and many other places).  When I’ve inquired on their behalf, I have often (VERY OFTEN) been told it was because they were “overqualified” for the position.  The education on their resume disqualified them!!






In the military, we wear our resumes on our uniforms in the form of ribbons and medals.  As humbling as it is, the reality is that out here, those awards really don’t mean much.  Civilians don’t understand what it takes to earn a Surface or Air Warfare designation or Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.  By putting those on your military resume, you are taking up valuable space that could be utilized to sell your experience and talents “as required by the job posting.”


I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on why you may be struggling to get call-backs and/or interviews.  A great military resume isn’t difficult once you learn how they work.  The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to remember that you are no longer in the military.  You MUST start speaking like a civilian and viewing the job search like a civilian.  I know it can be overwhelming – especially when you add in all the other stresses of transitioning out of the military.




A major stress point for most veterans after transitioning out of the service is adjusting to civilian life from a financial perspective.  Money doesn’t seem to go as far out here!  Also, if you are struggling to find a job, bills can pile up.  Check out these other posts on some great Veteran and Military Savings programs as well as general savings tips!

Veteran Employment – Make Money as a Military or Veteran Blogger

Military and Veterans Save Big with AFV Club

VETERANS – Score Free Tickets for Concerts and More

Back to School Shopping Like a Boss!

Life with Four Dobies – How I Save Money on Dog Food and Pet Supplies

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