When Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” he might have been referring to the job seeker’s resume since a resume provides a look backwards to understand future value for potential employers.
Your resume is a list and description of the jobs, roles, successes and results you achieved in your previous work. Employers require a resume to see proof that you have the skills, experience and training to perform the work for which they are hiring.
What a resume typically doesn’t do is shed light on who the individual is, what they value, and where they can add value based on their experience. For many transitioning service members, the resume is a list of military skills and training that is not applicable and seemingly irrelevant to private sector employers.
To ensure your resume attracts the attention of employers, avoid making these mistakes:
1. Fonts. While the type font of your resume needs to be easy to read, there are rules and guidelines around style and flare. As job seekers try to make their resume stand out in a sea of similarity, some people opt for fonts that are creative (e.g. Comic Sans) or expressive (e.g. Papyrus). Avoid distracting typography on a resume. Hiring managers discourage this – if they must spend extra time deciphering or decoding the resume, that’s time taken away from understanding it’s value and applicability.
Some fonts are too widely spaced (e.g. Lucida Console) while other fonts are too heavy and bold (e.g. Impact). Instead opt for fonts that are clean, readable and classic. Good suggestions are: Georgia, Gill Sans, and Calibri.
2. Keywords. Do you refer to your experience and skills using different language than your target employer? Even the best resume will not get the attention of critical hiring managers if the key words and phrases are missing. Read through job descriptions and posts made by your desired employers. What terms, phrases and words are they using? Do they list, “expert” or “specialist”? Are they looking for a “project manager” or “program manager”? (Hint: those are very different jobs!)
3. Targeting. A resume that feels generic, or un-specific, will not get the attention of a hiring manager. Readers want to know how you are qualified for THEIR job, not just A job. They want to see patterns of commitment, passion and experience in skills and talents that benefit their company and this job. Consider this: Let’s say you research a company and see that they have a fun, work-hard-play-hard, collaborative culture from what you find online and by talking to some former workers. Would you send a resume that looks sophisticated and stoic? Or, would you consider adding a section at the front that enables you to insert some personality? Maybe you would talk about your ideal work environment and how important it is to feel passionate about the cause you are serving. A company with this kind of culture is likely seeking employees who share their fun, lively and outgoing personality.
4. Personality. Many of you leaving the uniform will find it tempting to strip all sense of personality out of your resume – “just to be safe.” After all, if you expose your personality or style, someone could reject you. Instead, you’d rather the employer evaluate you solely on experience and skills. The challenge with this approach is that civilian companies hire on skills, talents, experience AND fit in the company (see #3 above). They look for employees, leaders and team builders who will fit in with others already employed. Add some of your personality to your resume to ensure the hiring manager who is looking for you can find you. Look for an opportunity to infuse your passion, goals, dreams and values into your resume as you tell the story of your career.
5. Focus on results. Does your resume include lists of results achieved against goals for every position you held during your military career? Many job seekers simply list what they were responsible for, and forget to mention the actual results achieved. For each job listed on your resume, explain what you were engaged to do, and the outcomes. If you have enough room, you might explain the process you took. Employers want to see that you can set or meet goals.
The Bottom Line
Consider the function of your resume and keep perspective on its role. Your resume is a look backwards, and tells a story of how you got to this point. In your cover letter, social media profiles, application and interview you will build on your experience to help the hiring manager see the value you can add in the future.