9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read your Military Resume… and What to Do About it (Part 3)

Key Cover Letter MessagesThis 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!

Image: Flickr

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  • http://twitter.com/careersultan/status/517091676838711297/ Sultan Camp ツ (@careersultan)

    @MildotcomJobs “Why an Employer Won’t Ever Read Your #Military #Resume” http://t.co/WM1ak4n7iP http://t.co/fe2kPu2Nf0

  • http://twitter.com/careersultan/status/517111075368878081/ Sultan Camp ツ (@careersultan)

    @EveryVetHired:9 Reasons an Employer Won’t Ever Read your Military Resume and What to Do About it (Pt 3) http://t.co/xOgyYVzAgt #SHRMLeadHR

  • http://twitter.com/Letmewriteit4u/status/517271191112138752/ @Letmewriteit4u

    Epic Fails in Your Military Resume Will Land You In the Cyber- Black Hole…Read on to avoid this dilemma http://t.co/8BtSDRDgJj

  • Susan

    Excellent article Sultan. Thank you. One of the things I noticed as a Hiring Decision Maker is the number of government resumes veterans use as their civilian resume. As a veteran myself, when I see a government resume pop up in my ATS I usually pick up the phone and call the applicant to provide a little GAS (guidance, advice, and support). If you are a veteran who is uploading your government resume as your primary resume for applying to civilian jobs, please stop. As soon as a HDM opens your resume and sees the multitude of paragraphs, your done. End of story. Thank you again Sultan for taking the time out of your busy schedule to educate veterans on how to succeed in getting past the “Gunkulator” and into the interview.

  • http://twitter.com/SAPVetsToWork/status/517628291566817280/ Veterans to Work (@SAPVetsToWork)

    Part three of recruiter Sultan Camp’s series about military resumes…. http://t.co/OCe8wMuQeL

  • http://twitter.com/MilVetsRC/status/517724831195082752/ @MilVetsRC

    Do employers actually read your resume? Find out: http://t.co/buEEpHEI1H http://t.co/ViIOJawdSe

  • Jennifer Garraty Hargett

    Thank You for a great article with real, practical advice. As a TAP-GPS Employment workshop trainer, I cover much of this material. I will be sharing this article in my next class, as it helps to validate the course material. My experience has been that the Military Transitioners prefer advice “straight from the horse’s mouth”.

  • Paul Forel

    The only thing missing here is a sample transitioning veteran’s resume.

  • Paul Forel

    “….. 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.”

    This is bad advice, Mr. Camp.

    Including examples of leadership can suggest a ‘software developer’ could be considered eligible for a supervisory, managerial or executive role. In this example, obviously, over an IT group. Submitting a resume that only speaks to the job description without giving hint there is ‘more’ to be gained from hiring this person is cutting one’s self short because, ideally, we are looking for a Resume Reader who can see past the job description and recognize when someone with ‘more’ is applying.

    The disconnect that presents itself here is when we have a RR who has no depth of vision or imagination and is reading, word-for-word, from a job description. I have direct knowledge of someone who came from the infantry and was hired by Microsoft not because he had an IT certificate but because he had military leadership experience that was considered an asset Microsoft could take advantage of. Showing that you are a leader is never a mistake unless you are applying for a dishwasher job.

    (And if the ‘mixed message’ confuses that corporate HR initial screener, we have made a case why corporate HR needs to re-invent their candidate intake processes and why it is always best to contact a Hiring Authority directly vs. applying using a company ATS.

    The only other position on this I can accept is if the applicant saves the leadership conversation for the F2F interview. Some would see this as the ‘safer’ approach. What a shame.)

    “Always keep in mind that your civilian competition will have years of a specific type of experience in an industry.”

    This is a self-defeating stance to be taking. It can be easily assumed there will always be double or triple the number of civilians (equally or better qualified) applying for most any position a veteran seeks. Why apply at all? Which leads us to the following:

    “Remember, they’re hiring based on skills, not quotas.”

    Not necessarily true. Given that a company has a pro-active veteran recruitment program in place, a veteran’s resume is being looked at exactly because that person is a veteran. In these instances, adding that one has leadership experience, for example, when applying for that software development job, is what is called ‘value-added’ and as such, is not just gravy but an essential element of a veteran’s experience to be played up when applying.

  • Paul Forel

    “…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.”

    Mr. Camp,

    Let’s keep two things in mind:

    1. Many veterans transitioning are military leaders- they are squad leaders, section sergeants and platoon sergeants.

    The civilian employer base is very often recruiting veterans just because they possess leadership experience. The cost of leadership training they would have spent on a new hire has already been absorbed by the military.

    So ‘hiding’ leadership experience while applying for a civilian technical position goes against the grain for most veterans.

    2. Most veterans look forward to promotions and in fact, where many civilians are only looking at the job being advertised, most veterans are asking “what comes next after this job?”

    And they know that being eligible for promotion usually depends on both technical knowledge as well as leadership/supervisory/managerial experience.

    So suggesting a veteran applying for a technical position, for example, ought not include their leadership experience just about tosses out the entire rationale for hiring a veteran to begin with.