The Big 5 Resume Mistakes of Military Transition

Posted by Patra Frame
transitioning military resume

Creating a useful resume is difficult work. It takes research, knowledge, introspection, and decent writing skills. Even the best of us often have trouble writing our resumes. Over many years as an HR professional, I have volunteered to do resume reviews with various groups. I feel as if helping someone understand the process and improve their chances for the right job is useful. I know how long and arduous transitioning from the military commonly is.

Here I am in a new year seeing so many of the old problems with military folks looking for their ‘right’ jobs – with the wrong resume. The change to virtual transition programs and the loss, in many installations, of supplemental programs of all kinds seems to have made this worse.

So let’s talk about the BIG FIVE mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.

ERROR 1: I can do anything!

This resume offers up a wide range of possible career desires – logistics, intel, HR, training, leadership, program management, whatever. The summary (or worse, the objective) lists them all and tells a hiring manager nothing of use.

The problem with this is that hiring managers want to see exactly what you can do for their specific need. They want to minimize their losses in advance. They want expertise shown in demonstrated achievements. They prefer a clear story of how your past supports their needs – the military values breadth far more than most civilian organizations.

You need to focus on what specific career fields and jobs you want. Sure, one resume can cover logistics planning and supply chain management. But any further and you will need a second resume. A job search for multiple career fields becomes a much bigger problem than a solution.

Do your self-assessment and talk with people in whatever fields interest you. Then pick a focus. Or two, max.

ERROR 2: Rank and Titles

I am glad you made (insert your rank here.) But few hiring managers care, even in government contractors. Sure, if you were a multiple star rank, some will be interested just for your contacts alone. Otherwise, no.

Worse for you, many hiring managers, including vets, see the use of your rank on your resume as an indication you are not actually ready to transition.

Using military job titles adds to the difficulties. It is up to you to translate your titles into the customary ones of whatever career you are interested in. Sometimes this is pretty easy. In intelligence jobs, there are many with very similar titles and all you may need to change over is the military term to manager, director, junior X, senior X, etc.

In many other fields it is a little more complicated – you need to know what your target employers call both the field and specific jobs and match yours to those. This is a part of the basic research you need to do on any career field which interests you. Technical jobs are often named in series – IT Support Specialist 1, 2, 3 for example. Every field has some standard titles. Many companies have their own versions too. And many government contractors have both their internal titles, which you need to focus on, and contract specific titles that may change.

No matter how senior you are, understand that none of your jobs can be labeled as CxO. C-level jobs require P&L experience (and if you do not know, that is profit and loss, and you have not done much of the research you need to succeed). Most also require far more depth in a specific field and industry than you have.

ERROR 3: Responsibilities or Responsible For

Think of the people you have worked with. Some did the minimum work necessary, some were top of their field. Thus, no hiring manager cares what you were responsible for, they want to know what you actually did. That is how they know what you can do for them.

Wasting space on your resume with details of job responsibilities is silly. Why give a recruiter or hiring manager a reason to ignore you? Show them your actual work achievements. Tell them how your past achievements make you a great candidate for their job!

ERROR 4: How old do you want to be?

Many retiring military start their Summary with how many total years of experience they have or with ‘retiring (service).’

Hiring managers look at 20 or more years and think:

  • Too expensive
  • Too set in their ways
  • Too old — illegal or not, some do think it

Hiring managers look at ‘retiring’ or ‘retired’ and often wonder:

  • Can I get this person cheap since they have a pension?
  • Does this person really want to work hard enough to succeed?
  • Will he quit at the first tough patch?

Using your total time in service or any variant on retired can give hiring managers an excuse to ignore your resume before they even read most of it. So skip these statements.

If a job calls for a specific number of years in some aspect of it, either tailor your resume at the time or put that in your cover letter. If you do this, do not say 15 years when they call for 6 years experience. Say “Over 6 years….”

ERROR 5: The One-Page Resume

One page resumes are great for someone with only a few years experience. But if you are seeking a mid-level or above role, they are not for you. I have no idea why this concept is suddenly common again for military in transition, although I have heard it is what they were told in their transition program.

Yes, a resume need only cover the last decade or so. But your achievements need to clearly demonstrate your capabilities for the work you want. The more senior the job you seek, the more vital it is to show breadth and depth in what you have achieved. Go ahead and use two full pages, perhaps even three. Make every entry count. Bullets can be 2-3 sentences and should show the situation, your actions, and the results. Each must be relevant to the job you want at the employers you are targeting. Show how you meet their requirements and the scope of the work. Demonstrate your value.

A one-page resume can be useful as a supplement to networking. You leave it behind or send it after a meeting with potential new supporters in your search. It also allows you to remind your references of your record so they are better able to speak about you. But do not try to cram all your expertise into one page just because you feel you must.

These five are the most common errors on military resumes. Others include:

  • Listing all the training you have had, whether it is relevant or not
  • Listing awards and decorations – keep these for your social media profiles
  • Objective statements which show what you want, not what you offer

A smart job search includes far more than your resume and online applications. You need a realistic plan to achieve your career goals. It is vital to grow your network so that you have a variety of people to advise and support you now and over your new career. Your social media actions must support your career goals as well. Pace yourself for the long haul. Celebrate your achievements along the road to a new job. Successful job search is a difficult, emotional process for most people. You need to build in support and short breaks so you do not become discouraged or negative.

You can do this! Focus on the work you really want to do now. Research it and target employers who have such jobs and an environment where you can succeed. Create a master resume with your entire work history. Then start writing your job search resume. Let it rest a week and revise it. Ask someone you trust to critique it and revise as needed. Then seek an outside review from someone in your network, an HR volunteer, or someone in your desired field. Understand that you may get conflicting advice. Take the best suggestions and incorporate them. Revise as needed as your search changes. Good hunting!

Patra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Management Consultant. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is an Air Force veteran and charter member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Follow Patra on Twitter @2Patra.


This entry was posted on Monday, May 10, 2021 1:35 pm

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