Thinking Beyond MOS

Thinking Beyond MOS II: Selling, Keywords and Other Tips for Improving Your Civilian Resume (Podcast)
Career Booster


00:00 / 00:23:22



Grantham University wants you to be successful, and with the help of Grantham’s Career Launch you will be armed with the tools you need to have a successful transition beyond service.

Picking up where we left off with Thinking Beyond MOS: How to Translate Military Experience into a Civilian Career, here are some of the highlights of the second installment of our podcast on translating military experience and training for civilian resumes that will get noticed.

Selling, Not Telling

As you consider the next rung on your career ladder—transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workforce—you will need to make some adjustments in how you describe your work experience to potential recruiters through your resume. In other words: Don’t tell. Sell.

“Sell it, don’t just tell it,” says Doug Dimler, Grantham University Career Services coordinator. “It’s really transitioning from what you did in the military to the civilian talk.”

As your military mind reflects on the work you did in service, you’re likely to come up with work history bullets for your resume like: “Manage personnel and equipment during six-month overseas deployment.”

According to Dimler, that’s accurate, but inexact.

“What you really did,” he says, “was direct a team of 45 electricians or mechanics to maintain more than $30,000,000 in equipment while maintaining 100% inventory accuracy. When you talk to a hiring manager or recruiter and they see that on your resume, you’re going to stand out.”

The truth is, not many civilians can back those kinds of numbers up. When you get a chance to speak to them on your resume, you should.

“You’re telling a story with your work experience to a recruiter,” says Jeremy Bell, Grantham University Associate Director of Talent Development and Career Services, “and painting a real broad picture of what your responsibilities were.”

Bell offers another example in this- to him - all-to-familiar interview scenario:

Interviewer asks: “Tell me what you did in your last job.”

Candidate says: “Well, I drove a truck.”

That doesn’t cut it.

“What you’re not saying,” says Bell, “is that not only did I drive a truck, I managed a team of 30 with responsibilities for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and no room for error.”

Raylein Jones, Grantham University Career Services coordinator, adds: “These items need to be measurable. Managed personnel, yeah, that’s impressive, but when you’ve managed 45 employees … that really solidifies that experience that you’ve had.”

Maybe you haven’t directed 45 people, it could be five. And you may not have been responsible for equipment valued up to $30 million. Maybe it was $500,000. Either way, you’re still offering a concrete, real-value example. You’re quantifying your experience. You know those things. You’re describing your benefits. You’re stating the how and why, and then you’re including results and details.

Another thing: Use action words.

“You don’t want to just say ‘Did This,’” says Jones. “You want to use a verb that describes what you have done in a way that makes you look good and is results oriented. That’s what companies want. They want to know how you’ll save them time and how you’ll save them money.”

Speak the Language of the Opportunity

“Keywords … we hear this a lot when it comes to resumes,” says Bell. “Especially when it comes to applying for certain positions and speaking to the language of the opportunities.”

One of the first places to start looking for that language is, of course, in the job description. As you look through the job description and identify skills you have in your toolbox that match the requirements, you’re also finding keywords you need to implement in your resume.

“When you look over a job description,” says Jones, “you’ll see different sections: Core responsibilities, qualifications. Circle or highlight or make a list of all the things you have done before from that job description and insert them into various points within your resume. This includes your skills and abilities. And if it says bachelor’s degree, write it out. The applicant tracking system is going to be specifically looking for that word.”

The world is always changing, that’s true in all things, including the hiring system. Most, if not all, companies are using applicant tracking systems to scan resumes and decide whether a candidate is qualified based on the words included in the resume.

One way you can give these systems what they’re looking for is through an online military translator. These online resources are designed to help you match employer requirements to your military experience. According to Jones: “It’s taking your military language and translating it into recruiter-friendly language.”

Grantham’s Career Services professionals have used several online translators—including, O*Net, and Jobscan— to help students build resumes.

If you’re building a resume for a specific position, say Project Manager, and you’re not sure about its core competencies, look it up on O*Net. “O*Net has great resources,” says Jones. “Type in the title and it tells you the skills desired and needed for that position. It’s a good start to know exactly what people are looking for in that position.”

Jobscan is another useful site in this respect. Copy and paste both the employer’s job description and your resume onto the site. Jobscan will then evaluate your resume based on keywords in the job description. The site will then rate how well you’ve done articulating what you can accomplish for the position.

