Please upgrade your web browser

These pages are built with modern web browsers in mind, and are not optimized for Internet Explorer 8 or below. Please try using another web browser, such as Internet Explorer 9, Internet Explorer 10, Internet Explorer 11, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari.

Service Members, Get Hired! Part IVb: Resume Guidelines

Resumes & Cover Letters

Welcome back! Today, we're going to get into some guidelines for resumes. Hopefully by now, you've begun at least a rough draft resume. You can start your own from scratch, find an example “off them internets,” or leverage a free service like HHUSA. Now it’s time to personalize it.

By personalizing it, I don’t mean putting your name on it. That should already be there. What I mean is you’re going to actually tweak it to be able to perform for you the way you want it to. Think of your resume as a living, breathing document that is an extension of you. Why? Because unless you've networked your way into the organization, it’ll be the very first representation of you that a recruiter or hiring manager sees. So let’s get to it!

There are no rules

The first guideline is pretty simple: There are no rules. Everything is debatable. Everything I'm going to suggest to you regarding your resume is debatable. You can absolutely find someone to argue against everything in this article. And that's okay! That's why if you send your resume to 10 different people, you're going to receive 10 differing pieces of feedback. I say it like this:

  • Resumes are like music. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences, and there's nothing more annoying than someone forcing you to listen to a song that you hate.

So, you might be wondering: "If I don't know what the recruiter or hiring manager's preferences are, how do you make an impactful resume?" That's the question I try to answer in my approach. My goal is to make the resume as appeasing to the masses as possible. Love it or hate it, you can't deny the success of "Pop" music. So, I've spoken with dozens upon dozens - possibly hundreds at this point - of recruiters and hiring managers over the years to try and find the "Pop" song formula for resumes.

Ultimately, if I've done my job properly, I'll have given you the "why" behind everything I'm suggesting, so you can make an educated decision on whether or not you want to implement anything I'm presenting in this article.

Formatting & Layout

The next guideline is understanding the importance of formatting and layout. If you've read any of the statistics and studies, you'll know that the average time that a resume gets looked at for the first time is only about 5-10 seconds. That's not long at all. So how do you make your resume impactful in such a short amount of time? This is the first way. I'll be discussing the other way in about two weeks in part IVd of this series (hint: it's the bullets).

So, as you can probably surmise, you want to use formatting and layout to draw the reader's eyes to where you want them to go. Presuming that's true, then the opposite is equally as important: You don't want to draw attention to things that aren't important in 5-10 seconds. Things like your name, email, and LinkedIn URL? I would argue those are not important in 5-10 seconds. Yet, we so frequently put our names in big, bold font at the top center, and our email and LinkedIn URL are blue and underlined; all drawing in the reader's attention. I would assert that none of those things are going to help get your resume onto the hiring manager.

So let's break down this guideline a hair further. I don't advocate for colored font. We've already established that it draws the reader's eyes, so why wouldn't we want to use it? Well, if a recruiter or hiring manager is like me (and I've met others like me), we like to review resumes in comfort. Our favorite chair, maybe an adult recreational beverage in our hand, and peace and quiet to concentrate. And if they're like I was when I was a hiring manager at Wells Fargo, they may not have a color printer. And guess what happens to that colored font when it's printed in black and white? That's right, it's now shaded out and less impactful.

So, when scrubbing your resume for this purpose, I would argue that you can accomplish what you want with just bold and italicized font (I don't advocate underlining in today's day and age of hyperlinks), coupled with font size and style. The point being this: You only want to highlight things that will get you past that 5-10 second review and onto the hiring manager for further review and/or an interview. If it’s not pertinent to getting you past the 5-10 second review for a more in-depth look later on, then don’t make it stand out as much on your resume.


Have you heard of those neurotic hiring managers; the types of folks who will toss a resume for a spelling error or a misplaced punctuation? They're out there. And I'm not knocking them. These types of folks often equate attention to detail to the quality of the employee. And as we all learned in the military, there are instances where attention to detail is critical. Granted, attention to detail isn't nearly as much of a life or death situation in the civilian world, but some folks put a ton of value to it, and that's their prerogative.

Now, what are you supposed to do when one thinks bullets should end in periods, and another thinks that they shouldn't? How do you combat that?! This guideline is your best chance. So, ultimately, i say if you want to end your bullets in periods. Do it. If you don't, that's fine too. Just make sure it's consistent. At the end of the day, you're not going to know if the reader agrees with what you've gone with, so if you're at least consistent, then you have a chance of appeasing the "why" behind their belief, which is attention to detail is critical.

This means if you're going to end your bullets in periods, then all bullets need to end in periods. If you double space after a period, then make sure all periods have a double space after them. If you're going to bold your role title, then make sure all role titles are bolded. You get the idea.

Acronyms & Jargon

When it comes to using acronyms, the guideline is the first time you use it, spell it out and place the acronym in parenthesis after, then use the acronym every instance thereafter; unless it’s a common acronym, like HR or IT, or an acronym familiar to the industry that you're applying to. Where issues arise, and what I often come across, are the opposites of this: The acronym is never spelled out, the person writes the acronym first and then spells it out in parenthesis, or they put the acronym in parenthesis but never actually use the acronym again. In that latter instance, save the space on your resume and leave the acronym out. When in doubt, ask someone in the industry to find out if it's an industry standard. If not, spell it out and make it an acronym in parenthesis.

Jargon's guideline is similar to acronyms: Only use jargon when it's industry-specific. However, in the military, we are so fond of our jargon that oftentimes it's complete gibberish to a civilian. Even if a civilian has heard of a jargon term, they still often do not know what it means or represents. Case in point, we love to list titles on our resume that reference unit size. For instance, we’ll put “Regiment Operations NCOIC” as a job title on our resume. Now, I can promise you that even some Veterans won’t know what this truly represents if they were not Army or Marine Corps, because the other branches don’t use that unit size designation, and no civilian is going to know what an NCOIC is. Have most civilians heard the term Regiment? Sure. But do they know that a regiment can range from about 2-4K service members, depending on the branch of service? Probably not.

So how do you accommodate for this? Through what I call “civilian-ification” of your resume. Any and every word that is military-specific needs to be replaced. And be specific! The term “senior leader” is definitely something that can translate to a civilian, but what kind of senior leader? A senior leader for a Company is usually an E7. For a Division/Strike Group/Wing senior leadership starts around the O6 level. That’s a huge difference. So either translate the unit size (i.e. senior leader of a 4,000 employee company) or by title (O6=executive/CEO, E7=director/supervisor). A quick google of the term “military translator” will usually pull up numerous options to assist you in “civilian-ifying” your resume.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to leave any room for guessing on behalf of the reader. Just like we use formatting to tell the reader where to look, your verbiage needs to tell the “layperson” exactly what you mean. On the flip side, you’ll oftentimes find both acronyms and jargon being used in actual job announcements. In those cases, they are fair game to use in your resume. When in doubt, have someone not in the military or industry read it. If they don't understand it, then it's jargon and needs to be reworded.

And that, folks, is the end of this week’s topic for some guidelines to consider when creating, revising, or tailoring your resumes! Hopefully, you’ve found some use in this article. If you did, please feel free to share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition. And of course, join me next week for Part IVc of the Employment chat as we cover a more in-depth look into each section of the resume!

As always, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!

If you have comments or feedback about any article, please email your thoughts to

About the Author

Write an Article

We welcome articles on any subject that might help our veterans. Articles are especially useful in place of frequently similar responses, and can be linked in your replies.

Add an article