You must approach the description and translation of your military responsibilities, experiences, and accomplishments in the proper manner to perspective employers. I am a Veteran of the US Army Reserves and currently a San Francisco City Planner. Here is my “By a Veteran, For Veterans,” job search guide:
If a hiring manager has to read through four pages of a resume to quickly figure out a quick sense of your job history and your education, you’re doing it wrong!
To make your resume more concise and comprehensible, use bullet points:
- Think in 3’s. First, indicate your duties.
- Second, indicate something you improved upon or built or were proud (be confident, not cocky. Better to say you excelled/achieved/initiated than to say you were awesome/on point/hard charging).
- Third, highlight a transition to a sub-specialty within the job or a special project.
- Fourth, add a few more bullet points for jobs with more relevance to the position you are applying for.
- Finally, use action verbs as first word of a few bullet points, such as “completed,” “managed,” “built,” etc.
Chronological job listing is NOT a requirement; especially if it doesn’t pertain to the job you are applying for. You can put previous jobs in order of relevance, especially if you recently took a part time temp job to make ends meet, but you’ve had more substantial/relevant jobs a year or two ago.
Education versus work experience. If new to workforce, education should come at the top of the resume, then experience. If your school experience involved hands-on application relevant to the job, then mention it.
- While there are websites where you can enter your MOS and rank/pay grade and find a “civilian” job translation, bear in mind some of the answers are a bit odd/lame/irrelevant. If you try it, only use it as a starting point.
State accomplishments in numbers/scale; whether $$$, number of people managed, square footage built, state the measurements of what is measurable. For example: You were a Finance Clerk in the Military. An employer has no idea from that title if you handed out $20 bills to buy stuff from the Post Exchange or if you balance ledger books for million dollar accounts.
Save the resume as a PDF. Don’t hire a resume writer; it’s often a waste of $100-200.
- Test, test, test any links to a resume but still send a PDF resume.
- If the job is one where you’d like to post examples of projects online (designs, videos, news articles about your work). Include it as a link on the resume and use a service like http://bit.ly or http://tinyurl.com to create a shortened link.
- If you work with a recruiter they will want a word document version, and PDF. They often add a logo and other information.
Military Supervision/Management experience. Explain your rank and the size of any group you led. Were you akin to a Supervisor, a manager, or CEO?
Most civilian managers don’t know what a Sergeant or Captain means. If you indicate you lead a squad or platoon, they don’t know if that means 5 or 50 soldiers.
Did you engage in counseling, write performance or counseling reviews? If so, convey that!
Many employers assume it’s all akin to boot camp and you yell all day, when it came to supervisory experience in the military. Highlight your ability to engage in effective written counseling. Brag (mildly) if you improved outcomes or morale.
You’re a bit special; your experience might make some managers awkward about asking questions (so you’re not alone in terms of comfort level).
Hiring managers with no military experience might wonder: if you come back “unable to deal” with the lack of a strict work structure; can you function amongst a lot of hippies/hipsters? Play up the fact that you probably dealt with all types in the military. If you think it will work with the interviewer use sports analogies at times.
Don’t use military acronyms. If you use terms that sound “unique” then put a short explanation next to it. For example:
“Psychological Operations (battlefield public relations/media engagement)”
If you do all this, and you don’t have someone else, who is a professional, read your resume, then you’re wasting your time. Don’t be shy about asking. If you don’t know anyone personally, and you’re in a small town, check with the EDD (Employment Development Department, or organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.). They’re often looking for opportunities to connect with and mentor vets.
Intel. Use Google.com/alerts to receive an email every time a search term shows up online. Follow a company or field and receive emails about it automatically from Google. Read the mission statement of the company you’re applying to (often in the “About Us” portion of the website). Follow interesting companies on LinkedIn, Twitter, and/or Facebook (people sometimes notice it then reach out to you).
Volunteer or intern. UnitedWay, Friends of the Library, Veteran’s Affairs, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, County Parks, City Hall, local Federal agencies like a nearby National Park. Sometimes, what starts out as an unpaid internship can turn to a paid opportunity.
Practice! Print out some interview questions and ask your friend to interview you or record yourself. Reduce your likelihood of using words like “um,” or rambling.
Spell check every resume, cover letter, and email to the company!
White space! Leave some room on your resume so it doesn’t have an overwhelming sense of being too full of text. Print it out and take a look at your resume. There is no magic rule on the number of pages (less is more), but generally the first page should convey a fairly complete sense of relevant job history and education. If needed, try to only use the 2nd page to list certifications, and other less relevant jobs.
Include the same keywords in your resume (to the extent relevant) that are in the job description (e.g. technical qualifications/concepts, lead, manage, supervise).
Strongly advise against expensive private schools in combination with private loans. Be very skeptical on job placement claims. Always ask for increases in Subsidized Stafford versus Unsubsidized Stafford loans whenever job or medical or family expenses change for worse. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance/scholarships. It’s a hand-up, not a handout. You’ll do far more for yourself, and your Country if you take advantage of any assistance now and succeed in the long run.
Did you come back from serving, act a fool one night, and get caught up with a misdemeanor? If so, get it expunged. Start the paperwork 2-3 months before you are off probation. If you need help, write a letter asking your County’s public defender if they have a “Clean Slate” (San Francisco Example: http://sfpublicdefender.org/services/clean-slate/), or similar program. Check with local law firms (written letter, not a phone call/email), if they do any pro bono (free) legal work with Vets. You’d be surprised how often they just might say yes.
Dress Code. Even if it’s some funky/hip company and they all wear jeans, you’re still wearing a suit to the first interview. No sport watch, white socks, or funky ties.
Your turn: when you are asked if you have any questions during the interview, don’t ask about salary or hours. Instead, ask for a description of workplace culture and priorities. Ask what would make a person successful in this position. Show an interest in any interesting mentions that came up earlier.
Consider taking notes during interview. Often times you’ll receive a two-part question. The trick is making sure to look down at your notes and not forget to answer the second part of the question.
Send a thank you letter; by email OR written letter. Yes, it may seem cheesy, but it’s important. I’ve seen an example where a Vet was only contacted after the interview because he sent in a thank you letter. Or times when the Vet didn’t get the specific job they applied for but received a call months later because another position opened up. Don’t ramble in your letter, but use two or three bullet points in your letter as an opportunity to build upon the interview.
Don’t use the phrase “references available upon request.” If you are asked for a list of references before/after the interview, then list their contact information and also include two to three sentences about how you interacted with them. Did you report to them? Was that person a peer who can speak to your ability to work in a team?
Team… highlight your ability to work in a team environment (often with folks you would have never known had you not joined the military) and what you specifically contributed to the team, especially if the job involves small team groupings.
Get excited about the next phase of your career. Opportunity is out there. Don’t believe me? Check out tech resources for vets, TED talks for job search inspiration, these job and skill specific job sites, or VetNet (Hire Heroes USA and Google’s Partnership to Help Veterans).
Stay the course, and stay on point. Finding a career is a job in itself.
Omar Masry, AICP, is a Planner at City and County of San Francisco, and Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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