9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your Military Resume… and What to Do About it (Part 1)

Resume Problems

This is the first in a three-part series. For the other posts in the series, click here.


Dear Military Job Seekers:

We regret to inform you that because we have no idea how to interpret military resumes for civilian jobs, the nation’s job market will continue to force veterans to take jobs you’re overqualified for or jobs outside your military specialty, delaying your careers at the expense of your salaries for at least a decade.

This is what a rejection letter may look like for your military resume submission, if you’re lucky enough to get a rejection letter.

A recent June job report gave veterans a puzzling picture. Employers added 288,000 jobs, the most jobs in more than two years. Unemployment dropped from 6.3% to 6.1%, the lowest it’s been since September, 2008. However, the number of veterans unemployed in June was 578,000.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s stiff competition, and your success lies in how you stand out from your fellow transitioning veterans. Your military resume writing goes far beyond the basic concepts of chronological, functional or combination (see me yawning already?) resume formats.

If you’re looking for military resume writing examples, read no further; you can find some good ones here. However, that’s for the lazy. If you want to know the things that HR won’t tell you, read on.

I’m amused that in today’s job market, most service members looking for jobs after the military still depend solely on their resumes. I know that although the debate rages on over whether or not the resume is dying, there is still a need for military job seekers to have a solid one. The biggest need? To have a readable resume.

A well-constructed job search is really a personal project management effort. It’s essentially a marketing project where you are the project. So, if you’re not looking at the job search this way, you’re essentially waiting for someone to offer you something. If you’re thinking, I’m submitting resumes and applying for hundreds of jobs online, so I must be doing a job search, you’re fooling yourself — and, worse yet, you’re being lazy. A sloppy resume is an indication of someone who isn’t ready to put out the effort.


Think It’s About You? It’s Not

When you’re struggling with how to write a resume, you’re likely focused on yourself. That’s why most military professionals commit the cardinal sin of trying to find a military-to-civilian translator or military resume builder. You have questions like “How do I explain what I did in the military?” or “How do I show I have the important skills civilians are looking for?” or “Should I explain why I left this job after such a long time?”

These are all reasonable questions, but it’s this focus on you that gets in your way. That’s because your resume isn’t about you.I know that sounds a bit harsh, but if you’re used to reading my other posts, you’re used to it by now. Let me say this again: If you’re focused on you, you’re missing the point. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

If you want your resume to grab the attention of employers, it needs to be about them.

That brings me to the most important point. Your resume isn’t a history paper — it’s a marketing tool. You have to develop a clear strategy. Only after you’ve done this will you be able to draft a message that will sell and avoid being called what we recruiters refer to as a “resume spammer” or “crapplicant,” someone who is firing lots resumes away hoping one will eventually stick.

Your military resume writing should convey a message that will make recruiters and employers want to call you as soon as they read your resume. That’s what your strategy is — it’s the overarching message you want to communicate. We often preach this as “Think, Key, Speak” when we train our comrades in communication protocol. So why stop now?

But let me be explicitly clear: when it comes to getting a job, who you know really does matter. No matter how nice your resume is or how great your experience may be, it’s all about connections. So you may have some homework to do if you think a resume alone will get it done for you.

I read a lot of hard-copy resumes and resumes that military job seekers like you create using your military awards and evaluations, ONET and VMET. I also see the wreckage of those who have paid so-called “military resume writing” services. So let me give you some reasons why employers will not read your military resume, in a three part series — you asked for meat and potatoes stuff, right?

For our first part of this series you have to know what you’re up against:


1. Hiring Managers Are Not Really Trying to Find You

Most HR screeners are in a bad mood. Why? How would you feel if you got 250 resumes to read for each of the 10 positions you have open, and you’re not getting any extra pay to pay close attention to any of them?

Most screeners are rushed for time, so they’re annoyed by having to read yet another resume and are actually hostile rather than sympathetic. Having to read another resume is a burden that’s keeping them from their attention on what they consider much, much more important matters on their daily to-do lists. Trust me on this — watching paint dry on a wall is more appealing to me than reviewing someone’s resume. You’ve got a maximum of six seconds to make an impact, according to this really insightful Ladders study of recruiter behavior.

