This is the third in a three-part series. For the other posts in the series, click here.
7. You’re An Effective Communicator, but Your Resume Says Otherwise
The kind of people employers want to hire instinctively know how to write a good resume because they’re effective at communicating. They don’t need to tell me they have good communications skills — I can tell from the resume and its organization.
The reason is simple: poorly organized resumes make it more difficult for recruiters to find information and evaluate a prospect. Resumes that get results show less data, contain less clutter and have better formatting, which make them easier to read.
By now, you already know what employers are looking for and have figured out what you have to offer. Now you need a resume strategy. Learning how to strategize your resume is the absolute #1 secret to opening doors and getting interviews. This is can’t be stressed enough!
8. You Don’t Know What the Heck a Resume Strategy Is
Developing a resume strategy means sitting down and figuring out exactly what message you want to convey to your audience. As I said in the beginning of this series, most people think of resume writing as documenting their career history, but that’s absolutely the wrong way to think about it. By now you should realize that your resume is a windshield, not a rearview mirror marketing tool.
How Do You Settle on a Resume Strategy?
We’ve pretty much laid the foundation for your military resume strategy in my two earlier posts in this series. So far, I’ve talked about how important it is to understand what employers need (what keeps them up at night) and why you have to fully focus on what you bring to the table (your unique value and ability to ease their pain).
To decide on your resume strategy, see where the two intersect. Look at your ability to add value and match that to the needs of your target employers. Where the two meet is your unique value proposition, and that’s the basis for your resume strategy. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
So, for a technician, the key message might be to show how many repairs you’ve made at various units over the years.
A senior officer might be targeting companies that sell emerging military technology and systems, and therefore their strategy will be to position themselves as the “emerging military systems expert.”
A Senior NCO might have identified her biggest strength as her ability to delight department heads and commanding officers with her ability to provide technical assistance and knowledge of electrical principles, so she decides this is what she wants to communicate.
You may say to yourself, “Sultan, that’s common sense.” However, the mistake most military transitioners make is trying to communicate too many different messages in one document. Just like we often do in the military, decide on your strategy and then stick to it! It’s okay to have several different resumes, each with a different target audience and strategy in mind.
9. You Don’t Know How to Put It All Together
Okay, so you’ve done lot of researching, soul-searching and focusing. Hopefully you’ve been copying and pasting a lot of job titles and announcements (at least 15 to 20) onto a master word document. You should have a very clear idea by now what you want to communicate. Now you can make some decisions about how to do that.
Consider the following, with the six-second rule in mind:
- What will your resume headline say?
- How will you communicate technical qualifications and your core message right upfront?
- What evidence can you provide (all the way through the resume) to support your core message?
- How might you use your personal awards or LinkedIn recommendations to reinforce your message?
- What career accomplishments can you highlight that will support your message?
Your title is your chance to tell me you’re a decisive, imaginative person who knows where your post-military career is headed. You need to prioritize your next position in terms of location, job and money. It’s that simple. What job title will make you stand out to potential employers?
Why is this so important? Let me illustrate. The following titles from recent resumes I’ve received indicate lazy military job seekers who haven’t worked on their resumes since attending Transition GPS:
- “Military Professional,Transitioning to Civilian Workforce in Summer 2014”
- “Transitioning Military Officer”
- ”Transitioning XXX with Executive and Management Experience.”
See a trend? If your title is similar, I won’t bother to read further, because you haven’t done anything to distinguish yourself from the 400-600 military-to-civilian resume examples facing employers every day.
Furthermore, you’ve shown no imagination or initiative. Why would I hire you?
One of the best titles I have seen recently was: “Experienced & PHR Certified Human Resource Manager Willing to Relocate in Northeast.” Why is this so good? This person thought about the title and told me in eight words that they a) have experience, b) want a Human Resource Manager Job, and c) are only interested in Northeast jobs. Not only can this person communicate effectively; they’re decisive.
Getting Your Objective Statement Right
The following objective statements are losers:
- A (insert military job title here) seeking a position combining software, hardware and systems design, development and support.
- Seeking a challenging position as a software engineer developing system or application software in a UNIX/C environment.
The first is terrible — this person just wants a job; it doesn’t matter what kind or where. The second is not much better, except the scope has been limited to UNIX and C.
I know narrowing your focus is a hard thing to do. I realize it’s hard to come up with a good objective statement when you’re in the beginning stages of your transition. It’s much easier when you’re drafting a resume for a specific or targeted job opening. Still, you’re going to face this predicament many times over. It’s also important that you drop the resume or job search jargon.
