Are you stressed about your resume? You’re not alone. Everybody who creates a resume wonders nervously, will a hiring manager be interested? Have I accurately represented my accomplishments? Veterans, who are used to “one, right way” to do things, get nervous that they’ve failed to communicate their experience correctly.
Unfortunately, it’s a valid concern. The answer, however, is not to add more to your resume in your struggle to distill your military service into something recognizable to civilians, it’s to subtract.
Cutting unnecessary words, phrases and even sections from your resume will leave more space — literally and figuratively — for your actual accomplishments. So break out your red pen on the following four things.
1. Career Objective
Traditional wisdom says you should start your resume with a career objective. And because it’s “supposed to be like that,” veterans especially make sure they hit this wicket every time.
In fact, when it comes to tailoring resumes for a specific job, veterans often simply change the job description at the top of the page and leave everything else generic. This results in an inconsistent resume, in which your accomplishments don’t seem to relate to your career objective (or the job you’re applying for).
Listing a “Career Objective” is also usually redundant, since you’ll probably make it exactly the same as the Vetrean jobs to which you’re applying, and it takes up valuable space on your resume with words that say very little about you.
That top part of your resume is the first thing a reader sees, and it needs to grab his or her attention. Use it to describe yourself and define your personal brand (Read: Personal Branding, and Why It’s Important) by talking about where you came from, where you want to go, and what you bring – in general – to an organization. It’s a mini cover letter, and it should draw the reader into your accomplishments.
2. Resume Buzz Words
It’s easy to write that you’re “experienced” with something. It’s easy to say you’re a “team-builder.” But what do those words mean? These words sound important and meaningful, but to a recruiter or employer who has been jaded by exposure to hundreds of overblown resumes, they may be red flags signifying a candidate whose primary skill is writing their resume.
Veterans often fill their resumes with vague-sounding buzz words in an attempt to relate some portion of their military experience to the civilian job requirements. If you worked in a call center or a command center, you might truthfully claim you have customer service “experience.” But an employer who doesn’t know what working at a call or command center entails may dismiss your claim as exaggerated (and your resume to the recycling bin).
Eliminate the buzz words by explaining what you did using terms appropriate to the job for which you’re applying. In the example above, you could say that at the call center, you provided customer service for military members having difficulty with their pay, or their computers, or their tactical equipment. Or, you could say that in the command center you treated the tactical elements as customers and served them by passing their information and dispatching aid as required.
When you put your “experience” in terms of concrete accomplishments, it helps your prospective employer envision your contributions to the company, which is something a buzz word cannot provide.
3. Compliments about yourself
When you describe yourself as “dynamic,” “results-oriented” or “enthusiastic,” it sounds like bragging. Employers usually want to determine whether you have those attributes from your work history or from their own impressions. So cut out these compliments that refer to specific attributes and don’t tell them how awesome you are. Show them in your work history and accomplishments section — list the results you achieved and the attributes required to get them.
One exception to this rule is if you are relating what someone else has said about you.
If one of your performance reviews or awards mentions how dynamic or enthusiastic you were, you can put that on your resume. Write it as an accomplishment: “During my time in X position I accomplished Y and Z. For this I earned an award/received a good performance review which stated …” and then quote the compliments about yourself.
Remember that such things can be fact-checked. Have the source documentation handy in case your prospective employer demands to see it!
It’s rare to see resumes that list references these days, but many still bear the phrase, “References available upon request.” It’s unclear whether this continues because of some outdated wisdom that said it needed to be there, or because there’s something formal about the phrase that applicants think make the resume look somehow more professional, or because applicants are tempted to believe that a hiring manager or employer is actually going to contact their reference(s) and be so blown away by what they hear that they’ll offer the job immediately.
The reality is simple: recruiters and employers see so many resumes that they are saturated. They will make a decision on who to interview from your resume alone. From this fact follows a few others: nobody will call your references, or for your references, out of the blue. Any mention of references on your resume is a waste of space that can be better used to list accomplishments: Employers will ask you for references when they’re interested.
Applying to a civilian job straight from the military can be a disadvantage. An employer is much less likely to understand your qualifications.
You need all the space you can find to state your accomplishment in terms a civilian will understand, so make sure to eliminate all the useless elements. And the final benefit of cleaning up you resume? It makes you look like a concise communicator, which is important in many jobs. So break out that red pen and follow these Military to Civilian resume tips!