What are we looking for in six seconds? The study revealed that recruiters spent almost 80% of their resume review time looking at just a few essential elements: your name, current title and company, previous title and company, start and end dates for current and previous positions, where you want to work and education. In the six seconds they spent on these bits of information, they absorbed little else. So whether you want to hear it or not, that narrow focus means that unless you make these four areas extremely easy for them to find within approximately four seconds, the odds are high you’l be instantly passed over.

So, when you write your resume (or have anyone else help you write it), take the context above to heart. You’re not going to make the cut if you’re not in the same industry, your job titles aren’t familiar, you don’t have the years of matching experience, you have significant gaps or your salary doesn’t match what the company has budgeted for that position.

Most employers are not interested in your personal objectives for your life and your career. They’re only interested in how you can help their company solve its problems and achieve its goals — that’s why they hire.


2. There Is No Real Military Resume Builder (and You Have No Idea Who Or What You’re Up Against)

In the recruiting industry, we have what’s known as a “hiring funnel” for every job. This hiring funnel helps recruiters understand how many total applications they need to generate in order to get a single hire or placement. Most military job seekers aren’t aware of this, because you simply don’t have a “need to know.” However, as an applicant, you do need to know. This funnel reveals your chances of success at each step of the hiring process.

For the specific case of an online job posting, 1,000 people (on average) will see a published job posting, and many will look at the job for less than 50 seconds. You have to read the job posting carefully to ensure that you meet the minimum qualifications required.

Out of these 1,000 people, 200 will begin the application process. However, 100 will actually complete the application (surprising, huh?). About 75 of those 100 resumes will be screened out by either the Applicant Tracking Software or a recruiter.

Once past the gatekeepers, 25 resumes will be seen by the hiring manager, 4-6 will be invited for an interview, 1-3 of them will be invited back for final interview, 1 will be offered that job and 80% of those receiving an offer will accept it. Do you see why I use the analogy of paying the lottery when it comes to hitting the “apply” button?

Still not using RSS Feeds and Twitter to get jobs as quickly as possible? Well, knowing now that the first resume hits a company’s system 200 seconds after the job is posted; you may need to re-evaluate that strategy. Timing of your submission is critical in today’s job market.

Also, this funnel makes HR Professionals some of the seasoned and most skeptical readers in the world. They know that at least half of what they read consists of lies, exaggerations, half-truths and semantic and formatting tricks, such as using white text (do not do this!). They don’t accept anything at face value. Remember, as I mentioned, the typical resume reader sees literally thousands of resumes; they know every trick in the book. Make sure to keep that in mind, and you’ll have a much better chance of having your resume taken seriously if you’re honest in claiming that civilian job experience as your own.

One of your main objectives is to bypass these “gatekeepers” if you can. Unless they have a military background, they are totally unaware of your unique strengths and the value that you can potentially bring to the organization. That’s because in most resumes, the person’s unique strengths and potential value are buried somewhere in the middle of the resume and not written for a skimmer because they started by using their awards, evaluations and “military to civilian” translators.


3. You’re Really Out of Touch and Still Writing Cover Letters

Read a thousand resume articles, you’ll get a thousand differing opinions. Who are the authors? What are their backgrounds? Most importantly, are they in the hiring process in their current roles or, at the minimum, networked and connected with those of us in the private sector who are?

Everyone claims to have the secret to resume success. For the longest time, it was “verbs.” (This is still the focus in a lot of transition seminars.) Since a verb is an action word, we are led to believe this will make the content more interesting. It doesn’t.

Some focus exclusively on numbers. “You’ve got to have lots of quantitative data in your resume,” you’re told. As a result, when I’m at job fairs I see resumes that look more like a math problem, with a mind-blowing array of numbers, and I don’t believe that they’re any more impressive to the typical resume reader than using a bewildering array of verbs. You want to tell stories, not just state facts.

