Originally posted on Career Attraction.
So, you’ve decided to hang up the uniform after years of distinguished service to our great nation. You’ve attended a few transition classes and have your interview suit and shiny new resume as you make the leap into the civilian world.
You feel confident, because you’ve seen your colleagues leave the uniform on Friday and come to work the following Monday in a suit and tie making twice as much salary. You storm the job boards and job fairs. Never mind that although you’ve drafted a plan of action and milestones (POA&M) for every significant evolution of your military career, some of you have invested the least amount of time and effort into your own transition POA&M.
Those of us in the hiring and recruiting business know firsthand that not all veterans are created equal, and, sometimes, it’s a great business decision to hire a military professional into our companies. Often, though, many don’t. Why? Because you’re just not the right fit. A more impressive candidate captured our attention, or maybe, through no fault of your own, we found someone internally or received a referral from one of our own employees.
The irony is that many veterans and service members have the skills and experience to make the cut, or even get the second interview, but blow it. As a military candidate recruiter, I see consistent themes in why military professionals don’t get the job. Many may blame the new Transition GPS, their branch of service’s career center or even the employers themselves, but here are the top real reasons why you’ll never get hired:
1. You Can’t (or Won’t) Accept That You’re Starting Over
Let’s suppose that immediately after graduating from college or high school, I went to work for one of the well-known defense contractors. During the course of my 20+ year career at that company, I was very successful and promoted to the position of Program Manager, frequently working with the military. However, I’m now at that point in my career where there isn’t any opportunity for further advancement, or I’m simply weary of the industry.
I’m now in my late 30s or early 40s and decide it’s time to leave the company to pursue a different career. I’ve worked with the military my entire adult life, so I decide I want to join its ranks. Because of my previous experience with managing multimillion dollar budgets and hundreds of personnel, I feel I’m the equivalent of a Commanding Officer or Senior Enlisted Leader. When I talk to a recruiter about my level of entry, what would they tell me?
The cold dose of reality is that despite all of my experience, I’d have no idea what the organizational culture is like in the military. I’d be set up for failure if someone allowed me to don the collar devices and step into a command position. On day one, something as basic as sending an email to a flag officer could go very sour very quickly. This is because even though I may have transferable skill sets, I lack the knowledge of industry norms and protocol experience to succeed.
A senior military professional transitioning into the private sector faces the same dynamic. The transition is a bit easier within the Department of Defense and Federal arenas, but you’re starting anew. It’s imperative that you understand this. As a result, you should seek ways to learn the organizational structures of potential employers many months before you’ll be entering the job market.
Just as I would have been far better informed had I spoken to a military recruiter before I left my civilian job, so should you be similarly informed before entering your last year of service. Use recruiters, headhunters, employment counselors, hiring managers, etc. to gain intelligence and information so you can be pragmatic in your expectations and planning. Also, getting a mentor who has successfully navigated into the private or government sector and is also a veteran will provide invaluable insight from a perspective you’ll be able to relate to.
2. You Believe You’re Unique (Just Like Every Other Transitioning Person That Day)
Each and every day, 200 to 300 servicemembers exit the military. This number will only increase as the nation’s wars come to an end and forces continue to draw down. In 2012, an average of 470,000 resumes were posted on Monster each week. Essentially, for every job opening in the U.S., there are roughly 187 qualified and unqualified job applicants.
This is the challenge you face in relying on job boards as your sole method of getting a job. I suggest you think of hitting the “apply” button as being similar to walking down to the local convenience store and buying a lottery ticket, then deciding to not do anything else (or continue buying lottery tickets) until they call your number.
Are job boards still relevant? Yes. However, it’s best to post your resume to a niche job board that aligns with your background or industry — and make sure your resume is targeted specifically for the jobs you apply to.
3. Your Resume Is Longer Than the CEO of Our Company’s (or Shorter Than a Recent College Graduate’s)
A long resume doesn’t impress me at all. Even worse, a resume that has neither definition nor clarity is guaranteed to be placed in the trash. I’m probably going to look at it for six seconds, tops.
Your resume should be a windshield document. That is, it should reflect the positions you’re going towards. (Click here to tweet this thought.) It shouldn’t be a rearview mirror which simply lists all of the duties you performed. It should contain keywords, which websites such as wordle and tagcrowd can help you identify in both job announcements and your resume. This is because your resume will most likely be filtered by Applicant Tracking Software before it even gets to a human resources screener.
And, while I appreciate that you volunteered to clean up a highway or had some collateral duties in addition to your main assignments, I’m looking for candidates who have years of matching relevant experience, the right job titles and are in the same industry. Most importantly, I’m not looking for a “jack of all trades”; if I were, the job posting would have said so.
How do you craft a resume that’s forward-looking? Find about 15 to 20 job announcements that match up with your ideal target job title. Incorporate their language into your resume and make it contextual by inserting your metrics. Review each bullet point you’ve chosen to use by asking yourself if it demonstrates a problem you solved or action you took and the results that were accomplished. The actual length of your resume? It depends on your audience. Seek out current or former employees at the companies you’ve identified in your target list and ask them what their company’s preference is.
4. You Didn’t Proofread Your Resume
I would be a millionaire if I got 10 bucks for every time I come across a candidate who’s an “experienced manger.” There isn’t any substitute for attention to detail here. Don’t trust spellcheck, and don’t rely solely on your own review. Have your resume reviewed and critiqued free of charge by as many eyes as possible. The trained professionals at your Fleet and Family Support Centers, Army ACAP, and Airman & Family Readiness Centers are the best resource to catch those mistakes before I do.