Finally, we are beyond talking about what the format of the resume will be and how to get through the header. We are actually getting into writing about ME (well actually, YOU, but you know what I mean)!
The professional summary is at the top of the resume for a reason. It’s what you want people to know about you before they read the rest. It’s an introduction of you to the reader. It’s real easy to become a “me-monster” when writing a resume and want to sell yourself and talk about all the great things you have done (credit “me-monster” to Brian Regan). But, if you start off your resume as a “me-monster” the reader is going to think you’re full of it and toss it to the side. The number one concept to keep in mind when writing the professional summary is what you are good at and what you are looking to do. I’ll reiterate that again, in the professional summary, write about what you are good at and what you are looking to do.
The reason I wrote that twice is because it’s VERY easy to fall into the trap of talking about what you’ve done. After all, a resume is a list of accomplishments right? NO! It’s YOU on a flimsy piece of paper. And if you become a “me-monster,” no one is going to want to meet the real life version of you (seriously though, Brian Regan is hilarious…watch here). In the professional experience section, you’ll list out all of your accomplishments and you’ll dedicate at least 50% of your resume to that section. So for now, let’s keep it high, lofty, and pleasant as the reader is just getting to know you.
So what exactly am I good at? At this point in the process, go dig up ALL of your old OERs/FITREPs/EVALs/OPRs/etc. If you don’t have them handy, more than likely the personnel command within your branch has them recorded somewhere. For Navy people, you can get them all on BUPERs Online (BOL). Regardless, they are in your official record, so get with your leadership or friends about how to find them.
Once you’ve gathered them all up, read through the writeup section of all of them. It might take you awhile if you’ve been in for more than a few years. But take the time to read through every single write up. Think about the common themes you see. Maybe you’re a SME at something. Maybe you’re a gifted leader. Maybe you’re detail oriented (translation = analytical). Write out 2-3 overarching themes you see throughout your writeups. These will be the “what you’re good at.” We will refer to these themes below as “Theme 1,” “Theme 2,” etc.
Next, as you read through these write-ups, what did you find the most enjoyment from?…besides bullshitting at the smoke pit. Did you find yourself drawn to working with your hands? Were you always the one fixing the printer or the computer? Did you enjoy public speaking or leading PT in front of your platoon, company, etc? I’m not asking you to figure out what exact job you want, but rather what kind of role you want to find yourself in. Some people like to sit in a cubical all day and work on specialty/detail oriented work. Whereas some people like to be working in a team, constantly collaborating. I can’t figure this part out for you, it takes some real introspection. However, at this point, we’re keeping it broad.
One of the great things about military service is we are hard working and constantly working on becoming a better leader. And if there is one thing companies are constantly looking for, it’s people who aren’t afraid to lead. However, if you don’t want to be in a leadership role, don’t say you do! Not all of us are wired the same way. If you prefer being the SME who works independently, that’s great! Companies need super smart work horses too!
The bottom line is, find out what it was you enjoyed about your time in the military. And give it some serious thought. Nobody wants to hire someone who is good at bullshitting – but maybe if you’re the guy always cracking jokes and bringing people together, you might have a great future in sales. This concept is not an easy one to figure out, and something many veterans continue to work on after they’ve made the transition. After all, 65% of veterans leave their first civilian job within 2 years.
One book I highly recommend to help think through this process is “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. It’s a great exercise in finding out what makes you tick.
Alright, once you’ve got your 2-3 themes of what you’re good at and what broadly you are looking to do. Then it’s time to look at how are we going to write this. From a format perspective, we are looking for 4-7 sentences. And more isn’t always better, it’s the quality of what you write and enticing the reader to want to continue reading. Personally, mine is only 4 sentences. But, I packed a lot of information into those sentences to make sure the reader knows my background, my accomplishments, and what I can bring to their organization. To help break this down, we’ll set it up in a 5 sentence structure. This is flexible! Like I said, 4-7 sentences, but these are the 5 key concepts you need to convey.
- Opening – Talk in broad strokes about what you accomplished (what you are good at) during your time on active duty.
- “Accomplished leader, versatile manager, project management, process improvement, team builder, etc.”
- Detail (Theme 1)- Specify how you were a good leader, manager, etc.
- “Led cross-function teams of 100 people, measurable results, austere environments, limited resources, etc.”
- Detail (Theme 2) – Same as #2. Remember, these themes are different.
- Detail (Theme 3) – **As Needed**
- What you are looking to do
- It’s important to remember you want to show the reader what talent and skills you can bring to the organization, not talk about what you want to do but what they need.
- Summarize your skill set here into what you enjoyed doing on active duty and concurrently how those skills could benefit their organization.
- “Extensive knowledge in project management, strategic planning, just-in-time delivery, etc.”
Once you go through this exercise. Read back to yourself what you wrote. Revise, revise, revise. Remember, these 4-7 sentences need to PACK A PUNCH! You want this paragraph to be professional, yet enticing for the reader so they think to themselves about how you would be a great fit to their organization and they want to learn more specifics on how you could benefit their team as they continue to read.
Guys and girls, that’s it. You’ve successfully completed section 2 of writing your resume. One thing I want to note here is don’t get hung up on writing the perfect professional summary right now. Honestly, it will never be perfect, and you are going to rewrite this one document FAR MORE than you ever did for a write up on an OER/FITREP/EVAL etc. Get a solid 4-7 sentences with a few revisions and move on for now. You’ll come back and revise all of these sections many, many times.
My professional summary as an example
Next up…Key Skills!
As always, if there is anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Pat@TransitionVetCoach.com. And feel free to subscribe to our email list. This way you can stay up to date with our latest content to help fellow veterans successfully make the transition.