No one will read your resume in detail — that much we all know. Most gatekeepers will skim-read for about six seconds or less. They’re looking for certain information first, to see if the resume is worth reading in more detail.

(On a separate note, walking in and dropping off your resume is no longer seen as a good thing. It’s actually a little creepy.)

Okay, let me say this one more time in case you missed it: Cover letters are dead. What can you say in a cover letter that you cannot say in a resume? Most of the recruiters I know go straight to your resume. As a matter of fact, a Senior Human Resource Manager friend of mine hadn’t read any cover letters in 12 years.

If you do insist on sending a cover letter, or are asked for one specifically, consider using a “T Letter” instead. Don’t waste your time sending this to anyone other than directly to a hiring decision-maker, along with your resume via a method that gives you delivery confirmation. Yes, finding out who this person is can be hard. But if it were easy everyone would do it, and you’re not trying to be everyone else, are you?

Another thing that is almost never read (sorry to be the bearer of bad news): your list of courses you took in school (military or civilian). If you’re experienced, I don’t care what military courses you took or what marks you received on them. If you’re inexperienced and are looking for a very specialized job, then you need to convince the employer that those specific classes you took and projects you worked on have prepared you sufficiently for the position you’re applying for. Providing a list of courses that looks like your military training record is meaningless.

What about your military awards? Keep them for the phone screening or the face-to-face interview. Your hobbies? Personal interests and hobbies have no bearing on a hiring decision. However, it’s important to note that if you do come across as likable during the phone screen, you’ll probably be asked about these just to put you at ease and to establish some common ground. Tread carefully, though — any hint your hobbies will require time away from work may cost you that job opportunity.

Finally, have a Hotmail or AOL email address? That HR screener may chuckle and ask himself you still have dial-up as well. I highly suggest you change to Gmail, or if you’re really savvy you can register your own domain name and use that to show you’re in tune with technology.

In my next post, we’ll talk about the most important question to ask when you’re writing a resume.

What are some of your biggest questions when it comes to writing and submitting a resume? Tweet at us!


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  • http://twitter.com/PRKristie/status/503856959809134592/ Kristie Clement (@PRKristie)

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your Military Resume… and What to Do About it. @SAPVetsToWork @careersultan http://t.co/O6YjcxeECy

  • http://twitter.com/careersultan/status/503869141795622913/ Sultan Camp ツ (@careersultan)

    If you’re focused on you, you’re missing the point. @orioncareers on @EveryVetHired http://t.co/qO9JfyqlBn #veterans #jobsearch #military

  • http://twitter.com/careersultan/status/503887687229919232/ Sultan Camp ツ (@careersultan)

    @JobHuntOrg @2Patra #MilitaryMonday -Why Military Resumes Get Ignored and what to do about it http://t.co/6Kv5dUMHX9 a lightning quick read.

  • http://twitter.com/JimAtLutech/status/503941308042342401/ @JimAtLutech

    BeFunky_resumelies.jpg.jpg http://t.co/qkKHQFTen8

  • Thomas Shenk

    Sultan, once again another thought provoking article. I’m happy to see what you said about cover letters, definitely oneo f my banes in this process. The six seconds is scary, but most of us have faced promotion boards and realize the reality of this situation. Helps me focus on rewriting (again) my resume.

  • http://twitter.com/ValliSwerdlow/status/504079395611353088/ @ValliSwerdlow

    This is a great article with sound advice. Hope that many more job seekers will take it. It works! http://t.co/zNXk7WYsO0

  • http://twitter.com/orioncareers/status/504252289868398592/ Orion International (@orioncareers)

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your Military Resume & What to Do About it via @EveryVetHired @careersultan http://t.co/GHFzRvxJhd

  • http://twitter.com/hirevets/status/504252312664432640/ @hirevets

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your Military Resume & What to Do About it via @EveryVetHired @careersultan http://t.co/H2dztNuv6Q

  • http://twitter.com/SarahTY4lm/status/504336944185085952/ Sarah J. Cobb (@SarahTY4lm)

    If you’re focused on you, you’re missing the point. @orioncareers on @EveryVetHired http://t.co/taIb6kZkgV #veterans #jobsearch

