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Tips for Improving Your Resume

fix it sm.jpgWhat is a non-performing resume?

It is a resume that has not persuaded a recruiter or an employer to call you for an interview. Or worse, it’s a resume posted on the Internet that is never “seen” by hiring managers who conduct computer searches to find job candidates.

Of course, there are many reasons why a job hunter does not obtain job interviews that have nothing to do with his or her resume. Market conditions, an excessive number of job applicants, and a lack of qualifications all can lead to a dismal job hunt.

Some of these factors you have no control over. (Some you do, such as your lack of qualifications.) But your resume should never be an obstacle to your success, either.

In this article, I will discuss how to improve your resume to get results by using a case history of a job applicant who had a non-performing resume. After improving the resume, he began getting interviews.

Background on the Job Applicant

The job applicant is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with five years experience as an avionics technician who also was a shop supervisor. He came to me after having no luck in getting any job interviews.

He’s a bright, articulate individual who would make a great employee. He was looking for a technical job but also was interested in management.

He does not possess a college degree although he is enrolled in a community college program and has earned 35 credits.

Resume Review

I reviewed his resume and immediately saw some problems. Most pressing of all was that I found it confusing to read. This was my first impression at the time:

When I read your resume I wondered whether you were looking for a tech job or a supervisor’s job. I thought the supervisory experience kind of drowned out your technical expertise. If an employer is just looking for a tech maybe they are not “reading” you right. Just a thought.

His resume also lacked information on most technical resumes: Education, Objective, Software Skills and an Equipment List.

When I told him what I thought, he wasn’t exactly convinced with my line of reasoning. He responded with this counterpoint:

Thing is, even though I am looking for a tech position, I do want the companies to be completely aware of my leadership and supervisory experience.

I wasn’t surprised by his response. He was a supervisor in the service and wanted to build on that career path. But was he competitive for a supervisory position in private industry right now? I suppose you could say “yes he is” because he has the qualifications.

Unfortunately, the realities of job competition speak otherwise. What I see with early career veterans in a similar situation is that when they mis-target their career goals they run into a job-hunt “brick wall” because they are being out-gunned in the competitive marketplace.

Sure, he has talent. And he has proven technical skills: he can troubleshoot electronic circuit board problems down to the component level. His supervisory experience is commendable but limited. Would I hire him for a supervisory position? Honestly, I would not. Here’s why.

He has five years total experience, which actually means he has 3-to-4 years experience when you exclude his training and first year on the job–a de facto apprenticeship. He has no private industry experience prior to joining the service that he was willing to put on his resume.

He doesn’t have a business degree. I have rarely seen a supervisor or manager who does not have a business degree or is not working on one.

He does not yet know my customers or my business processes. Most importantly, he does not know my business competition–yet. He’ll learn about these things as he grows into his job and his understanding of business; he’s a quick study.

As an aside, what if he were a retiree with 20 years of technical and management experience, would I hire him for a supervisory job (without knowing the inner workings of my business)?

Most definitely. Experience does matter. There comes a point where military and civilian experience simply merge and are synomonous. I think that point occurs around the 10-year mark of service experience.

A military retiree has the time to gather achievements that make him or her extremely competitive. For example, I worked with a retiree who was an avionics technician. Here are some of his achievements:

  • Developed a new wiring procedure for the flight control system on the F-117A. Since 1984, there was a continuous problem with external induction on the existing wiring. This new wiring procedure will save the Air Force over $1,500,000 a year.
  • Supervised the Global Positioning System upgrade and reduced aircraft downtime by modifying 20 F-16s in only one month–5 months earlier then expected.
  • During the transition from F-111s to F-16s, I set up the entire Avionics section for three squadrons. I was in charge of evenly dispersing over 300 maintenance personnel to the three squadrons. I also developed training for these people.

This retiree had many more achievements and it was not suprising to me that he was offered a job immediately after we completed his resume.

Our Job Candidate is competing against retirees of this high calibur; no wonder he was considering employment in an industry outside of the avionics industry.

If he had contacted me prior to separating, I would have told him to consider re-enlisting so he could maximize his military experience.

But our young Job Candidate has a lot going for him. Right now his technical experience is the most competitive part of him. What his supervisory experience means to me is that he has people skills and he can be depended on to get a job done without me watching him closely.

And, believe it or not, a lot of techies have employment problems simply because they have undeveloped people skills and social graces. He’s in the “exception” category.

I finally persuaded him to re-work his resume.

The process consisted of three stages:

  • Defining the context of his business goals.
  • Targeting his career information and resume narratives to a specific industry and position using employer-oriented language.
  • Adding information that had cross appeal, that is, information for both the human resources manager as well as a department supervisor (a subject matter expert).

Re-working The Resume

There are plenty of resources available to help you write or improve your resume. Every bookstore in America sells books like “100 Winning Resumes” or “How To Write Resumes That Get Jobs Fast!”

