Editor's note: This story first appeared on Feb. 2, 2016, here. Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college prep and career development company that provides intensive workshops to youth and veterans on college and career success.
Where to start
Market yourself from a position of confidence. If you can serve America honorably, you deserve a job at home. You must highlight transferable skills to write an inspired and strong resume.
Transferable skills are the abilities and attributes you can take from one job to another. These skills will be the linchpin of your resume; a well-formatted resume with poorly described skills won't make it far in the hiring process.
For many military veterans, the stress of resume writing stems from the unstructured nature of the private sector. While there are fewer explicit hierarchies, chains of command still exist, and the men and women at the top of these chains have criteria that successful candidates should fulfill. Transferable skills are frequently the most crucial elements of this criteria. Few academic degrees, if any, can train you the same way practical experience can. As a veteran, it is your job to identify the myriad of practical skills already in your professional arsenal.
Now, how are you supposed to parse your military-specific skills from your transferable private-sector skills? In other words, how are you supposed to identify the skills a hiring manager is looking for? The following are your keys to success:
Define your skill sets. Professional skills sets are developed over time. There are several informal skill sets to which you should divide your skills. Of course, you might not have attributes that subscribe to every one of the skill sets, so don't worry if you're lacking in a few areas. The following are skill sets into which you can divide your experiences and qualifications: management, technical, communication, research, data, financial, assistance, teaching and organization.
If you think there are skills sets that you can add to the above list, feel free to include your own. The point of this exercise is to facilitate the division of your experiences. Divide your experiences as you see them – there aren't any rigid rules to follow. Did you lead a team, learn new software, manage a budget, cut costs, organize a work plan, or train subordinates? Great. For now, pay no attention to how military-specific each one is.
Make a list with a civilian friend to frame your experiences. Writing about yourself is one of the most difficult aspects of composing a resume. How do you know if you are coming off as believable or arrogant? What if you don't remember all your experiences? Will the hiring manager understand the military experiences you refer to? These are questions veterans ask themselves when applying for a job.
To answer these questions, I advise all my clients to have a conversation with a civilian friend and make a list of the qualifications they talk about. Talk to each other in a no-judgment zone. Speaking with a civilian friend forces you to break down, in simple terms, what you did in the military. Break down acronyms. Break down chains of command. Break down dates of service. Break down situational accomplishments. Furthermore, conversing with a friend removes the awkward pretenses and uptight atmosphere of speaking to some stranger. Committing yourself to this relaxed conversation should allow you to recall numbers, specific activities, and skills acquired while working a past opportunity. The more comfortable you are in a situation, the more you will recall past work. The point of the conversation is to relax your mind and run your conscience through your mental map of experiences.
A key aspect of this conversation will be your partner’s responses. Your friend should call you out when you're being too vague, she should prod you when you're speaking about a substantive experience, and she should keep the conversation moving forward and on topic. She definitely should inquire about numbers and things you learned. Why is this so crucial? Humans respond to active requests and calls to action. An answer to an inquisitive friend’s question is far more likely to be substantive than one from a passive partner. Your friend needs to give you a reason to offer detailed points. If you were “conversing” with someone who didn't ask questions or seem interested, would you return the favor by offering complete responses? Probably not. Make sure to have an active conversation.
Numbers tell a story. When writing out your bullet points, make sure to mention numbers and figures related to your work experiences. Numbers in your bullet points provide realistic context for the reader. Think managing money, cutting costs, serving superiors, training subordinates, and the like. Essentially, providing numbers is a great way to boost the specificity of your bullet points, and thus, make them far more compelling.
If you're coming from the military, chances are high that a myriad of your peers share similar experiences as you. This is true for professionals from all lines of work, be it military, private sector, or government. And so, numbers are the best way to provide context about your duties. From a cognitive standpoint, when a hiring manager reads that you “sat at the front desk for a building and responded to safety alerts,” she will have some idea of your past work. Conversely, if she reads that you "maintained the security of a building for 300 residents resulting in a 100 percent safety rate for 2015,” she would immediately know how many people you safeguarded and the results accomplished. Subjectively, she would remember your resume over others that fail to disclose a numerical context for work. Numbers prove experience and make you noteworthy. Numbers will help you do this because numbers are real. They will make your bullet points humanly concrete.
Prioritize strong action verbs. Action verbs are the great equalizers. Hiring managers evaluate candidates for fit and ability, and to pass the test, you need detailed bullet points beginning with strong action verbs.
Simply put, properly framing your experiences with the appropriate action verbs maximizes your ability to demonstrate qualifications. Think of selecting the proper action verbs as a matter of principle: You would never show weakness or neglect in a time of great importance, right? Then, why would you choose poor action verbs when applying for a job? Carefully choosing your verbs also shows meticulousness – a trait countless employers appreciate.
Thus, use active and specific action verbs that directly convey your contributions and qualifications. Ask yourself whether the verb actively demonstrates an endeavor. For example, "responsibilities include" is a poor action verb phrase countless job applicants use on their resumes. So if your bullet point briefly reads, "Responsibilities include managing schedules of subordinates and supervising outdoor activities," we can revise the bullet point to read, "Manage schedules of 15 trainees and supervise outdoor activities to ensure proper training." You can actively "manage" and "supervise." These are direct action verbs.
As a general rule, if the action verb is a cliché or too vague, don't use it. Such weak action verbs include "assist," "help," "responsibilities include," "involved in," "motivated," "participated in," "functioned," and many others. In the end, strong action verbs demonstrate careful and expressive writing. Utilizing them on your resume means you took the time and attention needed to write strong bullet points. It means you care.
In conclusion, explicating your transferable skills is the key to writing an inspired resume. Countless veterans have the skills necessary to attain jobs in the private sector, but many struggle with extrapolating their experiences and translating their skills. Overcoming this challenge requires simple strategies, such as defining your skill sets, making a list with a civilian friend, using numbers, and utilizing strong action verbs.