  • http://twitter.com/jrduplissey/status/504371857231843328/ @jrduplissey

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your Military Resume… and What to Do About it (Part 1) – Every Veteran Hired http://t.co/Bstr2cOe6w

  • http://twitter.com/Anthology4Vets/status/504383826068389888/ @Anthology4Vets

    We don’t agree with all the author says, but it is worth a read. #veterans #military #employment http://t.co/1RnP85pc0x

  • http://twitter.com/freewithwings/status/504424510552952832/ @freewithwings

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your Military Resume… and What to Do About it (Part 1) http://t.co/d6hQEz4cVV via @EveryVetHired

  • http://twitter.com/prolmsted2007/status/504596340202958848/ @prolmsted2007

    If you’re focused on you, you’re missing the point. @orioncareers on @EveryVetHired http://t.co/4OlLFFxYwq #veterans #jobsearch

  • http://twitter.com/ArmyPittsburgh/status/504743314554634240/ @ArmyPittsburgh

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Read Your Military Resume – http://t.co/CalNZGOhLg

  • lsutarheel

    When will Parts II & III be available?

    • http://www.everyveteranhired.com/ EveryVeteranHired

      Part II airs on 9/15 and Part III airs 9/29.

  • NavymanBill

    Good article. the job search has changed dramatically in just a few years.

  • http://twitter.com/pef273/status/505353825562394624/ @pef273

    Really useful Military Resume Advice http://t.co/rJakDV1h2a #vets #resumes

  • Bubba

    The problem is the reason they don’t read it is because the writer didn’t translate the military to civilian. When I retired I was stressed to translate it so the civilian HR’s could understand. Every interview I have gone to, they all have liked my format and they could understand it. Get help as much as you can when writing it.

  • http://twitter.com/dfeddo/status/506680657255223298/ @dfeddo

    If you’re focused on you, you’re missing the point. @orioncareers on @EveryVetHired http://t.co/F1K0D8RfP0 #veterans #jobsearch

  • http://twitter.com/JenConole/status/507138522579738626/ @JenConole

    9 Reasons your Military Resume Won’t Get Read: http://t.co/RM001CnUcz @SultanCamp #EveryVeteranHired

  • disqus_medWbWoGkt

    Good thing I’m not looking for a job. I don’t know, I think dropping off a resume in person is not at all “creepy”, rather it’s proactive. Also, the condescending sarcastic sentence regarding having a Hotmail account is ridiculous. Gmail will totally invade your privacy, as they are owned by Google, which is well known for invasion of privacy. If this is truly the way things are, I’m appalled, and very grateful that I will be retiring in a little less than five years. The entire article is snarky and rude.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnRussaw/status/512080253565431809/ @JohnRussaw

    9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your #Military Resume… and What to Do About it (Part 1) http://t.co/Cxfpd8IqJY via @EveryVetHired

  • steve

    Sultan is correct, dropping off a resume at the job fair when we are trying to get to our flight is not a bright idea. Yes I do not read cover letters, they can expose personal information that can and will be used to eliminate your candidacy. I have worked with Sultan at Norfolk, he truly us passionate about your career.

  • jpchopper

    Sultan, thank you for sharing the insight you put into the information you share here. I have been to some of the events sponsored by Orion that you were at, and they are incredibly effective.
    I attribute much of the fact that I am employed to using your pointers and taking another look at my resume(s). Thanks and keep up the good service, I know if you’ve helped me a lot, there are hundreds of others too.

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  • http://www.cf-toolbox.com Jim Harris

    I’m not entirely sure I agree with the premise of this article (which I found via a link on LinkedIn). To successfully tie in military experience within a resume or cover letter one needs to demonstrate that the experience gained in the service is the foundation of the skills the employer is looking to employ. Rather than offer the sediment of ‘hire me because I was in the military’ offer one that reflects how the employer will benefit from the skills you obtained while serving. Here is an example of my video cover that helped me land a position that I absolutly love and I feel I can truly add value to the company: https://youtu.be/Yao1DVQV1Tk