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Service Members, Get Hired! Part IVa: Intro to Resumes & Job Applications

Resumes & Cover Letters

Welcome back for the beginning of Part IV of our “Service Members, Get Hired!” series! Today we’re taking our first step on the journey into the exciting topic of resumes and job applications! Okay, maybe it’s not exciting. Actually, it can be downright excruciating. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who likes doing this. However, it’s a necessary evil in this process of transitioning from service member to civilian. Yet, this topic is probably one of the largest in the realm of finding employment, which is why I'm going to have to publish it in five subparts: IVa - IVe.

So, with that said, let us dive into the first installment of our resume conversation; and by dive in, I mean let’s cover some disclaimers!


I am not, nor do I claim or assert to be, the end-all-be-all of resumes. If someone claims to be one, they’re lying to you. If there’s one word to describe resumes, it’s “subjective.” There are countless theories about what resumes should look like, include, and just “be.” What I have done, however, is talk to a tons of folks; so-called “experts” about resumes, from hiring managers and recruiters, with what they look for, to professional resume writers and consultants about what they know and suggest. Having also served as a hiring manager for 6 years, I have personal experience to relate to. However, having talked to so many folks, I was able to hone in on a lot of the “commonalities” across the board – things that pretty much everyone talked about or said that they look for. This has also allowed me to weed out a lot of the outlying opinions, like formatting and even content.

Let’s face it, every hiring manager is different, every hiring manager is going to have their own “quirks” that they look for, and at the end of the day, it is impossible to know what the hiring manager is going to look for or frown upon. As we'll discuss, some will write you off if you cover more than 10 years of experience because it comes across as haughty, and others will not mind that but will throw your resume out for inconsistent hyphens and spelling errors, because it comes across that you don’t have attention to detail (and folks like this will usually equate attention to detail to the level of quality in the employee they're getting). So, the best we can do is just make it as impactful and professional as possible without getting bogged down by which font size to use, style, and things like that.

Civilian vs. Federal vs. Functional vs. Chronological

So, this is such a mammoth topic that in an attempt to pare it down some, I will concentrate primarily on civilian resumes. This isn’t to say that federal resumes are less important. However, the only primary difference between civilian and federal resumes is that federal resumes tend to be more narrative in format. Even then, it seems as though the more I talk with HR folks on the federal hiring side, the more and more they’re accepting of a shorter 6-8 page federal resume over a 20 pager, or even a 2-page civilian-style resume. But because the norm is the classic narrative version, I wouldn’t recommend a civilian-style resume unless you’ve already spoken to someone in HR on whether or not a 2-page civilian format is preferred.

What I will say about the two is this: Regardless of how you format either one, the same general guidelines are going to apply. So later on, when I cover topics like consistency, acronyms, jargon, substantiation, two-part cause and effect, and other guidelines (their are no rules to resumes), know that they apply to all resumes regardless of how you structure them. Same goes when discussing the dreaded resume screening “algorithms” that rate your resume: Just know that not all job openings – federal or civilian – actually use those screening programs, but the chances of you knowing whether or not they do is very slim, so I encourage you to heed the advice.

Lastly, for the purpose of this series, I will reference the commonalities of a chronological resume versus a functional. While the layouts of the two are somewhat different (even more so if you do a combination of the two), the guidelines and best practices that I’m going to discuss are generally applicable regardless of which style you use.

Invest the Time Necessary

By this point, you’ve hopefully found your passions, discovered how they translate into a civilian role, chosen industry to get into, and prioritized what’s important to narrow down your search to only a handful of awesome opportunities. Now it’s time to begin the applications.

As with everything in the process of transitioning, this is not a quick and easy task. In fact, the average civilian resume takes ~4 hours to tailor, and the average federal resume takes ~8 hours! Oh, and did I mention that by tailoring, I’m not talking about writing your resume. No, these 4-8 hours are after you’ve already written and polished your “master” resume. This is the 4 hours you’ll spend after that just to tailor that resume to one specific job opening. Now do you see what they mean when they say searching for a job is a full-time job? However, I cannot stress enough so it's going to get emphasized:

  • The time you spend doing these steps is what will often be the game-changer to finally getting those interviews you’re desperately seeking!

So, if you don’t have a master resume yet, then you need to start by creating one. There are great free services from organizations like Hire Heroes USA (HHUSA) to help you get started. However, these services are just a launching point; they are not going to give you a finished product. Again, do not expect to be able to take what HHUSA gives you and think you’ll be able to start landing interviews with it.

Once you have a template to start off with, then it’s time to come back to these articles and begin considering whether or not to polish them with everything I’m discussing. Only then is that resume ready to start going into job applications. If you decide to start your own template rather than one furbished by an outside source, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There are tons of example templates out there, or you can create your own. However, everything I’m discussing in this series is still vital information to consider as you go along creating your master resume.

Paid vs. Free Services

Lastly, let me address my stance on paid versus free services. I personally, will never recommend or advocate for anything that comes at a cost to the Service Member. This is not a knock against paid service providers. Some of them are great and absolutely still have the Veteran's best interest at heart; simply charging a fee because they have begun to do this as a full-time service and still have bills to pay. I only say this: Be wary, because you best believe there are predators out there!

Everything I'm going to arm you with, however, will get the job done for free (pun only mildly intended). There are nonprofits and volunteers who are more than willing to help you. Leverage the resources you have available! At the end of the day, paid service or free service, only you can create a resume for you that is personalized to you. What I mean by personalization is substantiating and quantifying everything. I will touch on this much more later on, but regardless of whom has started your resume, or reviewed it for tweaks, it’s up to you to do the legwork to personalize it. So my question is: Why pay someone else to do something that they quite frankly can’t do, at least not without considerable input from you anyway?

Anyhow, that's it for this week! Hopefully, you’ve found some use in Part IVa of our Employment chat. If you did, please feel free to share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition. And of course, join me next week for Part IVb of the Employment chat as we talk about the overarching guidelines to consider when you're creating your “master” resume!

Until next week, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!

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