3 Ways to Effectively Assist Military and Veteran Students in Writing a Resume

by Lindsey Walk, Career Planning Coordinator, University of West Florida

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are coming to a close, and Congress has unveiled a plan to drastically reduce the number of troops on active duty. With this reduction in force, we can expect to see an increase in the number of veterans pursuing a college education and subsequently utilizing Career Services. It is important for career professionals to understand this unique population and the types of positions they are seeking so we can effectively assist them in writing their resumes.

Speak Their Language

Each branch of the military has its own acronyms and nuances, which can make it difficult for a career coach to assist in translating military experience into a resume. For example, in the Army, a soldier’s job is referred to as a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).  However, in the Navy, a sailor’s job is known as a Rating. If you are not sure what an acronym or a word means, an employer probably will not understand either. Go through the service member’s resume and identify any words you do not believe all employers would understand. Ask the service member to explain or use a search engine to look up the term. It may not be apparent to the service member that the terminology may not be understood by an employer because he or she has been using these words for his or her entire career. Since the resume is likely the most important document in the job search process, ensuring all military jargon is translated to understandable terms is critical.

Have Service Members Review Their Performance Evaluations for Useful Content

Service members have learned many skills through deployments, military training, and other experiences. These experiences are normally well-documented through the service member’s annual performance evaluations. The bullets on the performance evaluations almost always begin with an action verb and typically quantify, both of which are important traits for bullets in the experience section of a resume. They may also be divided into sections such as Competence, Physical Fitness/Military Bearing, Leadership, Training, and Responsibility/Accountability, which could assist in writing a functional resume. Take the time to discuss the experiences from their performance evaluations with them and see how they fit into the type of positions they are currently seeking. Stress to the service member that he or she does not have to show the performance evaluation to you. The performance evaluation can be reviewed privately by the service member, and he or she can choose the relevant bullets and discuss those with you.

Understand the Federal Resume

Many service members are interested in continuing to serve the United States government after leaving the service. To assist service members in this goal, career professionals must have an in-depth understanding of the USAJOBS website. The majority of federal positions are posted through USAJOBS with few exceptions. Career professionals must be aware of the drastic difference between a federal and private sector resume.

Some differences between a private sector and a federal resume include the following:

  • A private sector resume is typically 1-2 pages while it is common for a federal resume to be 3-5 pages in length
  • Federal resumes should be written in paragraph format while bullets are preferred for the private sector
  • Keywords should be capitalized on a federal resume to call the attention of the Human Resources professional reviewing the document while this would not be appropriate on a private sector resume
  • A private sector resume does not require the applicant’s social security number, supervisor’s name, and contact information, salary, veterans’ preference status, and other personal details while these are requirements of a federal resume
  • Federal resumes include a combination of details and accomplishments for all positions the applicant has ever held while private sector resumes typically require less position detail and focus more on accomplishments

It is recommended that applicants use USAJOBS resume format instead of uploading their own versions of a federal resume. Using the USAJOBS format presents the information in a clear, organized, and uniform way making it easier for Human Resource professionals to review. All career professionals should create and build a USAJOBS resume as this will make the process easier to explain to those you are assisting.

Remember that many service members join the military right out of high school and may not have written a resume previously. This is a population that has much to offer employers, and your assistance will be instrumental in helping them meet their career goals.