There is plenty of assistance on the Internet as well and most cities in America have resume-writing services. Supplementing these services are the numerous studies conducted to determine what recruiters like or don’t like to see in a resume. (One of these studies is cited in the Reference section below and called, “Resume Pet Peeves of Recruiters.”

Over the years, I have gathered this information through career mentors, “peer” sources and my participation in hiring interviews. However, my most important source occurred about eight years ago. At the time I was unexpectedly laid off. Since I had a large severance package to live on, I spent about a year experimenting with the job market.

I floated in the jobs marketplace about 10 versions of my resume to about 200 different companies and recruiters all over the U.S. I achieved about a 30-percent success rate in scoring interviews. Many of the conclusions I’ve discussed here are the result of that personal study.

No matter what resources you use, the job of turning around a non-performing resume goes beyond following guidelines, formatting or templates.

While it is true that resumes must conform to the generally accepted standards of good resume writing, these resources will not correct the problem of a non-performing resume because the problem is not only one of writing and communication (the minor problem) but also one of business context and application (the major problems).

To see through the problem of a non-performing resume, you have to stop thinking about it as a resume for a moment. Rather, think of it as a business proposal.

Most businesses submit proposals to customers to get new business as part of the competitive bidding process. The proposal not only tells the customer what the company will do for them but also the costs, the scope of the work and why their solution is the best for the customer’s needs. While the proposal is an informative, legal document, it is functionally a persuasive document, that is, the customer must decide to take an action.

Job-hunting is not much different. Your resume is essentially a hiring proposal to an employer. While your job skills provide the information an employer needs to determine if you are the best solution for them, your resume must be more than a list of jobs skills. It must persuade an employer that you are the right answer to their business problem.

To be persuasive, the resume must be focused on what an employer needs not on what a job candidate can offer.

Vetting out the lack of focus was the first step in re-working our Job Candidate’s resume. This process had little if any relation to writing or formatting. It started with asking the Job Candidate, What can you do that an employer needs?

Most military veterans have a wide range of job experiences. This is good. But it has been my experience that the private sector hires specialists. If they want a manager and they cannot hire someone within the company, they will go out and find a career manager, not a techie who has filled in as a supervisor.

If they are looking for a technician, they don’t want to hire a manager who was a technician ten years ago and now wants to be a technician again. They’ll be concerned that he is overqualified and, if they hire him, he might quit on them prematurely and they’ll have to start the hiring process all over again.

So, the first task our job candidate had to do was determine the context of the business needs. His original resume did not have one. This is the primary reason why it was a non-performing resume. Without this context, he did not have the “grand theme” to hold together the rest of his resume “story.” That’s why the resume vacillated between technician and supervisor and a reader could come away feeling confused.

I’ll mention here as an aside that there are two philosophies about Job Objectives: some say include one to give focus and help a recruiter to place you and the other says not to include one to prevent yourself from being eliminated prematurely in the employer’s screening process.

Whether you actually include one or not on the resume is optional. And that’s not my point.

You must establish the context of your business goals (or a “war” plan) so you can take control of your job hunt or career transition (or mission).

In addition, this business context keeps everyone on track and honest. It helps a job hunter from taking a job he really doesn’t want and prevents the beginnings of a career of job-hopping. And it can give an employer second thoughts about hiring someone whom they like but isn’t in synch with their needs.

The business context of our Job Candidate was short and sweet: “Seeking employment as an avionics, electronics or field technician located on the U.S. East Coast.”

This statement helped him eliminate the confusion in his original resume. It also helped him deal with an important issue: whether to try to find a job in the competitive avionics industry or open his job hunt to other industries that needed an electronics technician. (After doing research, we found about twenty sub-categories of the electronics industry that would need his skills (see References). By working at discovering his business context, our Job Candidate greatly increased his potential opportunities!

In his original resume, he included a career summary. We eliminated it for two reasons: (1) he doesn’t really need one because he only has five years of experience and (2) it was just filling up resume space that could be used in another ways to enhance the performance of his resume.

One of those ways was the inclusion of an Areas of Technical Expertise section. He made a list of avionics systems and equipment he worked on over his military service. This section has three benefits: (1) it’s an excellent source of keywords that aid in computer searches, (2) it provides market differentiation to improve his competitiveness and (3) it helps the resume reader determine what the job candidate really knows. This resume sub-section is really written for the non-subject matter expert or Human Resource manager who is looking for specific skills.

Since he was interested in industries other than avionics, we inserted an Other Areas of Electronic/Electrical Knowledge section to ensure that he would not be career-tracked to the avionics field nor eliminated from opportunities outside avionics that he was qualified for. This resume sub-section is written for the subject matter expert or Department Manager, in this case, a Technical Service Manager who is looking not necessarily for specific skills but wants to know what this guy really knows.

I have found in real practice, this list eliminates any doubts or concerns about a service-trained technician who does not possess a tech degree.

In his original resume, he used a functional instead a chronological approach to his Job Experience section. Most recruiters don’t like the functional approach because it prevents them from quickly understanding the job candidate’s career path.

