Resumes often seem the awful beginning of a scary job search. I constantly see very basic questions about resumes in online veteran groups. And get lots of questions when I speak, not to mention the problems with those I review in person.
Perhaps you missed the part about resumes in your transition course. Or are just overwhelmed by the varying advice you have read and heard. How to design a resume that really enhances your chances seems to be a common concern among transitioning military.
This article looks at resumes for private sector jobs only.
Understand the Basics
While content is the most important aspect of your resume, if you put it in the wrong package, no one will see the content.
You want a resume that is easy to read, looks good, and displays your value to the employer.
Choose a standard typeface, like Arial, that is easy to read, common, and modern-looking. Stick with 10-12 point size type for ease of reading.
Don’t skimp – you want to use the common ones (1 inch all around) so that you do not look as if you are trying to cram in your entire life. And do not waste space by indenting sections or jobs into blocks that are only a portion of the normal page width.
This refers to both the margins and the internal white areas within the document – use whitespace effectively to make it easy to read and clearly organized.
The most common and thus most understood by applicant tracking systems is a Word document, but skip the resume templates Word offers.
Stick with the basics:
- All capitals or bold for your name and job titles
- All capitals for your section titles.
If you want a fancy-looking resume to hand out, that is your call. But, the more formatting you have, the more likely that any resume you send electronically will turn into a garbled mess at the other end.
When you add color, lines, boxes around some or all of the text, logos and other formatting, your resume may never see a human.
If you have 8-10 years of work experience, keep your resume to one page. If you have more than that, keep it to two pages.
One to two pages are still the most common resume lengths in the private sector. Going beyond one or two pages tends to make hiring managers think you cannot focus on what is most important. There are exceptions for academics and research scientists who may have longer lists of publications than most of us.
The most common is reverse chronological, where your most recent job is at the top and previous ones follow. Most hiring managers dislike functional resumes, where you group your experience into types of work, as they tend to think these cover bad problems.
Spelling and Grammar:
These are critical, no matter what your career goal is. Errors make hiring managers wonder if you will do a sloppy job at work.
Surveys regularly show that many hiring managers will disqualify applicants for spelling errors because they think that your resume is you “putting your best foot forward.”
Have other people check your resume for this – even good writers make errors at times. Do not rely on spell-check, you may have the right spelling but the wrong word.
The Resume Outline
Think about your “customer” — the potential employer. Focus on the benefits to the employer. Make it clear to employers that they would benefit from hiring you.
1. Contact Information
Besides your name, give one phone number and one email address. If you have a LinkedIn profile or personal website or other social media with your work history on it, add that link here too.
If you have some top level certifications, such as PMP or CISSP, you may want to list one after your name. Some people looking for government contracting jobs also add their security clearance basics (e.g. TS/SCI) in this section.
This is the short version of why the employer should be interested in you.
Skip an objective – that is all about you.
A summary is rather like your “elevator speech” – a mini-history of your skills, knowledge and unique attributes. It should be directly relevant to the target job and employers you are interested in. Your goal here is to get the employer interested enough to keep reading your resume and to contact you.
- Keep it to 3-4 sentences or bullet points.
- Do not start with years of service – that can make you look too expensive, too set in your ways, or too old without really adding anything positive.
- Don’t say retired or your rank either – retired makes civilians think you do not want to work anymore and most have no idea what your rank might mean.
If you are looking at government contracting roles and did not put your clearance in with your contact information, add it at the end (TS/SCI/full poly is fine.)
Usually it is a waste to list skills here. Demonstrate your teamwork or leadership in the achievements you list under your jobs. Most skill lists are redundant and ignored.
This is the “meat” of your resume. Here you will cover your work experience, focusing on your achievements as they are directly related to the work you seek.
- Focus on the 10-12 most recent years only. Few care about older experience.
- The most recent job should have the most achievements, and each previous job will be smaller.
- If you have work experience outside of your desired future work, you still want to demonstrate those achievements which do apply to your job goal.
- Start with your service and overall dates to set the context.
If you worry that you will be ignored because you are a veteran, that is unlikely. Current veterans are regarded positively in general, and most organizations seek to hire people who have military experience and meet their job needs. However, if it did happen, would you really want to work for someone who did not want a veteran?
Try to make each one something that is close to the titles of jobs which interest you in your field. Recently I was reviewing a senior NCO’s resume and he had both his rank and Operations as his title in his recent jobs as he was focusing on operations management roles. Instead of “Sergeant Major, Operations” and such, we re-did them as follows (achievements omitted)
Senior Operations Manager
Operations and Safety Manager
Operations Team Lead
Do not, however, go for titles like CEO, President, Vice-President. In the private sector, these carry specific roles which do not exist in the military. Using such titles indicates you have not really understood the career you seek.
In some cases you may want to add one line that explains the mission or uniqueness of the assignment, if so, do this right under the title.
Then move into a bulleted list of your achievements.
4. Education and Training
List your degrees first, starting with the most advanced degree you have, like this:
MBA, Human Capital Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
BA, History, Purdue University
If you have a BA or BS, do not list your AA or AS degree or your HS diploma.
List any certifications which are important to the work you seek.
Add in any training you have which is directly relevant to the job you seek. Omit training that is not relevant to your target job/field, and also training which is more than 7-10 years old.
5. Technical Skills (optional)
If the work you want to do requires specific technical skills, add a list of them. Do not put in every technology you ever worked with — just those which you are skilled at, are current, and required. This is also true for language skills.
Got personal or valor awards? Put them on your LinkedIn profile if you want but they do not really add much to most resumes as few people will understand them.
7. Personal Information
Skip personal information unless it is really related to the work you want. If you want to go into sports marketing, the fact that you are a top-ranked tennis player might be of interest. But usually personal info only takes space you could better use to demonstrate your value.
Don’t mention your references, or even that they are available on request. Employers know that and will ask if they want them.
Your resume is a sales document promoting your services as a solution to the employer’s needs, not a wish list of what will make you happy. That’s it!
About the author…
Patra Frame has extensive experience in human capital management and career issues in large and small corporations. She is an Air Force vet and charter member of The Women In Military Service for America Memorial. Patra speaks and writes regularly on job search and career issues through her company Strategies for Human Resources (SHRInsight) and PatraFrame.com where she blogs advice for veterans and other job seekers. Watch Patra’s ClearedJobs.net job search tips videos on YouTube, and follow her on Twitter @2Patra.
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