Writing your resume, part 1: The Chronological Style

Finding a job is a process, and a critical part of that process is having a resume that will entice prospective employers into calling you in for an interview.  We’re going to be taking a few deep dives into the wonderful world of resumes over the next few posts, but before we put pen to paper or electron to screen let’s talk a little about resumes in general.

There are as many opinions about resumes as there are people who write and read them.  Just type “Resume” into Google and you will find over 80 million results.  Clicking a few links will take you to sites that proclaim that resumes are dead and that the “new” business world uses social media to find employees while other sites say that traditional resumes are the key to finding work at established and respectable companies.  What I am writing about are the things that I have learned and used to get jobs after leaving the military, so keep that in mind as we talk about resumes.  I have used all three types in my pursuit of employment, and all three have resulted in job offers.

There are three basic types of standard resumes, and each has its place depending on the circumstance and type of job you are pursuing.  In today’s post we will take a look at the style that is most commonly used: The Chronological style.

The chronological form of a resume is the simplest of the three to put together.  In simple terms it tells the story of your professional life and career history to the prospective employer, who then decides whether or not you are worth bringing in to meet in person.

There are pros and cons to the chronological format, so let’s look at each in turn:


  • It shows the relevance of your work experience over time.  It is actually a “reverse-chronological” resume because you list your most recent experience first and work backwards from there, but everyone just calls it the chronological style for simplicity’s sake.  Since it shows your most recent work first, you can highlight your current skill set and talents up front and show how you have garnered experience and developed those skills over time.
  • It is fact based.  Since you list your experience on a timeline you can show when you learned your skills, where and when you received relevant education and training, and articulate your experience to show how you have grown professionally over time.
  • It is a universal format that is understood across industries and around the world.
  • It can add credibility by showing what organizations you have worked in and the duties you performed in them throughout your career.  This can also be a con, however, because you must remember that civilian hiring managers have no idea about military units or service jargon, so you need to be able to put your experience into terms that they will understand.


  • This is not a good format in cases where you have little or no experience to show.  For example, if you were in the military for one enlistment this format will probably work to your disadvantage because you don’t have that much to show for experience over time.  In that case, a functional resume (which we’ll talk about in a future post) is probably a better format to use.
  • It is also not a good format in cases where you have large time gaps in your experience base.  Since it the format is a timeline, having gaps of a year or two here and there may raise a few eyebrows on the employer’s side of the fence.
  • Likewise, if you have switched jobs frequently then this may not be the best format to use.  That telegraphs to the employer that you may not be committed to working for them in the long term.
  • It also may not be a good format for people looking for specific jobs in specific industries that require specific skills – the combination or functional formats are much better suited for those circumstances.

So let’s get to it!

The basic format that I use for the chronological resume contains four elements of information:

1)  Your name and contact information, including your telephone number and email address.  As I wrote earlier, make sure that your telephone number is one that you can control (i.e., your cel phone) because you don’t want your preschooler answering the phone when a potential employer calls.  It may be cute, but you probably won’t get the message that they called.  Also, make sure your voicemail greeting is professional sounding – “Yo, dude, I am getting hammered right now and can’t answer my phone!” will not result in a job offer.  Trust me!  Likewise, make sure your email address is not offensive or controversial.  If yours is “drunkguy@whatever.com” then get a free gmail or yahoo email address and use it solely for job search purposes.  I don’t recommend including your home address on your resume, though, because you cannot control where it will end up.  Identity thieves are everywhere.

2)  A summary statement.  This is a thumbnail sketch of who you are in terms of your experience.  Not everyone agrees that you need one, but I include one in my resume to get the attention of the reader as quickly as possible- after all, they are reading hundreds of these things and if you don’t grab their interest quickly your resume will land in the trash can.

3)  Your experience over time.  This is the meat of the resume.  Here is where you need to show what you are made of and what you have done in such a manner that the employer will like what they see.  It is a remarkably difficult task to be able to strip down a lifetime’s worth of experience into less than two pages, so be ready to spend some time on this section.  I recommend that you include no more than ten years worth of experience (for those with more) because anything beyond that timeframe is pretty dated, and the most relevant stuff is the most recent stuff anyway.  The format I use lists my job title first along with the associated dates, and then put a few bullets underneath that show what I did in that job.  It took me a lot of practice to write my military experience down in such a way that a non-military person could understand it.  Also, look at how the bullets are formed: They follow the “action verb” format, meaning that they show that I did something followed by the effects of what I did.  This resonates much more than using the passive tense.

