Format – The best format for your resume is a reverse chronology whereby you list your experience and accomplishments in conjunction with billets you’ve held. This will provide much needed context that other resume formats sorely lack List the dates (typically month/year – month/year), the billet, and the command, unit or organization. Below that, use bullets to provide key details about the role and what you did in it. The first bullet should be a summary of the position to educate the non-military reader the purpose of the role. A good way to start out is with the two words “Responsible for. . .” This will compel you to provide a clear and concise statement about the position the will provide good information that will adequately orient the reader. Use subsequent bullets to provide amplifying information in terms of specific tasks, responsibilities, collateral duties, and accomplishments. Quantify where possible listing numbers of personnel and/or equipment/systems/end items, and any relevant metrics. Saying that you “improved” something without listing a relative metric or percentage is an empty statement and a waste of space.
Style – Use bullets vice paragraphs to relay you experience. Bullets are easier to read/digest and will compel you to be clear, concise, and coherent (that’s why the they are used in military evaluations). Bullets should communicate a single thought or direction of thought and should be able to stand alone as a statement. Don’t try to cover multiple topics in a single bullet. It will become convoluted and will probably be grammatically incorrect. Don’t be afraid to use multiple bullets to communicate different topics, points, or areas you want to address. Start each bullet with a good verb (action word) stating what you actually do or did. These include words like Lead, Manage, Supervise, Train, Troubleshoot, Repair, Maintain, Execute, etc. Try to avoid words like Participate, Administer, Communicate, etc. as they don’t really communicate an active or important role and really should already be inherent in anything you do anyway. Use proper verb tense. If you are writing about your current assignment, use present tense verbs (Supervise, Repair, etc). If you are writing about a previous billet, use past tense verbs (Supervised, Repaired, etc). Write in the “first person” vice “second person” (i.e. Supervise, Repair, etc. vice Supervises, Repairs, etc.). Remember you are writing about you, not somebody else. If you are using a bullet from one of your performance evaluations be sure to fix the verb so it reads as a statement you are making about yourself vice a statement somebody else is making about you. Sanity check your bullets by reading them out loud and seeing if they make sense. Remember, since you know what you are trying to say with the bullet, your mind is filling in the blanks and making mental adjustments for you. The person reading the bullet for the first time won’t have that luxury. Reading it out loud is very important because it will show you how the bullet really sounds and whether or not it makes sense.
Content – The skills and experiences that you bring from the military that are transferable to the private sector (i.e. are what civilian employers will get excited about you) are your technical skills and/or leadership and logistics experience. Focus on these when you are deciding what to include on your resume. If your background is principally technical, do it justice by providing good detail about the systems and subsystems you’ve worked on. Use English vice just military nomenclature and acronyms. Remember, hydraulics is hydraulics is hydraulics whether or not you are in the military and a civilian probably won’t understand what an AH-1W is but the will understand the term “Marine Corps Attack Helicopter. If you have good leadership experienced mention it. This applies to both technical and non-technical MOSs/Rates. List the numbers of people you’ve led, managed, trained, and supervised in what type of work/tasks and what the results were. If your background is principally combat arms, focus on your experience from a leadership perspective. Companies are looking for leaders who get things done. They are not looking for folks who can operate weapons systems, shoot straight, and kill bad guys. If you background is in logistics, provide some detail about the amount of material and equipment you managed, transported, and accounted for. For all backgrounds, focus on your core competency. If your role was technical but you had a collateral duty that was more of a supply function, you can mention it in one of your bullets but don’t try to build your resume around it.
Length – Your resume should ideally 1 page (definitely no more than 2). This is for two reasons. First of all, the shorter resumes get read first. Busy hiring managers have more to do each day than they have time for. Subsequently, in reading resumes, they will go to the 1-pagers first. If they don’t find the person they are looking for in that stack they will move to the 2-pagers. It is unlikely they will ever make it to the 3-pagers. Secondly, if you can’t fit your experience onto 1 page, you are probably being too long winded and verbose and your resume probably has too much fluff (empty statements filled with buzz words that tell the reader how great you think you are but don’t educate them about what you really did). Other areas that will help you manage the size of your resume are font and font size (for the body of the text you should use Times New Roman between 9-12 pitch), margins (.5 inches top/bottom and 1 to .5 inches left/right) and spacing (minimize the white space/empty double spaces). Note: Even though your resume should be no more than 1 or 2 pages, it should cover your entire time in the military. If you have more than 10 years of service, a good way to do this is to provide some good detail around your last several billets and then summarize what you did as a more junior service member.
Objective Statement – Avoid the use of an Objective Statement at the beginning of your resume that attempts to state the purpose of your resume and the type of job you are looking for (i.e. “Seeking a position as a . . .”). Your “objective” is to get a job and this is already understood by the fact that the reader is looking at your resume. Listing an objective or specific career goal may hurt you in that it may dissuade potential employers from considering you for other opportunities or positions that they think you would be good for and that you probably would be very interested in.
Qualification Summary – In lieu of an Objective Statement, it’s often good to start your resume off with a Qualification Summary. This is just a few sentences that provide a quick introductory snapshot about your professional background and experience. This will orient the reader right out of the gate and help them to better understand your background as they read through the experience portion of your resume. An effective Qualification Summary might read something like:
“Experienced leader, manager, and technician with a proven track record of performance in challenging, dynamic, and time-sensitive environments while serving as an Aviation Electrician in the United States Navy. Certified Quality Assurance Representative and Master Training Specialist. Bilingual (English/Spanish). Active Secret security clearance.”
Areas of Expertise – If you have special areas of expertise, it is beneficial to state them at the beginning or your resume (after your Qualification Summary). Again, this will provide the reader with important and valuable information about you right up front. Areas of Expertise should be limited to tangible technical skills or items that are certifiable and verifiable (i.e. Electronics, Pumps, Valves, Schematics, Leadership, Safety, etc.). Avoid empty non-certifiable statements like “Problem Solving” or “Team Player” as they are too general, don’t really mean anything, and are a waste of space. You should provide examples of the items you do list in the experience portion of your resume. Don’t state you have an area of expertise and then fail to show the reader why.
Remember, the key to good writing is rewriting. Take some time with your resume. Do an initial draft then put it down and come back to it later to work on it some more. A good product is better than a quick product. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and your resume will the first impression a company or hiring manager has of you. Your resume will not get you a job. It will get you an interview. Your ability to communicate your skills and experience during the interview process is what will get you a job. That said, if your resume isn’t buttoned up, you will never get that interview and the opportunity to explain to somebody why you are the best person for the position.