TAO Self-help

Title:Your Award-Winning Resume

Author:© 2016 Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, potomacbooksinc.com.

Date:July 2016


A winning resume presents your experience in a way that indicates your future potential. It grabs and holds the attention of the reader and makes him or her want to know more. To know more requires a conversation and that conversation is an interview. Simply stated, a resume is an interview-generation tool and, like any tool, it must be well-cared for and appropriate to the task. How well does your resume measure up to that standard? Answer these nine questions and modify it accordingly.

  1. Is it easy to read? When first viewed your resume must send the signal that it will be easy to read. This signal involves length, format, font, borders, margins, and white space. It must pass the seven seconds test, specifically the reader will pay close attention for that amount of time, at which point he or she becomes either interested enough to keep reading or loses interest and moves on the next one in the pile. White space, i.e., the absence of ink, is critical. Edit out all unnecessary words; choose a font style and size that is easy to read; minimize the use of text boxes, borders, and other graphics; dump personal pronouns; cut out adjectives and adverbs whenever possible. Consider using bullets, a technique that will not only make the information easier to find but will also make it easier to read. Make sure it is free of military jargon, acronyms, and phraseology.
  2. How long should it be? Up for debate but here is my take: you get one page for every ten years since high school or college but no more than two pages. If you go to a second page, make sure the most important and/or relevant information is on the first page or the reader may never turn to page two. If two pages is impossible, consider using a stand-alone resume supplement or addendum. A well-written cover letter can often eliminate the need for a third page.
  3. What style is best for you? There are three styles from which to choose. A chronological displays the information in reverse chronological order and grouped within sections, the most common of which are contact information, objective, education/training, experience/achievement, and additional/personal information. The functional focuses on consolidating specific and similar skills under functional headings, independent of the timeframe in which they occurred. Typical functional headings include Project Management, Command and Control, Operational Leadership, Customer Service, Quality Control, Training and Development, and Process Improvement. The hybrid chrono-functional version is good for military personnel with more than ten years of service. Use the functional format and add an abbreviated reverse chronological experience section, listing only the primary job titles and the years in which these assignments were held.
  4. Should you include an objective? Yes and no. Yes, you should include it if it focuses on a specific, targeted position for which you are qualified. You must be reasonably certain that the opening exists. No, if you are expressing your objective in vague or general terms. Consider having two versions of your resume. Use the one without an objective when you also include a cover letter that expresses your interest in a specific job. In the alternative, take advantage of the powerful signal that can be sent with a specifically worded objective on your resume. An objective that takes up more than one line is not specific enough.
  5. What signal are you sending? You will be hired for one of three reasons: your experience, your potential, or a combination of both. To be hired for your experience, you must be the square peg that fits the square hole. It is the combination of jobs, training, and certifications on your resume that generated the interview and got you the job. You are selling your past, not your future. Hiring you is low risk, your value-added is immediate, and your starting salary will be higher. However, you may also sacrifice career and salary growth. Being hired for your potential means the employer believes in your future and will train and develop you accordingly. Your past experience means little and you are basically starting over. Hiring you is risky and your future is unknown. Since your value-added is downstream, your starting salary will be lower. The employer is investing in you way beyond your paycheck. For most military personnel, neither one of those first two reasons is acceptable. What to do? Compromise. Go to work for an employer who cares about both your past and your future. To pull this off, make sure your resume focuses not only on what you have done but also on how well you did it. Achievement in past endeavors is a great indicator of your ability to succeed in the future.
  6. Will it also succeed as a writing sample? Most jobs require the ability to compose and present information in written format. Many companies will ask for a writing sample as part of the evaluation process. Whether you are faced with that requirement or not, you will automatically be providing every interviewer with a writing sample — your resume! That document is a direct reflection of not only your writing skills but also your preparation, thoroughness, attention to detail, and accuracy. It must be letter perfect. No misspelled or misused words. No typos. No grammatical or syntax errors. Take the time to proof read it several times, frontwards and backwards, and ask others to do the same.
  7. Have you employed key words? Many companies use key word scanning software to select resumes. If you have a specific job in mind, make sure your resume contains position- and industry-specific terms. Take them directly from the job description. If your target is a company rather than a specific job, then visit the company’s web site and look for key words in the mission statement or core values. If you have no particular company or job in mind, then choose key words that best reflect what makes you tick and what matters to you in your job. Once you have selected your key words, position them prominently and repeat each one if possible.
  8. Include personal information? Your name and contact information must be on the resume, but how about additional personal information? You should not include vital statistics, health, religious, or political information. Any reference to marital status and children on a resume is tricky. Some companies prefer to hire married people and some jobs put a severe strain on families. If unsure, omit it. Including things like community service, volunteerism, second language fluency, travel, hobbies, and interests can pay dividends because they add a human element to an inanimate document. They also give the interviewer icebreaker material and conversation generators.
  9. Did you make any of these mistakes? The words References Available upon Request are a waste of space. Do not include a list of references; that is a separate document. Listing date of availability for employment is a bad idea unless it is immediate. Expressing a willingness to travel and/or relocate is fine, as long as it also happens to be completely true, otherwise you are at best wasting space; at worst being misleading. Do not include your military rank or rating with your name on the resume. If appropriate, you can mention it in the experience section.

Your resume is the most important tool in your transition toolbox. Physically, it is one or two sheets of paper with 400 to 1000 words. Figuratively, it is the bridge that connects your past to your future. There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to resumes. I have written, reviewed, edited, or tweaked over 4,000 resumes during my career and have experienced first-hand what works and what does not. Follow the guidance above and your resume will help you win that coveted award — an excellent civilian career opportunity.

Visit www.out-of-uniform.com for a more in depth discussion of this subject and more about the military-to-civilian career transition process. Thank you for your service and good hunting!

By Tom Wolfe, Career Coach
© 2016; Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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