4)  Your education and other pertinent info.  The education bit is self explanatory, but what about certifications, awards, or other things that you have done that reinforce your work history or differentiate you from the pack?   This is where they go.  For my resume, I include things like awards I have received, associations I am affiliated with, and applicable qualifications and certifications.  Things not to include are your hobbies, marital status, family information, or anything not related to the job you are seeking.  Those things can be distractors for the reader and may actually turn them off; if you write that you are an avid hunter and the reader is a vegetarian then you are in for trouble.  Also, you only have two pages, so don’t waste space on things that don’t matter!

At any rate, the chronological style is the best resume type to start with.  You will use elements of it for the other two formats as well, so you won’t have to reinvent any wheels.

The internet is full of samples that you can check out.  Here is what my chronological resume from when I left active duty looks like: Chronological Resume , so feel free to follow the style I used or branch out on your own.  For what it’s worth, this particular resume resulted in a job offer.

In the next post we’ll tackle the functional resume format…


Lessons Learned:

1.  Of the three basic resume types, the Chronological Style is the most common and most widely used.

2.  It is best for those who have no interruptions in their job history and can show a logical progression in education, skills, and experience over time.

3.  It is not the best resume for very specific skill sets or for those with very little experience or education to show.  The functional format is best for those circumstances.

4.  Only include the things that matter; keep your hobbies personal items off of the resume.

5.  Proofread, proofread, proofread.  Then proofread again.  Believe it or not, I just saw a typo on the resume I included in this post.  See if you can find it….

6.  Make it professional, and keep it to two pages!


The Military Officer’s Association of America

Here is my latest column in the North County Times:

A Cause Worth Carrying

This past weekend I was honored to be able to break bread with a great group of men and women who asked me to join them for their monthly gathering. All of them had either served in the military’s officer corps or were spouses of those who had.

Present were men like Clint, who fought against Rommel in North Africa, and Pat, who began his naval career preparing to invade Japan and ended it after serving in Vietnam. Others in the room had served in Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.

In addition to their military service, they all shared a strong desire to help others, and despite the length of time since they had worn a uniform they continued to serve their country by advocating for active duty, veterans and retirees.

They are all members of the Military Officer’s Association of America, or MOAA. Originally called The Retired Officer’s Association or TROA, the organization was formed in 1929 as an advisory board of sorts for the active military, and with the exponential increase in the numbers of servicemen and women in World War II they shifted their focus to ensuring that those who wore the cloth of the nation were not forgotten. Now numbering more than 370,000, MOAA has become one of the most powerful and influential lobbying organizations in Washington.

Some of the services that they provide for all ranks, not just officers, include career transition assistance, benefits counseling, education assistance for children of military families, and engagement with Congress about issues that face active, retired and veterans of the armed forces.

Although you may not know it, MOAA has been actively engaging the government at all levels to ensure that the promises made to servicemen and women are honored.

MOAA fills a gap that cannot be filled by those in uniform. While actively serving, the members of the military must, by tradition and regulation, distance themselves from the political process. They are prohibited from using their status in uniform to influence the electorate or directly lobby governmental decision makers —- but organizations like MOAA have taken on the responsibility to ensure that their voices are heard. With the specter of sequestration and an austere fiscal future ahead for all branches of the government, it is particularly important for the needs of the armed forces to be heard —- and MOAA is front and center with Congress.

Some of the issues that the organization is currently addressing include the effect of new healthcare legislation on Tricare premiums (which would see an annual increase in premiums of 345 percent for many retirees), changes to the retirement system, the effects of military force reductions while the nation is still at war, and myriad other issues that directly impact serving members of the military, veterans, retirees, and their families.

MOAA is doing great work, but they are also facing an existential challenge: Their membership consists largely of older veterans who served 20, 30 or more years ago. As with all representatives of the Greatest Generation, they are literally passing on much faster than they are being replaced by younger veterans.

In the group I lunched with I the youngest attendee was half the age of the oldest veteran in the room. The rest of the group was in their 60, 70 and 80s. All are greatly concerned that the work that they have done and the important work that has yet to be accomplished will disappear if there are not new members of the organization to continue the fight.

They, and thousands like them, have selflessly given their all for their country and their fellow servicemembers. Many of the military and veterans benefits that we enjoy today are a direct result of MOAA’s efforts, so I am sounding the call for those eligible to join up and not let their efforts fade away.

