By McLean Mills

Military Times, May 3, 2020

Making the transition from the military to a civilian career path might feel overwhelming at first. At first glance, it might appear that you’re starting from scratch without any usable skills or credentials in the civilian world. However, if you’re willing to take some time to dig beneath the surface, you’ll find that you have much more to offer than you might suppose. 

At the same time, when you’re putting together a resume for your transition from the military to a civilian career, there are a number of big mistakes you can make that will sink your application before you ever get started. Let’s explore them one by one:

Mistake 1: Lacking direction from the military to a specific career or position

When you’re transitioning from the military to a civilian career, you need to recognize that there are literally tens of thousands of possible positions that you are theoretically eligible to fill. If you try to make a general resume that could appeal to all of them, you’re only going to end up wasting your time, because, as I discussed above, you need a resume that’s specifically targeted to the few specific positions you’re aiming at.

To get started, whittle down all the available jobs to the ones you’re best qualified for because of your prior military experience. Then, customize your resume to reflect that target position. Having a clear target position that you’re aiming for will make your job search much more focused and productive.

Mistake 2: Too much “military speak”

The military, like any industry, has its own collection of lingo and acronyms that might be familiar to you, but come off as gibberish to anyone unfamiliar with it. So, for example, instead of specifying that you were the “officer in charge” of an operation, talk about how you “managed” it.

A great example of fixing military lingo comes from Military OneSource, which recommends replacing jargon such as “SNOIC for 2d MarDiv G-3, planning and executing all logistics for operations conducted in our AOR” with easier-to-understand language such as, “Supervised staff of 15 people. Planned and coordinated operations conducted by various subordinate units within our division.”

Mistake 3: Failing to convey experience and skills valuable to your target job

Building a resume involves a lot more than just writing down all the things you’ve done in your military career. A big mistake job-seekers often make is simply listing their skills, experience, and accomplishments without regard for what the hiring manager is looking for.

(J Herrera/Unsplash)

To put it bluntly, hiring managers don’t care about what you’ve done. They care about what you can do for them — how well your skills match the work they want you to do.

To achieve this, you need to comb through the job description of your target position, identify the key skills they’re looking for, and put those front-and-center in your resume. If you want to really make those skills pop, consider adding an objective statement to your resume.

Another way to emphasize your specific skills is to write a cover letter explaining exactly how your skills and experience fit with the job criteria. As an added bonus, a recent cover letter study by ResumeGo found that well-crafted cover letters resulted in a “53% higher callback rate than applications with no cover letter at all.”

Mistake 4: Discussing your disabilities

If your military career has left you with a disability, it’s best to avoid mentioning that in your resume. Why? According to, the unemployment rate for adults with disabilities is about 70 percent, which strongly suggests an unconscious bias against Americans with disabilities. Even though hiring managers can’t hire or fire on the basis of a disability, they can certainly weed out resumes based on unconscious biases.

Mistake 5: Failing to understand proper resume etiquette

There are a number of basic rules prescribing how resumes should be formatted and arranged in order to make life easier for hiring managers who often review hundreds of resumes a week. If your resume is poorly formatted and organized, it will be more difficult for hiring managers to identify your relevant skills and experience, and they’ll likely screen it out.

Mistake 6: Not getting help if you aren’t a proficient writer

An astonishing 60 percent of resumes are routinely rejected purely on the basis of basic spelling or grammatical errors. Don’t let yours be one of them. If you struggle with basic writing and editing skills, it might be worthwhile to check out a resume writing service that can help you craft a resume that’s well-written and grammatically correct.


While making an effective transition from the military to a civilian career can be challenging, you’ll do just fine as long as you avoid the key mistakes listed above. Make sure you customize your education, skills, and experience to the job you’re searching for, and get the right help when you need it.

McLean Mills is a certified career coach and resume writer.

This article was previously posted at Military Times, visit