by Russ Hovendick
Excerpted and adapted from: Deployment to Employment: A Guide for Military Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Employment. Faithful Life Publishers 2013.
Please note: the advice I offer here is specifically for those seeking civilian employment. Those seeking work as defense or government contractors do not need to “demilitarize” their resumes.
How Military Resumes Go Wrong
I review more than 200 resumes every day and I notice that resumes from military folks have common pitfalls. What happens when these types of resumes find their way to a civilian employer’s desk? In most cases they end up in the trash bin or buried in the inbox. Your skills and talents are too valuable to end up in no man’s land so give employers a reason to hold onto your resume.
Here are some of the common mistakes I see in military resumes:
Acronyms and Military Jargon — Ditch Them
After spending any amount of time in the military I’m sure it’s natural for military acronyms to become part of your everyday vernacular. But when you use acronyms in your resume and any other communications with civilian employers (e.g. e-mails phone calls job interviews) you’re speaking a foreign language. Employers don’t want to have to ask or research what an acronym represents. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re conveying information clearly.
To be frank it’s more annoying than anything else to see an acronym in a resume. It shows the applicant’s laziness and inability to anticipate that the acronym might be a stumbling block for the employer.
Here’s a line taken from the top section of a military resume: “I am a Certified DOD Mediator to hear EO complaints.”
Leave the certification for the bottom of the resume. In the body the employer is more interested in hearing about the quality of work you’ve done. Here is what he’s probably thinking Tell me the details of your work as a mediator. Give me a glimpse of the types of disputes you mediated and how you resolved them. And by the way I know DOD means Department of Defense but what the heck is an “EO complaint”?
See also the sidebar Translating Military Vocabulary.
Too Many Numbers Too Little Explanation
Numbers are a good thing. If they demonstrate something meaningful about your previous experiences (e.g. you introduced a new policy that reduced processing time by 30 percent) include them. But often in the military some numbers are so intimidating that they deplete the importance of the accomplishment you’re trying to showcase. For example if a veteran says he oversaw 200 soldiers the employer would know he couldn’t have possibly had much personal contact with all 200 of them. But if he mentioned that he trained five sergeants to lead their groups of 40 soldiers each the statement is more meaningful.
Overemphasis on Technical Skills — Show Your Soft Skills
If you’re applying for a technical position your resume should play up your technical skills. But you’re not a robot. You have a personality and internal drive that fuels your technical aptitude. Make sure that comes across in your resume. No matter what job you’re applying for employers want to see soft skills too such as leadership style communication skills motivation to make a difference and more.
See more in our article What Do Employers Really Want? Top Skills and Values Employers Seek from Job-Seekers.
Lengthiness Longwinded Language — Be Concise Get to the Point
No matter how many years of experience you’ve had no one should have a resume that’s more than two pages. If you’re applying for a technical job and want to highlight specific projects I recommend attaching a separate sheet of case studies or projects.
You never want the person reviewing your resume to feel frustrated overwhelmed or lost. A reviewer who gets bored reading your resume might get the impression you’re dull or bland. A reviewer gets confused reading your resume think you’re not a clear communicator or simply not bright.
The best way to avoid conveying this impression is to be concise. Get straight to the point. Use action words to bring life to the resume using as few words as possible. Every word on your resume occupies valuable space. Don’t waste space on meaningless words. You don’t even need full sentences! Use bulleted lists where appropriate.
“So What?” Statements — Tell Me Why It Matters
Sometimes I read a statement in a resume and think to myself “So what?” Then I prod the candidate for more information and realize that he or she simply didn’t highlight the significant part of that experience. Former Marine Nolan Ruby gave this great advice: Employers just don’t know how to interpret military accomplishments into their own private companies. It’s up to you to explain it.
Highlighting Decades of Military Service Makes You Look Old
It’s perfectly understandable why you might feel proud of having served say 20 years in the military. But don’t create additional hurdles through misconceptions by explicitly stating at the top of your resume that you had a twenty-year career in the armed forces. When employers see that a person has held a position for a couple of decades they automatically assume the candidate must be old when in fact the individual could be as young as 38 if he or she joined right out of high school. Let the employers see your skills and experience first and do the math later. Don’t give them an easy reason to reject you. If you’ve spent many years in the military I recommend writing “extensive experience” instead of the number of years served.
Here are Some Additional Resume Tips
Create Multiple Versions
I’ve already mentioned that if you are looking for jobs in multiple industries you’ll need to tailor your resume for each industry. We’ve already pointed out the different languages of the military world and civilian world. Now think of the various industries in the same way. Law-firm staffers talk very differently from tech startups. People in the medical field use different terminology from people in manufacturing. The more you know about your ideal employers the better you will be at determining what they are looking for and therefore what to include in your resume.
Use a Hybrid Profile-Objective-Company (POC) Heading
I often see resumes with the applicant’s objective listed at the top. Here’s a typical example: “To secure employment as a project manager at an information technology firm.” As an executive recruiter who knows how hiring managers think I find this type of statement not helpful. It tells the employer what you want not what you can offer.
On the other hand I’ve also seen resumes with a profile heading that highlights key skills qualifications or summarizes the applicant’s experience in a sentence. The profile heading can be helpful but it runs the risk of repeating items included in the resume.
I propose a hybrid model that incorporates the applicant’s profile his or her objective and a complimentary description of the company the applicant is applying for.
Here’s an example of the hybrid POC heading: “Electrical designer with expertise in automation and relay logic systems searching for an innovative manufacturing company.”
Read more in our article Your Job-Search Resume Needs a Focal Point: How Job-Seekers Can Add Focus to Resumes.
Lacking Education? Highlight Your Professional Development
If you’ve never completed high school or college and you’re wondering what to list in the education section of the resume no need to worry. I recommend following the advice from Monster Resume Expert Kim Isaacs which is to create a Professional Development Section in which you highlight vocational training certifications courses even seminars or conferences you attended.
If you did not complete high school and instead passed the GED don’t include the GED on your resume. Employers tend to assume that candidates graduated from high school. You may hear differing opinions from other career counselors but I firmly believe it’s better not to highlight the fact that you did not earn a high-school diploma.
Final Thoughts on Crafting Killer Resumes
Creating a killer resume takes a lot of thought time and effort… but the more work you put into creating your resume the more success you’ll see.
For additional help with your resume check out the many articles tools and tutorials in our Resumes Resources for Job-Seekers.
Finally check out some of these sample military transition resumes for civilian employment.
Check out all the Job Transitioning for Vets & Former Military.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2013.
Russ Hovendick is president of Client Staffing Solutions Inc. a national search and placement firm specializing in the food and beverage industry. He has been a national award winner within the recruiting and placement industry. He is also founder of Directional Motivation a Website that provides no-cost materials to help people advance their careers with a special section devoted to transitioning veterans seeking civilian employment.
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