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How to Write an Effective Resume

Retired Colonel John Buckley
Retired Army Colonel John Buckley's hard earned advice for military transition.

Conquer the Transition: Part 3

Read Part 1: Eight Hard-earned Tips on Military Transition

Read Part 2: Five Steps to Find Your New Career

On my first resume attempt, I rummaged through my old efficiency reports and awards citations, then pasted my accomplishments straight into the document. It was more than four pages long and full of military titles, references, acronyms and phrases. I used that worthless novel 155 times, angrily wondering why I didn’t receive any job offers.

Less than 1% of the U.S. population is currently serving in the military. Less than 7% of the entire U.S. population has served in the military.

Less than 1% of the US population is currently serving in the military.

These two statistics finally sunk in as I realized there was a darn good chance that recruiters and hiring managers had never served in the military. My military colleagues loved my resume, but recruiters didn’t understand a single word or reference.

It is imperative that you help the recruiter understand why you are exactly the person they need for a role or function within their company. You'll do this by articulating the relevance of your military experiences. And the first opportunity to do this is with your resume.

15 Tips to Ready Your Resume:

1. Write to the job. Every job description is unique, so each resume should also be unique.

2. Eliminate the “objective” paragraph to give the recruiter more time on the body of your resume. If required, craft one specific to the targeted job and indicate an interest in modest advancement.

3. Your resume should not look like an efficiency report. Rather than duties, highlight accomplishments – show how you added value to your organization using quantifiable and measurable terms.

4. Never allow the recruiter to assume what skills you acquired through your experiences. Instead, clearly state them.

5. Write straightforward, active statements that showcase your relevant skills, experiences, accomplishments and certifications for all of the requirements listed in the job description. Provide the specifics of your accomplishments and how they contributed to the success of your previous organization. Quantify them if you can.

6. Don’t oversell your abilities. Just because you worked on a high-level staff does not mean that you are an executive leader.

7. Do include specific and relevant leadership and management experiences, especially if you are applying for a leadership or management role.

8. Limit your professional skills — also referred to as core competencies, areas of expertise or strengths — to four to six. Specialize and focus these to the job description, so the recruiter sees that your strengths are suitable for the responsibilities spelled out in the job description.

9. Servicemen and servicewomen are comfortable with diversity in the workplace and are uniquely educated and qualified to work on or lead diverse teams. Highlight any education, teamwork or experiences pertaining to diversity that you successfully led.

10. Highlight your risk management experiences and concentration on safety, emphasizing compliance and your ability to hold yourself and others accountable.

11. Mention teamwork, cooperation and collaboration — soft skills the business will most assuredly be looking for.

12. Be concise. Easy-to-read resumes get read. Reduce the amount of text on the page.

13. Other than job titles, remove every military reference including ranks, organization names, titles, school names, equipment titles, etc.

14. Know your audience. Use words that are understood in the private sector or the specific business: enterprise, supervisor, director, manager, employees, etc.

15. Never use “I.”

Get more tips on each of these steps in Koch Industries’ Transition Guide.

John C. Buckley, II, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret) is a veteran, career coach and mentor, author, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. He currently assists Koch companies to develop and implement military recruiting and retention programs. Prior to civilian life, he commanded infantry soldiers in combat and peacekeeping operations and directed two of the Army’s most prestigious schools. He teaches transition courses, gives seminar presentations, writes about the military-to-private sector career transition, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His recent article “Dance With The One Who Brung Ya,” was published in Military Review by Army University Press in 2016. Email John at veterans@kochind.com.

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