Here’s an example of an objective and statement I would use for myself:
I use my civilian transition and military recruitment experience, combined with my writing skills and knowledge of HR, to source and screen qualified quality candidates that grab the attention of Hiring Decision Makers. As a graduate of George Washington University’s HRD Program with a background in Human Resource training and leadership development, I’m able to write engaging, easy-to-follow blogs that teach thousands of potential prospects how to navigate the job market and connect with your company. One of my recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spending in this area. I saved them over $800,000 in just six months. Plus, they didn’t cut any services to their current HR staff, nor did their firm have to pay more.
Something like this will get a hiring manager to read on, because you’ve shown thought about where your career is going and that you’re interested in a broad range of topics and desire to take on new challenges.
Ditch the long paragraphs of text. No one has the time to read these, so keep the resume succinct and to the point. Lists and bullets are concise and effective.
On the top of your priority list, have seasoned professionals, such as those at the State Employment Agencies, FFSC, Army ACAP or AFRC centers, review your resume. Because these folks know their stuff when it comes to resume critiques. They know first-hand how challenging and frustrating it can be trying to develop an effective resume during your transition and job search. I want my fellow veterans to be assisted by an expert who has experience in dealing with military transition jobs and identifying jobs for ex-military.
Pare down the clutter by avoiding large blocks of text and use plenty of white space. Let me say again: no paragraphs! Start your bullet points with action words and tell your story based on what you’ve discovered is important to the employer. Make sure your online profiles are easy to read and review them as well.
Focus on your current and last positions. Make sure it’s clear when you started working at each place, and list a descriptive title with nouns and keywords included for both.
Listing Your Experience
If you have more than five years of relevant experience, employers don’t care what your GPA was. If you’re just out of school (congrats to my fellow Post 9/11 GI Bill Veterans) and have switched careers from your military specialty, your GPA should be in a prominent location. As for experience, military-friendly companies looking to hire veterans want to see relevant experience. Remember, they’re hiring based on skills, not quotas.
For example, collateral duties that only took a few hours each month, or being recognized for executive-level communications and creating cohesiveness with diverse groups to achieve a common goal, is not relevant to software development. Don’t pad your resume with this type of experience if it’s not relevant to the position you’re seeking. Always keep in mind that your civilian competition will have years of a specific type of experience in an industry.
Your experience section should show potential employers that you’re organized, you have communication skills and you can and will be capable of doing exactly what their requirements are, at a minimum. Lead off with the technical — certifications, degrees and security clearance requirements. Then you can move on to the transferable or “slushy stuff.”
If you have experience, tell employers what you’ve done (in your own words) that will convince them you have organization, leadership and communication skills. If you have no civilian experience — as is typical of most recent military transitioners — show them, with examples from the service, how you demonstrate these skills. People always remember stories. After all, you’ve got your favorite ones, right?
Finally, the experience section is the place to assert your personality and creativity. Be creative and don’t simply mimic every job description you see; make it contextual and readable. I mean really readable — actually read your resume aloud when you’re finished to hear how it sounds. If it doesn’t sound like something you would say, change it up. You’d be amazed how effective this simple step can be in making your resume be more engaging to its readers.
Getting Your Resume Past the Gunkulator (a.k.a. Applicant Tracking Software)
First of all, you should have your contact information at the top of the page (but not in a header):
- your name
- contact info
- the best phone number to reach you at (not all of your phone numbers)
- your email address (which should match your military email address in terms of professionalism)
- a link to your LinkedIn profile
Use web standard fonts such a Georgia, Arial, Tahoma or Verdana (at least a little more exciting than Times New Roman). Don’t abbreviate (e.g. don’t say “Mgr.” instead of “Manager”).
Use www.tagcrowd.com or www.wordle.net to recognize the recurring keywords in the job descriptions you’ve selected. Don’t feel forced to confine yourself to one page — ATS doesn’t care about length. As a matter of fact, a longer resume may increase your chances. However, remember that a human is going to eventually look at it, so find out from current and former employees at your target company what the preferred length is.
Don’t stress about fancy formatting; instead pay attention to proper capitalization and punctuation. I would even resort to getting an English major to do this if you can. Of course, spell check goes without saying, and once again, as I stomp my feet: read it out aloud!
Here’s a secret tip: resources such as the LinkedIn labs resume builder, Do You Buzz or Resume Genius generate well formatted resumes automatically for you. I really like and have used these successfully.
Finally, before you hit submit to any job posting, see if you can reach out to their HR folks or the hiring manager. If this isn’t possible, use www.jobscan.co to score your resume against the job posting so you know what your chances are.
By keeping your strategy in mind as you structure your resume, you’ll avoid having a historical collection of your military evaluations, awards and generic VMET/ONET language. Instead you will have what hiring managers and recruiters call “a strategic, well polished representation of you” that will press all the right buttons for your target employers and give them a compelling reason to pick up the phone and call you.
As always, I’m eager to hear your feedback — good or bad. You can also feel free to connect with me or catch me on one of my live Military Transition webinars.
What other questions do you have about creating your resume? Share them with us in the comments!