What Veterans Should Not Do on a Resume
I’ve seen literally hundreds of resumes from people who are otherwise skilled and talented but can’t find jobs for shit. While every resume is unique, I see some common mistakes made by veterans (which of course they don’t teach you in ACAP). Here is a list of what not to do on a resume:
1. Don’t start a job entry with your employer, rank, or military job title. Imagine trying to explain a military concept to someone who has zero clue about anything having to do with the armed services. Saying “I was a 25B4O in a BN S-6 Signal Support Chief MTOE slot in BSB” might inspire a hiring manager to say “piss off until you can come back here and speak English.” Civilians just. don’t. get us. What’s more, they have no incentive to try to understand us. We are trying to enter their world, so it’s entirely incumbent upon us to learn their language. Here is what to do instead:
Instead, always lead with the civilian equivalent job title. A lot of people lead with U.S. Army, or their rank, or something else the employer that doesn’t tell the employer what you actually did. Lead with the translated job title, because what you did for a living is always more important than where you did it. Your job wasn’t army, your employer was. Your rank wasn’t your title, it was your pay grade (and that doesn’t translate as well as you might think, even when going after those coveted GS jobs). Your MTOE slot (Army reference) does a terrible job describing what you did, so don’t rely on that either. There is a civilian approximation of what you did, so try to discover that. For example, My last job in the army before I retired was an IT Infrastructure manager (BDE S-6). Before that I was an IT Operations manager (BN S-6 NCOIC), etc.
2. Don’t use acronyms. Most resumes don’t pass what’s called the 30-second test. That is, your typical hiring manager has allotted themselves less than a minute to decide whether or not to call you for an interview. They typically have their pick of a crapton of candidates, so if anything on your resume throws them off, don’t expect a phone call. This is especially true of acronyms; they’re the kiss of death. Writing acronyms out before using the abbreviation is also a bad idea. Just write it out; that’s description enough. The only exception to this is if an acronym appears on the job announcement. If the hiring manager is using an acronym, it’s safe for you to use it, but still only use it sparingly. Acronyms are very derailing to someone who is trying to speed read. Your resume went from selling you to wasting their time, and most employers will toss your magnum opus without a second thought. And on that topic…
3. Don’t write paragraphs describing what you did. Nothing makes a hiring manger decide “NOPE!” than having their TL;DR reflex triggered. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead, try to frame what you did in short bullets that summarize your accomplishments. Also, make sure that your bullets are relevant to the job. For example, if the job announcement doesn’t mention teaching or training, don’t waste space on your resume talking about all the SGT’s time classes you put together. They won’t care.
On the topic of things they won’t care about, my advice is generally to omit the awards section of your resume entirely. Civilians find military awards pretty strange.
“Bronze star? Why didn’t you get a gold star?”
Awards only come close to being relatable when/if you got an award for soldier of the quarter; that’s like being employee of the quarter. But if that’s the case, you’re better off just saying you got employee of the quarter. This is shitty, but the civilian world is a cold place.
4. Don’t ignore formatting. Your resume needs to be a work of art. It must be aesthetically perfect. If anything is wrong from an editing perspective (misspelled words, changes in font or size, inconsistent indents or bulleting, unnecessary capitalization, etc.) you’re showing them you lack attention to detail. Once you have a draft, you need to go over it with the intent of finding problems with it. Actively look for mistakes on your own resume. Try to find things that would make you toss it. If you can’t do that, give it to me (insert evil laugh here). Trust me, giving your resume the Gordon Ramsay treatment will only make it better.
5. Don’t be inconsistent. You can’t say in your summary at the top that you’re the answer to their prayers and then have a resume that doesn’t support that statement. For example, if you’re putting yourself out there as a project manager, then your work history entries need to talk about project management. Not supervision, not technical work, but project management (it’s a completely different thing). You can’t say “I’m an IT guy” and then talk about how you sold cars for the last ten years. If you’re trying to change careers and have skills or training but not experience, don’t write a chronological resume; write a skills-based resume. If, however, your chronological work history in one field shows that you could be good at something different (e.g going from being a cavalry scout to a skip tracer), go for it.
Some of you reading this might be discouraged because you did most or all of these things on your resume. It’s okay! Stick to telling the employer that you can do what they want. Avoiding these pitfalls helps you to focus on what really matters: convincing them that you’re the ideal candidate.