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How to Write a Career Change Resume

I just learned that my cousin Kevin (nice name) has deployed to Iraq with his National Guard Unit. Like many folks, he'll face special challenges when he returns to look for a civilian job.

This article will give him (and you) proven ways to switch from one career to another, by writing a resume that describes military (or other) experience in terms that qualify you for what you want to do next.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you've spent the last year in Iraq maintaining 100 armored personnel carriers and supervising a detachment of 25 soldiers. You’re back in Chicago and you want a job as a mechanic.

Your resume should emphasize only the mechanically relevant parts of what you did in Iraq, such as troubleshooting vehicles (NEVER armored personnel carriers, APCs or other jargon), repairing engines, maintaining them, etc.

Describe anything you did to improve reliability and performance -- the time and money saved, especially. Don't write about combat, but do tell about how you achieved results under "high-stress conditions" (that's combat) and anything you did to improve things from a mechanic's point of view.

But what if you don't want a job as a mechanic? Let’s say you want to switch from the military to managing an auto parts store instead. What then?

You write a resume that focuses on your achievements related to management.

Example: don't say you managed “soldiers” ­ say you managed “personnel” or “team members.” Focus on how you trained and developed people. The budgets and inventories you supervised. How you improved things, from a manager’s point of view.

Get the idea? Describe what you've done before in terms of what you want to do next.

Now. Here’s one final bit of advice for anyone changing careers -- avoid functional resumes.

A functional resume usually lists "skills" or "areas of expertise," followed by a sparse career history that lists job titles and little else. And it can be the kiss of death for your job search.


Because functional resumes are used to hide something, like irrelevant experience or a spotty work record. When hiring managers see a functional resume, their defenses go up … and the chances you'll be called to interview go down.

So, what resume style works best? Try a hybrid format.

A “hybrid” resume mixes relevant skills and achievements with paid/unpaid experience. Here’s how …

First, know your employer. Most job seekers don't, which is an opportunity for you. Open with a tailored OBJECTIVE that appeals to the hiring manager, and back up that OBJECTIVE with relevant skills/experience, like this:


"Position in graphic design where software skills and a strong knowledge of design principles will add value."

Second, add a PROFILE section. Here you can describe 2-4 of your most valuable skills or areas of expertise. The aim of your PROFILE is to prove you have the right skills to do your next job.

Don't make the mistake of listing 5, 10 or more skills here ­ if you list too many, you can't be considered an expert in any.

The bullet points in your PROFILE can come from anywhere -- a military project you led last week, a degree you completed three years ago or volunteer work that makes you qualified. Just be sure to back up your claims with specific facts and figures.

Here’s an example of language to help an Army Computer Technician transition into a civilian position:

* Valuable technical skills. Quick to master new hardware and software. Ranked #1 in training class and among most productive on team in recent Technical Support role (2001-2003).

Third, include a SELECTED ACHIEVEMENTS section, with 2-4 bullet points describing good things you've done related your target job. Your aim here is to excite hiring managers, frankly. Anything that made or saved time or money, or increased efficiency, is fair game.

Include achievements from recent military experience, earlier jobs, volunteer work, hobbies or education, for example. Don't overdo it here ­ list no more than 3-4 bullets or you risk derailing the reader’s attention.

After that, include your EDUCATION/TRAINING or EXPERIENCE section, depending on which is more relevant to your new career. Focus on things you did related to your target job. Skip everything else.

So, know that you *can* transition back to a civilian job or change careers entirely. Just make sure your resume makes it clear that you have the skills and work ethic to do that next job well.

-Kevin Donlin

Kevin Donlin is President of Guaranteed Resumes. Since 1996, he and his writers have provided resumes, cover letters and online job-search assistance to clients on five continents. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal's National Business Employment Weekly, CBS, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and many others. Get your Free Job Search Kit ($25.00 value) at the Guaranteed Resumes Website -

copyright © by Kevin Donlin