Posted on Dec 24, 2017
CPT Air Operations (Soj36)
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As a hiring manager, leader within my company’s Veterans Network, and head of our regional veteran internship program, a lot of vets’ resumes come across my desk. I’ve seen everything from the 12-page GS-job format to near copy-and-pastes from someone’s DD 214. Curious to see what resume best-practices exist out there, and more than happy to share my own thoughts on the subject in the comments.
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SGT Russell Wickham
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My transition resume was hard to write. "Trained to kill people" didn't go over well with my transition counselor. Fortunately she helped me rewrite it so I was "capable of dealing with difficult people in a high stress environment." (Okay, not true, but it sounds good right?) It took a while to learn to write the resume so civilians could understand how the skills I developed in the military could help them in their company. Once I learned, it made getting a job much easier.
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CPT Air Operations (Soj36)
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As a former infantryman myself, I cannot empathize with the thought that all we were good at was trigger pulling. I’ve learned now, and have come to hold in high regard as a hiring manager, that those who kick in doors for a living are some of the most highly resilient when it comes to stressful situations (“hey, at least we’re not getting shot at!”), best at building and operating within high-performing teams, and best and breaking a complex problem down (“Barney style”) as to delegate and solve for root cause in the fastest way possible. Now ACAP doesn’t give you all of that when they convert that 11B to “general manager” or “pizza delivery specialist”, so it’s absolutely on you (and us as a veteran Network) to show explain to recruiters and show hiring managers the value of a veteran.
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SGT Russell Wickham
SGT Russell Wickham
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It took me four years to become good at a civilian skill where they gave me a management position, but the skills I developed as a leader in the military have come in handy to build a team and make our company successful.
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CPT Air Operations (Soj36)
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We call that being upside down in terms of qualifications, SGT Russell Wickham. The soft skills of leadership, team building, effective communication, etc. are things that most civilians don’t learn and are not expected to display for sometimes 5, 10, or even 15 years into their professional career. “Management” is obviously not an entry level role, but LEADERSHIP is something that most of us do naturally after the military. This is an important distinction, because you can lead at any level and create opportunities to grow beyond that first job. It may take eating a bit of humble pie, but I’ve found time and time again that vets who take roles that may seem initially beneath their experience level and do their best are recognized for their advanced leadership skills and set on the fast track for promotion.
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SSG Product Manager
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CPT Air Operations (Soj36)
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Thanks for sharing SSG (Join to see). This is definitely not the first or last time that we’ll discuss the military to civilian transition here on Ralley Point. In fact, I would argue that this is one of the single best reasons to use this vast platform of current and past service members. Learn what worked for others and begin to carve your own path. Results may vary, and no returns or refunds on the advice! At the end of the day, few Kong’s in the military will stand up to the challenge that is leaving the military. It’s my hope that every veteran successfully transitions into a job that not supports and fulfill them as much or more than as their service did. Thats a lot to ask for, and that’s why we keep talking about this :)
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SGT Combat Engineer
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Good question. In my personal experience, the civilian business world is clueless as to what servicemembers do during their service. There is even a degree of confusion between veterans of different services or radically different occupational specialties. The only place where my military experience was directly applicable was a defense firm that hired me to make interactive multimedia instructional content. I wrote a lengthy cover letter that explained everything on my resume and how it related to the advertised position. I also sent it directly to a decision maker, bypassing the human resources people.
More important than the resume itself, is getting it in front of the right person. If possible, it's a good idea to introduce yourself and talk a bit with the person to whom you give your resume. Make an impression.
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CPT Air Operations (Soj36)
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At the risk of sounding condescending, saying that civilian business folks are clueless to how your military experiences relate to transferable skills is stating a problem without a proposed solution. This rift between cultures is real, no question about it, but it’s what we do as Veterans and as a broader veteran community that has the potential to solve this problem. I don’t want to have to go crawling back to government service — military, military contracting, mikitary vendors, military industrial comple, or otherwise — just to be valued appropriately, and neither should you. The point of this discussion to to hash out best practices to work through some of the very same frustration that you have faced, and do it in such a way that you transition to a role that doesn’t leave you wanting more.

