Okay, we’ve finally made it to the heart of the resume, the professional experience section. This is where the magic happens. This is your time to shine. Consequently, this is the section that has the most amount of work required. We’re going to walk through it step by step.
This shit was so long I had to break it up into sections. You’ll see a bold underlined title, center justified, to break this thing up a bit.
You have likely heard of the two types of resume formats: chronological and functional. And if not…there are two types of resume formats: chronological and functional. Chronological is where your career is listed out with your most recent position and achievements first and the beginning of your career at the end. Functional is where you group your achievements into different categories such as “Project Management” or “Operations Management.”
For our purposes, we will be walking through the chronological as that’s the most common format and is easiest to follow. Functional resumes are fine, they can just be a little hard to follow as the reader is often most concerned with what you’ve done recently. What you’ve been doing lately is most relevant to them. Even if you do feel that the functional format is best for you, in the drafting section of this process I encourage you to still write a chronological format first for three reasons. First, it will allow you to get everything down on paper in an organized and professional summary of your experience which will aid you in condensing everything down into the functional format. Second, you can put each tour summary on your LinkedIn profile (lots of info on LinkedIn gives you a higher probability you will match with keyword searches by recruiters…more on this in a later post). Third, if you are applying for government jobs (USA Jobs), your resume has no length limit. So, your resume can be as long as possible.
So, before we even start writing the actual section, we’re first going to organize your career. This might seem like a pain in the ass (which it is), but it’s vital to ensuring you don’t gloss over any part of your career that has an important story to tell. Additionally, this process also is important when preparing for interviews. You’re going to want to remember everything, so when we start talking about success and failure stories, you know you’re remembering your best examples.
First, open a word document and write out every single base you’ve been assigned to. Then, beneath that, write out every assignment you had on that base. For example, my first two assignments as a CEC Officer were to Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, MS.
See that spell-it-out then put the acronym in parenthesis thing? Good lord I still write like an officer. My old USAFA commandant would be proud…sigh.
Anyway, my first two assignments were at NCBC Gulfport. I was assigned to a public works department and also a mobile construction battalion.
Notice how I didn’t capitalize the first letters in those unit titles? That’s because in the civilian world, people don’t capitalize everything like we do in the military. Not really a pro-tip, more of an FYI.
Then beneath your assignments list out every position you held at that unit. Don’t forget collateral duties either. Some people really excel in their collaterals and it may be worth including on your resume. For example, when I was at the mobile construction battalion, I was a department head, an officer-in-charge for a detachment, and also a logistics director for a joint exercise. Additionally, I was the unit’s equal opportunity officer. I’m far from unique, so I know you have been in units where you held many roles, often times multiple roles at the same time.
THEN, beneath each position you’ve held, you need to write out at least three accomplishments. It might be a stretch for some shorter term roles, but really press yourself to have at least three. What will likely happen when we start editing this section is these bullets will all get condensed down. But in order to do that, we need all the details up front; it will help make the editing process easier and also result in a better final product. If you have more than three accomplishments, that’s totally fine, the more the better. But at a minimum, three.
After the accomplishments, write out at least one failure. Nobody is perfect, so I’m sure you can think of at least one thing you screwed up, even if it’s miniscule, write it down. Of course more than one is fine; but at a minimum, at least one.
What’s important with the failure, is the lesson you learned and how you recovered. No failure is worth talking about if you didn’t learn from it. And it’s even more valuable if you can discuss how you implemented the lesson you learned later on and created a success/accomplishment from it. It all comes full circle.
So once you have this exercise done, save this document as is. Save it as “Success/Failure Stories”. This document will be critical when preparing for interviews.
Once you have it saved as a separate document, resave it as your resume draft, and we’ll keep going.
When writing resume bullets, there’s a tactic that is helpful to provide the framework for your accomplishments. The framework is STAR:
- Result (So what?)
When writing any resume, you want to optimize your space on the page as much as possible so it packs a “punch.” If you are rewriting the situation for every single position you held, you’re wasting a lot of precious real estate. So, we’re going to write out the situation for each assignment one time – essentially a mini job summary. Then, you can write bullets beneath it discussing various accomplishments by spelling out the task, action, and result. By focusing on the situation up front, this allows your bullets to pack more of a punch by getting straight to what matters: the impact
Here is where you will want to watch out for military jargon. “Platoon,” “subordinates,” “division,” etc. There are a lot of resources available to translate military language to a more civilian language. The best resource I have found is reading LinkedIn profiles of other veterans who have transitioned out. Or, you can always turn to your best friend on the internet, Google. The other best resource is common sense; “subordinates” can be “personnel,” “teammates,” or “associates.” DO NOT use the word “subordinates” on your resume.
The situation is where you set the stage for the accomplishment; what were the primary responsibilities of your job(s)? Where were you? Essentially, orient the reader to what you are about to say. Common things to note in the mini-summary is how many people you led, total dollar value of assets you managed, or the scope/mission of the unit you were in. Here’s an example from my resume.