I never asked our Job Candidate, but my guess is that he used the functional approach to cover up his short employment history. He may have been compelled to do this because he wanted to maximize his experience so he could be considered for supervisory positions.

In any event, we used a hybrid chronological-functional approach to his employment history section. First, we listed his positions, duty stations, dates and a short summary of duties for each job.

The above section was followed by a technical and supervisory-skills sections, emphasizing the technical and de-emphasizing the supervisory. (I tried to persuade him from including a supervisory section but he resisted and I relented. I didn’t mind losing the battle but I did not want to lose the war. The final product was really a technician’s resume. That’s what I wanted.)

To create job-skill narratives, we surveyed a number of electronic tech job ads and read their skill requirements. This was helpful because it got our creative juices flowing. We learned from the requirments the things employers are looking for as well as skills he had done but had failed to include in his original resume.

In addition, we saw over and over again several non-technical requirements, e.g., clean driving record and the ability to work rotating shifts. We discussed these factors and our Job Candidate agreed to putting them in Miscellaneous section. This is also where we listed his bilingual skills.

His original resume did not have an Education section. When I first read it, I did not even know if he was a high school graduate.

He indeed was a high school grad and presently was enrolled in a community college with 35 earned credits. (Considering all this military technical training, he probably would qualify for life experience credit to perhaps bring him up to qualifying for an associate’s degree. We discussed his educational goals. He was well aware that he needed to get more education to fill in his skill gaps.)

Finally, since he was seeking a tech job, we added a test equipment proficiency section. This section is another way a military vet can ensure that an employer understands he is technically proficient despite the fact he does not have a technical degree.

Application Strategies

Turning around a non-performing resume extends to how you apply the resume in the jobs marketplace.

Most people, including our Job Candidate in this example, posted the re-worked resume on an Internet site. The benefit of this action is that it is available for viewing by employers or recruiters who conduct computer searches.

It’s my belief that this approach is only part of the application strategy. Waiting for the employer to call you is fairly passive. And most short term (that means successful) job hunters are that because they are active, assertive participants in the job hunt game.

You can’t do much about how an employer searches for a job candidate but you can control how you go about seeking employers and applying for jobs.

You can improve the performance of your resume by not applying for every job you think you are qualified for. Rather, you should apply for jobs that you are only competitive for, that is, the likelihood of you being on the short list of an employer is high. The tactical use of “value-adding” search terms, commonly called keywords, are the way to do it.

I asked our Job Candidate how he was going about looking for a job. While he was networking with a college professor who had contacts, he primarily was using jobs websites.

I asked him how he was searching for jobs to apply for on the Internet. He told me he used “electronics technician.”

I went to several jobs websites to simulate his searches. I used his keywords and the searches returned hundreds of jobs. After sampling some of the job ads and reviewing their requirements, it became clear that his search terms were too general. Nearly all the jobs returned in the search he would not be competitive for because he was likely competing against any tech school grad, BSEE or IS degree grad or anyone with up to five years experience. If an employer were using a degree requirement in his or her search he may have been screened out.

In other words, the jobs these search terms returned were generating too many applicants making his competition high and compounding the non-performance of his resume

I discussed with him what search terms he should use. I told him he needed to look at his resume and think about what terms suggest his important “value adding” business skills.

Clearly, “electronics” had to be one of the terms. The next obvious search term suggested from his resume was “military.” By using the terms “military + electronics” he would be decreasing his competition because companies that were returned in the search would be actively pursuing people with military electronics skills; the BSEE and IS grads would likely be eliminated from the competitive pool.

Why is this so?

Service-trained vets are qualified for positions in Service, Sales, and Applications. Tech grads are qualified for those departments but can also move into Product Development or Engineering Design. In real terms, when employers are seeking military electronics experience, they are weighting the hiring decision to Service because the tech grads have a tendency to leave Service and move into the more “sexy” areas of Sales, Marketing and Engineering Design.

But these two terms did not totally describe his value-adding skills. He thought “supervisor” would be the final search term. I told him to think again and stop thinking supervisor! Think Service. Since the Hispanic market is perhaps the fastest growing consumer market in the world, his Spanish-speaking skills would be highly desirable in the right situation.

By adding the search term “spanish” to military + electronics, he would be returned companies that not only were seeking someone with a military electronics background but also needed someone with spanish language skills. For jobs like this, he would have low competition thereby increasing the performance of his resume.

. . .

I’ll end this article with two points:

1. Improving a non-performing resume not only requires the resume to be written according to the standards and formatting requirements of employers, but also, and more importantly, it must have the business context embedded in its design and must be applied in the jobs marketplace in a manner that reduces job competition.

2. Always remember that a resume is a flexible document. Another resume writer may have approached this case in a different manner. A recruiter or an employer herself may have a different spin on the story. This is acceptable. Don’t look for absolutes. Look for a reasoned approach that is subject to change until you find what works.

Good Luck in your Job Search!

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily express the opinions of MilitaryHire.com or the publisher.


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