“It’s just a matter of playing the match game,” says Bell. “You want to match. Think about the job responsibilities listed. Try to make sure all those things are listed on your resume. If you do have those skills and they just aren’t on the resume, get them on there.”

However, you need to be honest. If you don’t have those skills and qualifications, you may need to reevaluate your goals and your experiences. “But the main point,” says Bell, “is to make sure you understand the job description.”

“Keywords are so important,” says Dimler, “if you don’t have them in there and a company is using an applicant tracking system, which almost all of them use nowadays, your resume will never be looked at by a human. Seriously, it’s just that way.”

Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.

“Proofreading is the most important thing that you’re going to do when it comes to your resume,” says Bell.

“Let’s say you get past the applicant tracking system,” Bell continues. “You get past that first HR generalist or the front-line recruiter and it happens to get to a hiring manager. If you’re proofreading isn’t right and you’re being compared to another applicant who has a near-perfect or perfect resume, it’s going to put you out of the running. If there are too many grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors, they’re going to look at that and say, ‘I don’t really want this person working for me, I’d rather have this other person.’”

Your resume has several parts. A good one is built with both applicant tracking systems and human recruiters in mind. Use keywords. Write a summary. Include your education. Highlight your work history. But don’t overlook the one thing that takes candidates out of consideration more than anything else: Failure to proofread.

“Take a look at your resume,” says Bell. “How does it look? Does this look like a polished document? Look at white space. How your format looks. The kind of fonts you use. Is it easy to read? Is it easy to get through clearly without a lot of confusion? Consider your spacing and your consistency with your fonts and things like that. Your personal information.”

Make sure it is all correct.. Leave no room for error. And, make sure that if people want to contact you, they can. Prominently provide your phone number. Include your LinkedIn profile address on your resume—it’s a great way for recruiters to connect with you. (On a side note: Whatever you include on your resume, make sure it is consistent with what is on your LinkedIn profile.) And consider including your street address.

“Personally,” says Bell, “I believe you should include your street address. I never know for sure how a recruiter is going to contact you. Probably over the phone or by email, but why take chances?”

Proofing Quick Hits: Consistency

Check for consistency within your resume. Make sure you’re using the correct tense. For current positions, you want to make sure your tense shows that you’re currently doing this. Make sure you use your past and present tense accordingly when speaking to past and present positions.

Proofing Quick Hits: Grammar and Punctuation

Check everything. Spelling. Grammar. Usage. Review them thoroughly. You only get the chance to make a first impression once. Just one mistake, if spotted by a recruiter or hiring manager, can put you out of the running for that position because it shows you don’t pay attention to detail.

Number usage, when you use numbers and statistics in your resume, be sure to spell out numbers between one and nine. Use the actual numbers for 10 or larger.

Proofing Quick Hits: Weak Spots

Is there any information on your resume that isn’t relevant to the position? Lose it.

How about relevant jobs you’ve held years ago … many, many years ago? A good rule of thumb is to only go back 10 to 15 years, at most. Any earlier than that may not be relevant.

Next, take a look at any awards, citations, training or job experience you gained in the military. Look at them closely and ask yourself, is all of this relevant to my job target?

Proofing Quick Hits: It’s How Long?

“Your Civilian Resume should be two pages or less,” says Jones, “which is difficult for a lot of people who come from federal work or the military. Federal resumes can be pretty lengthy. In the civilian world, two pages or one page is all the recruiter is going to want to look at.”

So really, when you get down to looking at the whole process, proofreading is really important when it comes down to two or three people reviewing your resume.

Share your resume with friends, family, contacts … anyone that is a major stakeholder in helping you achieve your job target. They can help you polish your resume to a professional shine. And lastly, test drive your document by sharing it with Grantham’s Career Services team. We work with you to make sure it is where it needs to be … proofreading, structure, format, relevancy.

“I would strongly encourage that you come to us and have us review your resume to make sure that it’s in top shape,” says Jones.

Bell agrees: “Share your resume with us. Share the opportunities that you’re targeting with us so that we can work with you to customize your resume and make you as much of a viable candidate as possible.”

Now that you’ve had a taste, take 20 minutes out of your day to listen in as Bell, Dimler and Jones offer their professional insights in this podcast.

About The Author

Brandon Swenson, communications manager, is on Grantham University’s editorial board. A veteran and college graduate himself, he understands the benefits and intricacies of government education programs, such as the post-9/11 GI Bill. Brandon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City toward the end of his nearly two-decade tour in the United States Marine Corps.