The 3 Biggest Mistakes Veterans Make With Resumes

Separating from the military can be an incredibly difficult experience, and it’s not made any easier with the cultural divide between the military and civilian sectors. Veterans often struggle to find meaningful work after they separate from the military, at least in part because it is difficult to translate military experience into language that civilians understand.

That said, there are a few mistakes we constantly see veterans make that are easily avoidable. By understanding these 3 pitfalls and how to avoid them, veterans can drastically improve the quality of their resumes.

1. Too long.

Having helped many vets with their job search, I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of lackluster CVs and resumes. It’s common for people who don’t know any better to have a resume that exceeds 5 pages in length. That’s madness.

On this point, the body of advice couldn’t be more clear: you never, ever need more than one page. This is because any given resume is for one purpose and one purpose only: to give a summary sufficient to get a request for more information. For most people, this means a job interview. In many other cases, it may mean an interview for graduate school or some kind of fellowship experience.

Regardless of what the circumstances, though, it’s important to trim your resume down to just one page. No hiring manager is even going to look at the second page, and many of them will immediately trash multi-page resumes.

2. Too generic.

This is closely related to the point above. Many veterans will use broad, generic language such as “results-driven military professional with positive attitude and leadership experience”. This kind of language communicates next to nothing, and leaves the sense that you don’t really have any concrete skills to speak of, or that you are so generalized that you have no focus.

The truth is that very few people are truly jacks-of-all-trades, and those that are follow the “master-of-none” rule. Almost nobody wants this kind of person because they can’t offer deep value on anything.

The best way to combat this problem is to tailor your resume to each job for which you apply. This means that you will never send the same resume twice. It takes a great deal more work, but the results are almost always worth the effort. Candidates who write resumes specific to positions get called back.

3. Too much jargon.

Outside of the military, nobody knows what the NCOIC for the S-4 shop in the BSC means. They definitely don’t care how many radios you know how to program, or what the organizational structure for any naval vessel looks like.

The problem here is that veterans tend to miss the forest for the trees. In using military language, they force themselves to contextualize everything instead of communicating the most valuable parts.

Find out what language civilians in the position you are looking for use to describe their work and use the same language to describe your own work. NCOIC for multiple logistics details can become “supply project manager”. There are many ways to communicate what kind of work you did without resorting to military jargon. The successful veteran will adapt her language to reflect the target environment, not the most recent one.

There are many common pitfalls for military veterans, but these 3 are easily the most common. Be diligent about avoiding these mistakes and you will stand out in the job market. Find someone else to help you if need be, and you’ll find ways to polish even more. Before long, you’ll find yourself negotiating multiple job interviews, and you’ll be glad you put in the work up front.