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Veterans Don’t Dilute Your Resume, Distill It

Posted by Bob Wheeler

goal oriented team playerFlowery, fluffy, fantastic words and phrases. It may be writing to the awards board to make sure a subordinate’s “diligent effort to single handedly ensure the command passed the inspection with unprecedented results” gets them an award. Or writing to the promotion board about an “inspirational leader and true mentor” who is “THE TOP CHOICE” for the next paygrade. We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all probably done it at one time or another.

So now that it comes time to describe ourselves in a resume or on a LinkedIn profile it’s no surprise that many of us have a natural tendency to do the same thing. Not because we’re necessarily disingenuous or narcissistic. Rather, it’s an attempt to convey the full picture of multiple experiences. However, what we believe is helping the reader appreciate our potential in reality is often diluting, and thus damaging, our message.

It’s not that resumes can’t use any adjectives at all. They can be there, just use them sparingly and strategically. Lot’s people take their whiskey with a splash of water – but it’s only a splash. And it’s typically not tap water.

So instead of beating around the bush to tell people that you’re a Goal oriented, team player with a history of documented success and progressive experience in leading and managing teams of intel analysts in a dynamic environment reporting directly to the COO of cyber operations.

Instead simply state that you’re a Cyber Security Intelligence Analyst and follow that up with straight forward bullets about your accomplishments.

Trust me, if the skills match up with the job requirements no hiring manager is turning someone down because their resume lacked the phrase “goal oriented.” They may, however, decide to roll right past your resume after slogging through the first 50 syllables of fluff that had nothing to do with the actual job description.

Fluff Statements

And it’s not just job title and summaries getting overhyped. Other times veterans may use diluting phrases when describing their role or responsibilities.

Being an “effective communicator” or an “expert at delegation and follow up” are not the skills to list on your resume or LinkedIn summary. Instead of vague phrases,  just tell people about the specific actions and results. If the manner in which you accomplished the task is really important it will come up during an interview, but phrases like “established and communicated clear expectations” when used as part of written correspondence gets read by a complete stranger as out of context fluff.

One of the most overused phrases on a resume or profile is “responsible for.” This is fine when used as a quick blurb describing the position you held, but it should never be listed as actual an accomplishment. You’ll get more bang for your buck with three specific accomplishment bullets relevant to the actual job than you will with a dozen generic “responsible for” bullets.

The final group of fluff is overhyping your role using incorrect terminology about the business world. A couple of examples of this are titles like CEO/COO and terms like Direct Reports.

First – no Commanding Officer in the military is a Chief Executive Officer save perhaps a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All others lack the independent power and responsibility. Whether your CO was an O3 or an O8, unlike a true CEO they all have an actual boss they report to. They may have a budget, but they don’t deal with profit and loss. And while many deal with tactics, they are not unilaterally setting or changing the strategy or direction of an organization.

So, since your Commanding Officer isn’t a CEO then it would be a mistake to imply that your job “reported directly to the CEO” or that you “offered advice and strategy to C-Level Personnel.”

One Senior Hiring Manager for a Defense Contractor described his reaction to such statements this way, “When I see someone in the military who is claiming or referring to a title of CEO, COO or CFO this shows me that they not only know very little about the responsibility of those positions in the civilian world, but that they also have a tendency to under-estimate responsibilities that they do not understand. In either case, this is a bit of a red flag for me even if it may simply be ignorance or naiveté on their part.”

If you truly feel you must find a way to describe the fact that you led a large piece of the military puzzle it may be better to refer the position of Commanding Officer as a Senior Department Head. Better yet, try to put that into a context that’s easy for the reader to understand by citing figures such as number of personnel, equipment, or transactions that the job supported.

Another misused term is “direct reports.”  In business parlance a direct report is someone that you’re both immediately connected to on the organizational chart and that you have a genuine relationship with.  This means someone you directly communicate with nearly every day. It’s also someone that can communicate with you directly – without having to use the chain of command. Direct reports are not the same as “people that you outrank” nor can the number be expanded by a change to the organizational chart alone.

For example, the CEO of Apple Tim Cook has 17 direct reports and some think that’s too many. So if you’re telling people that you had 260 direct reports- you’ll have to forgive a recruiter or hiring manager if they think you either don’t understand the term, don’t understand the business world, are a bit full of yourself, or worse yet, all of the above.

Veterans bring a lot of things to the table in terms of the hard skills required to do the job and plenty of the soft skills that amplify those results. In the world of government contracting you may also have a leg up in terms of things like having a security clearance or experience working on specific projects.

So when it comes time to move on to your next career take a good look at where you are professionally and target your efforts towards the positions that best suit you. Then create that LinkedIn profile or craft that perfect resume with an eye towards the right job. As you do this, resist the temptation to fill up space with fluffy adjectives or fancy titles.

Succinctness is a sign of confidence and strength. Vagueness and wordiness are signs of meekness and desperation. This is a time to distill your skills and experiences, not dilute them.

Bob WheelerBob Wheeler is a ClearedJobs.Net Account Manager, a Navy veteran, a former recruiter and a certified veteran transition coach. You may reach Bob at [email protected]

This entry was posted on Monday, March 28, 2016 11:36 am

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