If not MOAA, then find some other organization, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. Join, help, and continue to serve. I have.



Back to Resumes

Let’s get back to talking about resumes.  We have covered some of the basics of business correspondence already but now we need to get down to the serious business of crafting your resume.

Before we get started, though, we need to answer the question: What is a resume, anyway?  More important, what is a good resume?

A resume is a document that condenses a person’s skills, education, and experience into a short one or two pages.  The purpose of the resume is to find employment, and in the normal course of jobseeking events it is usually the step that (hopefully!) leads to a job interview.

It is probably the most important single document you will produce in your job search.  Without one potential employers will not even know you exist, and with a great one you will be much more likely to get an interview.  The problem is that there are a lot of really average to poor resumes out there because people don’t follow some of the simple rules that lead to a good resume.

While there is no guarantee that a good resume will result in a job interview and a career in the sweet new career that you want, I can certainly guarantee that a bad resume will keep you out of the building.  So what can you do to get out of the “average” pile?

The first thing you must recognize is that your resume is your first impression with the company where you want a job.  You may have met someone who asked you to send them your resume, but it is very unlikely that they are the actual hiring manager or decision maker who will present you with an offer.  That person will know you only by the document that you send in, so your paper had better be focused, well written, and error free.

Let’s talk the error free bit first.  Remember that this is your first impression, and if it contains grammatical or spelling errors you are telegraphing to your potential employer that you either that you have poor skills with the English language or are too lazy to proofread your resume.  Nobody is going to read your misspellings and think “Oh boy!  I really want to hire someone who can’t spell!!”

A way you make sure your resume is error free is to proof read it yourself and have others proofread it as well.  I recommend that you print out your resume and read it as though you were a teacher grading an exam.  Don’t just read it on the computer screen because you will miss things –  people tend to miss grammar errors that are not identified by their word processing program (like “there” and “their”, for example).  Get out a red pen and critically examine it.  You will be surprised at the errors you find.  Make sure to double check your contact information as well – I accidentally misspelled the city I live in on my early resumes and missed it because it was in the header.  An interviewer caught it and I felt like a complete moron because I had read and reread it a dozen times but skipped the header without thinking about it.

Your resume must be well written.  That is easy to say but very difficult to do, particularly with the requirement to keep it short.  You need to be able to distill your whole professional life, including your schooling, work experience, training, and skills into a few pages.  Much easier said than done!  Mark Twain, the quintessential American 19th century writer, put it best when his publisher sent him a telegram asking to write a couple of pages in a couple of days:

        From the publisher:


    Twain replied:




We will get much more deeply into how to craft a well written resume in future posts as we delve into the different types and methods of writing them.  One thing to keep in mind as well is that your audience, the hiring manager, is a civilian who likely has no knowledge about the military much less whatever your occupational specialty was.  You will need to translate military-speak and jargon into simple English.  Otherwise the reader will be confused and your resume will rocket into the trashcan.  The point is that it is a lot harder than you think to shrink your life down to a few pages and still get the message of why you should be hired across.

Your resume must be focused.  This goes hand in hand with the stricture that it must be well written, but you will find these two concepts at odds as you compile your resume.  You will want to tell the employer why you are the right person and support it with a lot of vignettes and experiences, but you don’t have the space to wax eloquently about how great you were at you whatever you did.  You need to be able to strip it down the the essence of what you are trying to say without all of the fluff –  and you need to be able to do it so that it reads well.

You won’t need 30 days to write your two page resume, though.  It takes time and practice to write a good resume, and how you write depends on the type of document you choose to compile.  There are three basic types of resumes, and each is written differently.  We will dive into each in much greater detail in future posts, but here is a quick rundown of each type:

The most common and easiest to write is the chronological resume.  This is basically a brief history of what you have been doing.  This resume is great for situations where you may not know the specific job you are going after or in cases where you go to a job fair and have the opportunity to hand out a bunch of resumes to corporate recruiters.  It is also the least focused of the types, which can be a problem if companies are looking for specific skills or talents.  It is also not a good resume for someone with little experience such as a newly graduated student who has not yet landed his or her first job.

The second basic type is the functional resume.  The functional resume presents your skills in a sorted fashion that shows what you are good at and what expertise you offer to the company.  This type of resume is useful in areas where specific skill sets or talents are needed for a job.  They are very common in the health care and scientific fields because they articulate your strengths and abilities in specific areas that should target the job you are looking for.