Your point on WHERE you’re sending that correctly translated and formatted resume, however, is 100% on point. If you’re not working with someone who is at least willing to meet you halfway in terms of understanding your value proposition in the absence of standard civilian paths or credentials, then you’re playing the wrong game. I see vets, time and time again, try to compete for roles that they’re easily beat out of. In the finance industry, for example, there is an unlimited pool of recent college grads who have 4.0 GPAs and a proven accident for financial analysis. There’s also an large pool of Ivy League MBAs applying to entry level and middle-management roles in most sought after types of work (investment banking, M&A, trading, etc.), and generations of tenured professionals holding down the upper management and C-suite roles f most major firms. If you’re looking to break into this industry, you either need to be able to compete on par with those candidates who have classic educations and backgrounds, or you need to find an angle that suits your own experiences. Veteran internships, management training programs, or other initiatives that are usually led by vets for vets allow you to compete with YOUR peer group rather than someone else’s. If all else fails, find that one vet in your target company (either on LinkedIn, Veterati, or here) and allow them to help you plot your course to a successful transition.
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SGT Combat Engineer
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CPT (Join to see) - What I have found in the civilian business in world in general is that things that a competent Army leader would consider second-nature and as givens, are sometimes lacking. Some things that one might encounter in the business world (not any one particular company and this doesn't apply everywhere):
- Meetings in which key participants or even the facilitator have clearly done very little effective preparation and/or are unable to articulate their points.
- Meetings in which no decisions are actually made.
- Failure to acknowledge receipt of important business communications.
- Failure to produce critical deliverables such as requirements for time-sensitive projects
- A lack of understanding of the concept of accountability - that a leader/manager is responsible for getting things done. "Rank" in many parts of the corporate world is frequently seen as an entitlement or perk of nepotism rather than as the bearing of greater responsibility.

You don't have to be in the business world already in order to see the effects. You can see it as a consumer. From something minor, like a new restaurant that miserably fails a health inspection a month after opening (raw sewage and live roaches) to the Equifax breach. Obviously the business world has little need of the ability to do Call for Fire, but it does have need of basic leadership and responsibility - which good servicemembers have, but the non-veteran business world doesn't always recognize. It's sort of Dunning-Kruger mixed with "you don't know what you don't know."

So, to try and swing this to a more positive note: I read on a blog by a successful software entrepreneur in NYC once that he needs:
- Smart people
- Who get things DONE

That's where the veteran should focus their message: They are smart people, who actually GET THINGS DONE. That, if communicated effectively, would definitely set the candidate apart from much of their competition.
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CPT Air Operations (Soj36)
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I completely agree with much of your frustration, SGT (Join to see), regarding the differences in leadership styles between the military and corporate environments. The decentralized decision making model that allows ground commanded to be agile enough to defeat a constantly changing threat environment is somewhat unique to our nation’s fighting force, and even more so in the Army than in other branches. This model requires trust in subordinate leaders, forged through discipline and rigerpus training that builds a hive mind of sorts. Decisions are made during the mission planning phase and all the way up to initial contact, but after that it is highly unlikely that anyone in the CP has a greater understanding on the best course of action than the leaders on the ground and in the fight.

But let me be clear: the corporate world is not a battlefield, at least in this sense.

Most people in corporate America confuse the terms management and leadership — something that can and should greatly offend those of us who know what actual leadership is. Leaders who eat last, sleep last, and still lead the way are not commonplace in the business world. Instead, you see tenured professionals who were promoted to the role of people manager based on their aptitude as a functional expert in their field. SME first, Leader by level. This is nearly opposite from the military, where you’re a leader from day 1, and you build the expertise to lead more and more effectively. What we create for the most part, in fact, are general managers, or the opposite of subject matter experts.

We Veterans are all therefore “upside down” in terms of qualification. We have and can immediately employ the sorts of organizational leadership skills that most civilians won’t be asked to even begin learning until 10 or 15 years into their career, but we don’t have the foundational understanding of the job, company, or industry that an entry level employee can pick up in 1-2 years. Therefore, if benchmarked against a fresh college graduate, we’re too expensive and generally under-educated or jnderwualified based on the target candidate Profile. If benchmarked against a more seasoned professional or MBA-type, we’re usually vastly underqyalified both academically and by industry experience. In either case we loose, unless we shift away from this linear approach.

You’re not wrong that the civilian world could use more leaders like us, but you need to make it into the civilian world before you can assist in that fight and prove the value of a veteran in your own way. If you’re anything like me, this will take learning how to flex your communication style and approach to ensure you’re reliving the most impactful message to each intended recipient at all times. You do this frequently and successfully enough, and you’ll find yourself rising through the ranks of any organization to a place where you can begin fixing some of those issues you’ve listed.
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