Best Practices in Resume Writing for Veterans
Wendy S. Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
Co-Author, “Expert Resumes for Military-to-Civilian Transitions”
(available at www.wendyenelow.com)
1. Write to the future.
Resume writing is not about rehashing your past history and listing what you've done and where. Rather, resume writing is about writing to the future, to the job that you want or the career path that you wish to pursue. This is a critical consideration throughout every phase of writing your resume and conducting your job search. Clearly define your objectives, identify the skills and qualifications you've gained through your past experience that support your current goals, and then focus your entire search on these elements. Don't position yourself as someone who wants to be a sales professional; rather, position yourself as someone who is a well-qualified sales professional with excellent skills in presentations, negotiations, closings, incentive planning and more. (If you've worked as a military recruiter, you've certainly done all of these things and more!)
2. “Re-weight” your skills and qualifications.
When writing your resume, you want to bring your skills and qualifications that are most relevant to your current career objectives to the forefront and put the most emphasis on them. Consider the following example: During your 4-year tour of duty, your primary function has been as a Maintenance Mechanic with collateral responsibility for technical training. Now, at this point in your career, as you re-enter the civilian workforce, you want to work as a technical instructor. To best position yourself for such opportunities, you'll want to “re-weight” the information you include on your resume and put greater emphasis on teaching and training than on the actual mechanic functions you performed on a daily basis.
3. Be inclusive; not exclusive.
Every time you include a military acronym or use other military jargon in your resume, you've given a prospective employer a reason to exclude you from consideration. Employers want to know what you can do for them in language that they will understand and appreciate. This is what the concept of transferability of skills is all about. Change the language in your resume from military to civilian so that “corporate America” can understand what you did and how it applies to them. NOTE: The only time this is not true is if you're applying to a company or government agency that works directly with the military and is interested in a candidate with your specific qualifications. If this is the case, you want to follow the exact opposite strategy and incorporate all appropriate military language into your resume. Consider who your audience is and then determine how best to write your resume and present your skills.
4. Sell it; don't tell it.
Resume writing is sales – pure and simple. You have a product to sell – yourself – and you must create a resume that highlights both the features (responsibilities) and benefits (achievements) of that product. To accomplish that, change your resume-writing mindset. Instead of simply telling your readers what you have done, sell them on how well you've done it. Consider the difference in the following two sentences. Tell: “Managed fleet of military vehicles.” Sell: “Managed fleet of military vehicles valued in excess of $225 million and achieved 100% operational readiness scores for two consecutive years.” See the difference in impact?
5. Highlight your keywords.
Keywords are a vital component to every job seeker's successful search campaign. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of companies and recruiters use keywords as the primary vehicle to search their database of resumes. For example, a recruiter might be interested in a candidate with a strong background in supply chain management. If your background has been in logistics, you'd be an ideal candidate. However, if you haven't included those specific words – supply chain management – in your resume, you'll be passed over. Take the time that is necessary to learn the civilian keywords that are important to your current career goals, and then be sure to incorporate them into your resume (as long as you actually do have experience in each particular function).
6. Create your own personal brand.
The latest and greatest strategy for successful resume writing is the concept of personal branding – creating a brand that is unique to you and your specific skill sets. Here's an example of a branding statement for a veteran with extensive experience in budgeting and financial management: “Finance Executive who has delivered double-digit gains in productivity, quality and cost reduction in operations worldwide.” By incorporating this statement at the beginning of his resume, this individual has immediately communicated who he is and the value that he brings to a prospective employer in the civilian marketplace.
7. Make your resume inviting to read.
You've heard it all before. Use plenty of white space on your resume, use bold and italics to highlight important information, write in short paragraphs for a “quick” read and use bullets to showcase your achievements. In addition, consider using a typestyle other than Times Roman, which is the most-widely used of all fonts. Arial, Tahoma, Verdana, Garamond or any one of a number of other typestyles are clean and crisp, yet give your resume a unique appeal. These visual factors are important considerations when preparing your resume. Not only must the content of your resume be solid and clearly communicate your value to a prospective employer, the visual presentation must be sharp, professional and easy to read.
8. Create 3 resume versions.
Every savvy job seeker knows that in today's world of electronic job search, you must have three distinct versions of your resume – Word version, ASCII text version and scannable version. You'll use the Word version whenever you're submitting your resume via snail mail or when submitting it as an attachment to an email message. You'll use the ASCII text version when completing online applications or when you know the company will not open a Word attachment. And, finally, you'll use the scannable version when instructed to do so, allowing a company or recruiter to scan your resume into their resume database.
9. Proofread, proofread and then proofread again.
When you submit a resume with errors, you've almost certainly eliminated yourself from consideration. Before prospective employers ever meet you, they meet a “piece of paper” (or electronic file), and that “piece of paper” demonstrates the quality of work that you produce. If you want someone to extend you the offer for an interview and then a job, you had better be sure that your resume is 100% accurate and indicative of the quality of work you will perform for that company.
10. Use your resume wisely.
Your resume can be a valuable tool throughout your entire job search. We all know that you need to have a resume to generate job interviews. That's a given. But also consider these other uses for your resume: (1) as a tool for networking and contact development; (2) as a tool to guide your interviews; and (3) as supporting information to help you negotiate a strong compensation package. Then, be sure to update your resume once you've landed a new job. You never know when that next, great opportunity might appear, and you always want to be prepared with a current resume on hand.