The third and often most useful type is the combination resume.  This incorporates both chronological and the functional components into the resume and provides the company with insight into your experience over time as well as your specific skill sets.  It is the toughest to write, though, for the reason that Mark Twain complained about to his publisher: now you have to essentially bring together two resumes into one and keep it within two pages.

It can be done, though, and in the upcoming string of posts we will go into each resume type in great detail…


Lessons Learned:

1)  Resumes need to be short and to the point.  Two pages is as long as they should be except in very specific circumstances.

2)  The resume is your first impression with the person or people who will make the decision to hire you, so you had better provide your best possible product:  Error free and grammatically correct!

3)  There are three basic types of resumes:  Chronological, Functional, and Combination.  Which one you use depends on the company you are applying to and the job you are seeking.  More on that in future posts.

The Burden of Command; my latest column in the North County Times

Here is last week’s column from the North County Times:

Command is a Heavy Burden

The Navy recently announced that the commanding officer of the USS Essex had been relieved of his duties. Capt. Chuck Litchfield, a veteran of 24 years of service and a graduate of the Naval Academy, was sacked because his ship collided with an oiler during refueling operations.

Because of the incident the Navy decided that it had “lost confidence in his abilities” and had him “reassigned to administrative duties.”

Litchfield is the 11th naval officer to lose his or her command so far in 2012. Last year, the Navy “lost confidence” in 23 commanders and fired them, and it certainly looks like this year is on course to match that number or possibly beat the all-time record of 26 firings from 2003.

So why are so many key leaders being removed from the best and most important jobs that they will ever have while in uniform?

That is a great question, and it also holds the answer. Commanding officers in all services, not just the Navy, are responsible for so much more than a person in a similar position outside the military because they are entrusted with the very lives of the people under their command as well as making sure that they can accomplish the mission that they are assigned.

This may sound a bit trite, but think about it for a moment:

Unlike their corporate counterparts, commanding officers in the military are duty bound to protect the United States and in doing so they can and will send their people out to fight and die.

To date, some 7,866 young American men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each and every one had a commanding officer who was responsible for ensuring that they received the best training and equipment —- but more importantly, for ensuring that the people in the unit are a cohesive team that does its job as well as humanly possible.

Commanding officers don’t spend money. They spend lives: The lives of American citizens; your children, your neighbors, and in the case of those on active duty, possibly yours. They are responsible for the men and women under their charge, and it is their duty to ensure that the lives that are risked and lost are done so in circumstances where every conceivable and possible thing has been done to prepare those people to survive.

Such responsibility goes far beyond just making sure that they are trained and ready, though. It goes into areas held dear by the military; things such as honor, respect, commitment and trust.

Many commanders are fired for things that have nothing to do with combat or steering ships around, but for conduct that violates that sacred trust between the leader and the led. A unit cannot be successful in combat or anywhere else if the commander cannot be trusted by the people he or she leads; and, indeed, when such mistrust becomes evident military leadership must address the situation. If it can be fixed without firing the commander, then great. However, if it can’t, then the boss needs to go.

The commanding officer alone is solely responsible for the unit, and that means that when the unit fails it is his or her fault.

Commanders are sacked for a variety of reasons, but they all go back to the concept that they are responsible for everything that their unit does or fails to do. In Capt. Litchfield’s case, the collision of the Essex and the oiler was his fault. For others it may be creating a toxic climate within the unit, failing too many inspections, or perhaps having inappropriate relations with a subordinate or two.

Whatever the cause, if the Navy (or the Army or the Air Force or the Marine Corps) loses confidence in the commander’s ability to lead and accomplish the mission, then the commander must go. The stakes are simply too high —- both for the people they lead and for the safety of the nation.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just business. Very serious military business.


Business correspondence: Enter the resume

Not long ago we started talking about the importance of making a good impression.  Not just in life, mind you, but in the context of starting a new career.  By now you should have some most excellent business cards that you can hand out while you are networking, but that is only the beginning of the path that leads to a  job.

By now you should have the first tool of networking, your business card, and you need to get ready for when networking pays off.  The next step is when someone asks to see your resume, and if you want to get the job that they are offering your resume had better be pretty tight!