In this example, I translated my title from “Embark Officer” to “Logistics Manager.” I also held several other roles within my battalion, but each section will be cleaner and more organized if you can group your positions under one “umbrella” title. I spell out my unit since occasionally you’ll be interviewing with a veteran, perhaps from the same service and/or community and they’ll be curious as to what unit you were in. Marines are the most notorious for this!
Best. SECDEF. Ever.
After the unit, I put where I was stationed. This also feeds the situation so they can build a frame of reference as to where you lived. On the far right I list the month and years I was in the position; specific days don’t matter.
The two sentences below the header take care of the situation aspect of the STAR tactic. Don’t get carried away with the situation, 2-3 sentences is fine. Remember, how many people you led, total dollar value of assets you managed, or the scope/mission of the unit you were in.
Below is an example where we will look at the task, action, and result.
First, this bullet starts off with an “action” word. This is important. I could have easily said “Managed capability to…” But, that would have been boring. “Executed” gives a sense that this is something I did and was intimately familiar with. The first phrase of this bullet accomplishes the task and action part of STAR.
Then I spend most of the bullet dealing with the result aspect where I list out the number of missions, number of people, number of sites, number of continents, and duration of deployment. These all have numbers associated with them. This is important for two reasons: 1) it gives context to the reader as to the level of responsibility, and 2) people are naturally drawn to measurable results.
When writing your bullets, keep in mind that all the reader cares about is the results. It’s easy to get caught up in what you did, but if it didn’t produce anything memorable or substantial, nobody will care. Set the scene as quickly as possible, and then get to the point, answer the reader’s question of “So what?”
Lastly, in the example above, I point out that we had a high level of performance with getting pax and cargo ready for missions. What’s important here is to let the reader know that you were successful. It’s very likely they are not familiar with what you did or what “success” looks like. To give the reader some context, I added in “unprecedented” so they know our department did something unique and raised the bar from previous efforts.
As you write these bullets it’s HUGELY important that you convert anything you can into numbers. People reading your resume read lots and lots of resumes. Imagine if you were getting ready for a day of interviews and had to read 20-30 resumes ahead of time. After the second or third one, you’re just looking for highlights. Numbers naturally stand out. It’s a quick way for the reader to understand the scale and measure of success for a bullet.
When quantifying, the general rule is numbers one to ten are written out, 11 and above are written numerically; however, if you have a one and a 12 in the same sentence, pick one format and stick to it. I generally lean towards sticking with the actual numbers since they stand out more, rather than writing out numbers (sorry Mrs. Welsch, my 12th grade english teacher).
You might have to do some simple math to quantify your results, but it’s worth the effort. Perhaps before you led your team, it took them an hour to perform a task, and through updating the training program, you reduced it to 45 minutes – that’s a 25% reduction in production time. In the private sector, that equates to saving money, which is what it’s all about in corporate America.
If you can make these numbers equate to money, you’ll be speaking the language of the reader. For example, if you led a convoy security team of 28 troops and 7 MRAPs, you can justify your responsibilities and build on the previous example as “Led a team of 28 associates on 35 successful missions in an austere environment in support of regional counter terrorism efforts, an increase in mission capability by 25% from previous units; responsible for assets valued at over $3.5M.”
Here’s an example from my resume below:
At my very first job as a construction manager, one of my mentors gave me a lesson on my very first day. He said, “it’s all about the money.” He was referring to the fact that we were dealing with the government’s money and private contractors who were looking to maximize their profits at all costs. His advice has proven to be correct in every role I’ve held since then. If you haven’t seen it yet, when you get off active duty and out in the private sector, you’ll see it too. Profits seem to have a negative connotation these days, but the reality is, that’s how businesses thrive, grow, and ultimately and create more jobs.
Putting It All Together
So we walked through one summary and one bullet. Now just do that for every position you ever held! So easy!
Remember what I said in one of my very first posts, it’s all about having a plan. You aren’t going to write your entire resume in one night. But, if you put in the hard work up front, it will pay dividends later on.
Remember those failure stories you wrote out for the success/failure stories document? Go ahead and delete those for the resume version of this document. If you have an awesome turn around story where you failed initially, but ended up overcoming the failure and succeeding, you can keep the success aspect on the resume, but don’t include failures on your resume. It doesn’t set the right tone to the reader. If they are interested in hearing about a failure, they will ask in the interview. They don’t expect anyone to list out failures on their resume – the point of a resume is to brag about yourself – don’t be bashful.
Don’t stress on these bullets as you write them; crank out the locations, units, positions held, successes, and failures step by step. You’ll have plenty of time to go back and review. The hard part is getting it all down on paper.
So each position you held should have at least three success stories turned into bullets at this point. Now put everything in reverse chronological order (if you haven’t already). This is because the hiring manager and HR managers you’ll be interviewing with want to know what you have done most recently. My old Chief used to tell me when writing and reviewing EVALs and FITREPs, “Sir, all the reader cares about is, what have you done for me lately?” If you were a rock star in your first one or two positions, but you’ve become rather mediocre lately, they aren’t going to be interested.
