Military to Civilian Resume Writing Tip:

Format is Key to Success

by Jessie Richardson, CPRW


Many of my transitioning military clients are overwhelmed at the thought of capturing their experience in a resume, just like their civilian counterparts. Getting started with writing military to civilian resumes can be overwhelming but choosing the right resume format can be the key to getting your resume read.  You may have heard that there are several resume styles from which to choose. Although technically that is true, there is really only one style that you should use. So heed this warning before you put that pen to paper – no matter who has “sold” you on a functional format – do not listen!


Functional Resume vs. Reverse Chronological Resume

The two most popular resume formats that can also be used for military to civilian resumes are functional and reverse chronological. A reverse chronological resume lists employment with the most recent position first. Each entry includes the company, job title, dates, and a job description with an emphasis on accomplishments, and includes an education or certifications section. Functional resumes begin with a professional summary that lists primary functional skills, such as project management, maintenance, reorganization, etc. This is followed by skills and significant achievements for each of the primary functional skills. Next is a tabular summary of employment, followed by education and certifications. 

Pitfalls of the Functional Resume

There are three problems with functional resumes. First, they do not provide hiring managers with enough information. As a hiring authority, how am I to know if you have three months or three years of “project management” experience? Second, they come across as suspicious. Functional resumes are popular among people with something to hide, such as habitual “job hoppers” and those with large gaps in their employment history. Third, they tend to be heavy on empty phrases like, “exceptional leadership skills.” To a seasoned resume reviewer, this means nothing.  A great resume leads the reader, on his or her own, to come up with the very assertions you would like to make.  Aim to show not tell – a hard order to fill with a functional resume.

Advantages of the Reverse Chronological Resume

In summary, readers want the resume in a certain format. When creating your military to civilian resume, list your work experiences in reverse chronological order rather than by function performed. If collateral duties and multiple, simultaneous jobs make your reverse chronological timeline somewhat difficult to follow, add a “collateral duties” or “additional experience” section and keep the focus on experience most relevant to your target. While a functional resume may make you feel better about representing your skills, it will not please the reader and you could suffer the consequences because your resume ended up in the trash.


Jessie Richardson directs operations for, the military-to-civilian transition experts. She is a Naval Academy graduate and a regular commentator on job search best practices for military-experienced job seekers.