Your resume is the core of your job-seeking business correspondence, and it is your opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective employer.  We’ll talk about cover letters and thank you notes later, but for now let’s get a bit more familiar with how to build a resume.

Getting a job is like going shopping in reverse.  When you go to the grocery store you are selecting the products that you want and need to feed your family.  When you go down the canned foods aisle looking for a can of baked beans, for example, you are presented with a whole lot of choices.  There are brands like Bush’s and Van de Camp’s and Heinz and Hunts and flavors that range from tangy and sweet BBQ to wicket hot Jalapeno.  Lots of choices!  You, as the customer, get to examine the dizzying display of cans and pick the beans you want.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but you are one can of beans out of thousands in the job market.  There are a lot of other cans out there selling themselves to potential customers who will hire them, and in order to break yourself out of the generic bottom shelf and into the highly desirable gourmet section you will need to differentiate yourself from everyone else.  That is where the resume comes in.

Your resume is essentially the professional you in two pages or less.  It is your one shot to sell yourself to a potential employer and get yourself in the door for an interview.  In the current economy there are literally thousands and thousands of other people out looking for work, and they all have been firing off resumes to try to land a job.  The competition is pretty fierce, so you really need to break out of the pack.

So how do you do it?

I’m glad you asked.  Before we get into writing resumes there are a few things you need to do first.  Let’s start with those.

A few posts ago we went through the four-sheet exercise to determine what you really want to do with your life, so now let’s take that a few steps further.  You know what you want to do and where you want to do it, so in order to find a job you will need to do some research to find out what opportunities are out there.

Start with the internet.  After all, you are smart enough to be reading this blog, so I think it is a safe assumption that you can use Google or another search engine to surf around and see what’s out there.  I recommend that you go to Monster.com and punch in what you would like to do and where you would like to do it, and within a nanosecond (and for free!) you will have a list that shows opportunities in your search area.  You can also use a bunch of other sites, such as simplyhired.com or careerbuilder.com as well.  I recommend that you spend an afternoon surfing the web and looking at what is out there –  not because you are necessarily going to apply for any of those jobs persay but in order to get a feel for opportunities.

Look at the lists critically.  What industries are hiring?  Where are they located?  What are the prerequisites?  You can drill down and see what the specific requirements for jobs similar to the ones you would like to find are.  This is important, because the research that you do now will help you build a resume that fits the bill for the job you want and will help you go from the “ignore” pile to the “call for interview” pile at the hiring manager’s desk.

Also play around with the terms that you put into the search engine.  Try different variations on the job title and keywords.  The point is to get a feel of the job market in the area that you are looking to enter.

The other thing you need to do is contact some real live people.  You are leaving the military, which means that you have plenty of compadres who you can tap into.  Although they themselves may not have much to offer in terms of experience in the outside world, they all have families and friends out of uniform.  If you want to go into financial services, who better to reach out to for information than your squadmate’s father who happens to be a banker?  The great thing about networking is that you can get access to people who would not speak to you if you cold called them, but are happy to share a cup of coffee or lunch with a peer of their son, daughter, cousin, or family friend.

Another way to get a feel for the area is to read the local newspaper.  Read it from the front page all the way to the end; that way you will get a sense of what is going on.  Is local unemployment up or down?  Are there any new business or manufacturing plants opening up?  What is the engine that drives the local economy?  What industries are in trouble?  What is crime like?  Where are the nice and not so nice places to live and work?

To get started on actually building your resume you need to some homework, otherwise your efforts will be unfocused, and to the hiring manager, uninteresting.  You need to get smart about the industry, the area, and the company where you want to work in order to create a resume that piques the interest of the Human Resources specialist who reads it.  Surf the net, talk to your friends, and read the paper.  It will greatly help you as you build your resume, which we will start doing in the next string of posts…

Happy Independence Day!

Wow- it is hard to believe that 2012 is half gone, but on the positive side it is almost Independence Day!  Time for fireworks, barbequed steaks/burgers/hotdogs, and of course a beer or two.

As you enjoy the fireworks tomorrow make sure to keep in mind those men and women who are in uniform and away from their loved ones.  As we all celebrate the 236th birthday of the United States it is important not to forget that the freedom that we enjoy is not free.  It is bought and paid for by everyone who wears a uniform and also by their loved ones who are left behind as they serve from one corner of the globe to another.

May each and every one of you have a tremendous and happy July 4th, and we’ll be back to talking about transition by the end of the week!