Fortunately, you’re reading Vet Coach and fully invested in your transition, so you’re clearly not the type of person to be in that predicament!
Here’s an expanded view of the summary example of above to best organize your positions held and overall assignments.
At this point, you have a choice as to how you break up each section. Even though I held multiple positions at each unit I was with, I still listed the entire time I was at one unit as a position. In reality, nobody is going to notice the difference. Unless your positions were starkly different, I recommend doing what I did. For the mini summary you can incorporate multiple responsibilities into it, so it covers everything you did. For all the position mini-summaries you wrote above, condense them into one summary. It might end up being 8-10 sentences at this point. That’s perfectly okay, you’ll come back and revise it later.
We’ll discuss military jargon conversion in a later post, it something I don’t want you to dwell on at this point. What you don’t want to have happen is you “civilianize” your resume so much, people don’t even know you were in the military. Now, that would be extremely hard, but the purpose of “translating” your resume is so the reader can understand it, not so they can’t tell you were in the military.
For now you can leave your title whatever it actually was, but go ahead and start thinking of what you might convert it to. Project manager or program manager are popular ones. For this particular example I used logistics manager since that’s essentially what I did.
Next to your title, list the name of your unit. If you can, spell it out – don’t use acronyms whenever possible. Nobody will know what they mean. Then after that, list where you were located.
On the far right, list the months and years you were at the unit. We’ve covered these last few points already so I won’t belabor this.
Next, list all your bullets beneath your summary. Again, there will be a lot of them at this point, but don’t worry, you’ll come back and condense them later. You’ll probably even delete a few as well – yes it’s hard…but we’ll get through it. Nobody is THAT amazing.
Now go through this process for every unit you were assigned to.
It’s highly likely that your professional summary section at this point is extremely long. Go ahead and save a version of this. If you ever decide to apply to federal jobs, there’s no limit on how long your resume can be. In fact, the longer the better because you’ll have a higher opportunity for matching keywords. Plus, this is a TON of information, you’ll want it for future reference as you go through the editing process.
Revise & Edit
Now unfortunately, there isn’t a lot I can help with when it comes to editing. But, here is what I will tell you. Really focus on the “So what?” of each bullet. Results and numbers. That’s what the reader really cares about. Make sure you have your spouse, friend, neighbor, random dude at the DFAC, whoever, read your drafts. And after they read it, ask them what sounds important to them.
Since we are working with a two page format, you’ll probably have to get this section down to one full page (to allow for space for the other sections). When it comes to font and page layout, that’s really up to you. My recommendation is no smaller than 11 point font, and use something professional. Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, etc. These are all fine.
Don’t get caught into the trap of more is better (federal jobs are a different story). The reader wants to hear about your best stuff. So make sure each bullet packs a punch. And if you were only in for a few short years and you don’t have a ton to talk about, THAT’S OKAY! You can DEFINITELY have a one page resume. No one is going to think any different of you. In fact, MANY people recommend a one page resume. I don’t here on Vet Coach because I’m trying to appeal to the majority of us transitioning veterans and getting everything down to one page takes a lot of work, especially if you have been in for a long time. It’s doable for anyone with any career length, but the resume is one facet of the transition so we’re trying to tackle as many things as quickly as we can. I subscribe to a fairly well known Patton quote that many of you have likely heard before, “A good plan now is better than a perfect plan next week.” A two page resume format is the most common format you will see in the private sector and a one page is also fairly common and in some cases preferred. A three page (or more) resume is unacceptable.
So, if as you edit, you start to realize that you can fit everything, including the other sections, on one page, that’s completely okay. Do NOT stress over that.
The last thing I will add to this section is, if you ever ranked out highly compared to your peers (top 20% or better, maybe top 33%), include it as the last bullet in each section. In the private sector it’s highly unlikely you will experience a ranking system similar to the military, so take advantage of an opportunity to stand out. Adding in high rankings as the last bullet is a nice way to end the section by clearly stating you’re a top tier candidate. “In case ALL these amazing accomplishments didn’t make it clear… I was in the 10% of my peers!”
Closing It Out
Well folks, that’s it. I know that was a ton to digest and it’s definitely a lot of work to do, but I encourage you to get started as early as you can. Even if you are a few years out, start building a running list of your accomplishments so you aren’t in a rush like so many of us are when you start to deal with all the moving parts of separating or retiring.
- List out all your locations, then assignments (units), then positions held.
- Under each position held
- 3 accomplishments
- 1 failure with lessons learned and application of lessons learned
- STAR bullet building strategy
- Situation: mini-summary for overall responsibility for all positions held
- Task, Action: Beginning ½ to full first sentence of bullet
- Result: Majority of bullet. Ask yourself “So what?”
- Quantify, quantify, quantify
- If possible financially quantify
- “It’s all about the money.”
- Two pages for most, but one page is COMPLETELY okay
- Revise and edit continually
As always, if you have any questions please hit me up at Pat@TransitionVetCoach.com. And please subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with all of our latest content!