Resumes get all the attention when it comes to transition and applying for a job.
We speak of accomplishments and awards as “resume bullets,” transition classes devote hours to constructing resumes, and nearly all job postings – even online – provide the option of submitting a resume. All this emphasis might make us think that the resume is the most important document for job applications, causing us hours of work massaging specific bullets and agonizing over which accomplishments to list in the limited space available.
But few people, if any, will read your resume. A human resources person might scan your “education” section to see if you have a required level of schooling, or your work experience to see how many years you have in a particular field – but only to screen you from other applicants. Employers will only read your resume if they’re really interested in you. Here are three ways to generate that interest:
1. The Job Application
There is no standard resume, and most applicants will pack as much information into their resume as they can, usually by playing with fonts and font sizes (we’ve all done it). This results in a dense, difficult-to-read blob of text. To streamline the process, many companies prefer to use a standardized application.
The advantages of a standard application (for the company) are that the hirer always sees the same information in the same format, making it easier to compare and contrast applicants. The good news for veterans is that listing military experience on your application usually makes you stand out and may get you to the stage where someone will read your resume.
If your desired company has an application, don’t blow it off. It’s tempting to just send in a resume instead, or to write “see resume” on the application, especially because it seems silly that you put all the information in your resume in the first place and you hate doing work twice. But if you make it hard for the person screening applications, who – with limited time to parse resumes – may pass you over entirely and move on to the next person who took the application seriously.
2. The Cover Letter
In addition to being hard to read, resumes suck as an introduction because they present you only as a boring conglomeration of facts. Even if your military experience makes you look like a rock star compared to other applicants, it’s rare that an employer will hire you solely because of your background – they need to see you as a positive asset to the company rather than a paper hero. A good cover letter introduces you as a dynamic person whose attitude and experience will help the potential employer. And since it is easier to read than a resume, it is also more likely to be read, and it will immediately generate interest in your qualifications.
It may be hard for veterans to write a good cover letter because they’re used to military assignments, where supposedly people are placed “where they’re needed” with little room for choice. Also, the military frowns on self-promotion, so most veterans prefer to let their qualifications and awards speak for them – which works fine when there are dedicated personnel administrators to fully consider candidates for assignments and promotions. But in the civilian world, there is no such structure. If you want your resume to be considered, you must grab their interest with a cover letter.
A good cover letter includes a brief introduction, a brief summary of qualifications, and an explanation connecting your experience with how you will assist the company. This should not be generic, but rather focused on the job duties found in the job posting. For example, if a set of duties emphasizes “managing a cross-functional team,” then you might note that you have experience leading multidisciplinary units in military operations and you are excited to apply that experience to make the project team meet performance goals. In one or two sentences, you’ve demonstrate that you understand the requirements of the job, you have experience in the demands of the job, and you have a track record of success – which will make an employer positively interested.
Also, referencing language found in the core values or mission statement of the company will subtly present you as a “good fit” for the company.
Finally, your cover letter should be engaging and personal as well as quick and easy to read – keep it under a half page of text and use logical single-idea paragraphs.
3. Communication and Correspondence.
Resumes are easy to ignore, especially if there are a lot of them. A civilian hiring process is much different from the military promotion process, where a board of senior military members carefully considers each applicant and chooses the best. Usually hiring is done by a human resources department that may see hundreds of applications a week, or by a single manager (with other responsibilities), who must find someone from the stack of applications and resumes in a file. Human resources, or the overworked manager, may just hire the first qualified applicant they encounter.
You can move your application to the front of the line, however, by communicating. Call to inquire about your application, and whoever answers will probably dig it out for reference during the conversation. Promptly respond to emails, messages and phone calls, and you’re an easier hire because you’re available. Interact pleasantly and professionally, and you will seem more like a natural fit and good co-worker/subordinate to the employer.
Remember to communicate, but not pester. You should always call – not email – to confirm they received your application (and you can add that you think it’s a great position, that you’re very interested, or anything positive to make them remember you). After that, contact them no more than once a week or you’ll look desperate. But respond promptly if they contact you!
The Bottom Line
There is a wealth of advice out there about how to write the perfect resume. But if you can’t get someone to read it, the work you put in (and all your glowing accomplishments) won’t pay off. Employers want to hire people who will solve problems, so make your application easily accessible, tailor it to their particular problem (the job posting), and interact positively. Time spent here will ultimately pay bigger dividends in the job search than a “perfect” resume.