Not so traditional job interviews, Part 1: The Phone (or Skype) Interview

So you have sent in your resume and heard back from the hiring manager.

That’s great!

She would like to  interview you as soon as possible.

That’s even better!

Over the phone.

Um, ok, you think.  Sounds good.  That should be easy.

Au contraire, my friend.  Interviews over the phone are not simple and you can certainly screw one up.  They are not easy to get right and take just as much preparation  as a face to face meeting, at least they are if you want to succeed and get the job.

There are countless reasons why a company may want to interview an applicant over the phone, or perhaps over Skype or another video interfacing system.  The company may be on the other side of the country or even the other side of the planet, and a phone call is infinitely cheaper than a plane ticket and a hotel room.  The hiring manager may be travelling.  You may be travelling.  A common reason may be that the company’s hiring process begins with a phone interview to determine whether or not you are worth bringing to the office for a second look.

Regardless of the reason, a phone or Skype interview is still a job interview, and just because you are not going to the company headquarters is no reason not to adequately prepare.  You should do your research, review your resume, and rehearse with someone using a phone or Skype.  After all, you want the job, don’t you?

The heart of the interview is the interaction between you and the hiring manager of the firm.  Having a telephone or laptop screen between you and the person on the other side changes the venue, but the content is pretty much the same.

What a phone interview is not, however, is easier.  Here are a few reasons why:

First off, you don’t get a sense of the company or the interviewer that you would normally pick up by walking through the lobby, meeting a few people, and shaking hands with the hiring manager.  Instead, you are going from zero to sixty in the few seconds between “Hello?” and “Let’s get started.”

Secondly, it can seem deceptively informal and easy.  So easy, in fact, that you may not take a preparation as seriously as you would for a “real” interview.  It is over the phone, so why not do it in your pajamas?  Or over Skype, so all you need to do is put on a nice shirt and maybe a tie, right?  Again, au contraire.

The worst thing you can do in any interview situation is to be unprepared or not take it seriously.  Sure, you can do the interview in your underwear if you want and the hiring manager will never know.  Sure, you can watch Sportscenter with the sound turned down and the hiring manager will never know.  You will know, however, and it will affect the interview.  And not in a good way.  You need to get your mind right, steer clear of distractions, and focus.

Here are some recommendations that will help you have a successful phone or Skype interview:

Most importantly, prepare for the interview in exactly the same manner as you would for a traditional interview.  Get a haircut (they can still see you on Skype, after all, and getting a haircut is never a bad thing), wear your interview suit and tie or blouse and slacks, research the company, and review your resume.  Be ready fifteen minutes before it starts, and clear your mind in order to focus on the interviewer and the questions that you will be asked.

Prepare a location for the interview.  The interviewer is likely in their office, but you can be pretty much anywhere.  That said, driving down the freeway or sitting at your child’s soccer game are remarkably bad ideas for obvious reasons.  The hiring manager is devoting their time exclusively to you in order to determine if you would fit in their company, so the least you can do is reciprocate.

You should find a place that is quiet, has good lighting, and is as office-like as possible.  Sit at the kitchen table as opposed to on the couch, for example.  We are all creatures of habit, and if you are lounging on the couch as opposed to sitting at a desk or table you may well act or sound like you are sitting on a couch as opposed to a desk or a table.  Clear everything away except a copy of your resume and your notepad and a bottle or glass of water.  No distractions!

For a Skype interview you need to go a step or two farther.  What does the background look like?  It should be bland or uninteresting, if possible.  Is the light coming from behind you?  From the front or side?  Remember, the interviewer is going to see you and your surroundings, and if the light makes you look like Bela Legosi in a ’40s vampire movie it won’t help.  Your Twisted Sister poster collection is also not the best background, either.

Back to the interview.  Make sure that the quiet place you have found stays quiet: turn off your mobile phone, the dishwasher, television, radio, and everything else that makes noise.  Put a post-it note over your doorbell telling visitors to not ring the doorbell and to come back later.  Use your land phone line if at all possible, too.  You don’t want to drop the call or have a poor connection because that will only reflect negatively on you.  Have a copy of your resume laid out in front of you, take a deep breath, and call the hiring manager exactly on time.

Close all apps and programs on your computer for a Skype interview.  You don’t want to be distracted by emails or instant messages popping up on the screen during the interview, and the interviewer will instantly recognize that you are ignoring them and reading something else that popped up on your screen.  That is a guaranteed job offer killer.

Start the interviewer by introducing yourself, and then follow interviewer’s lead from there.  Lead off with something like “Good morning!  This is Mike, and I am calling in for the interview…”

From there the interview is similar to the traditional style, except that you cannot really gauge the interviewer’s mood, expressions, or mannerisms.  Skype offers a little insight because you can see the interviewer’s face, but that is about it.

Remember to keep your answers short, in the thirty second to two minute range, and speak slowly.  A big part of listening is seeing the other person’s mouth as they speak, and that obviously is not the case over the phone. Being interviewed is anxious business, and you may unintentionally speak faster than normal which can result in the interviewer not understanding what you are saying.  To help with this, try taking a breath after hearing each question, restate the question to yourself in your mind, and then start talking.  It will make you appear thoughtful (which is good) and articulate (which is also good).  Remember, the hiring manager has done countless interviews, and you want to make a solid impression, not sound like a knucklehead.

The same rules apply for Skype, except remember that you are on camera during the interview.  Sit up straight, look at the interviewer on the computer screen when she is talking and at the camera when you are answering.  Also, be conscious of what you are doing with your hands.  A famous actor once said that one of the hardest things about acting is knowing what to do with your hands, and that applies to interviews as well.  Put them in your lap or sit on them if you need to, because if you fidget or pick at your nails all the interviewer will see on the screen is you fidgeting or picking your nails.  You don’t want to distract the interviewer.

As the interview draws to a close make sure to thank the interviewer for her time and make sure that you close out the call professionally.  Again, we are all prisoners of our past experiences, and if you say goodbye on the phone by saying pithy things like “Later!” or “Out here…” then the last impression the hiring manager will have of you is not particularly professional.  A simple “Thank you for your time today. Goodbye!” will go a long way.

As with all interviews make sure to follow up with a thank you note.  It is fine to send an email immediately, but go that extra classy mile and send a note in the mail too.  It is important, expected, and if you don’t you will be viewed as less desirable than those who do send in thank you notes.

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Lessons Learned.

1.  A phone or Skype interview is just as important as a traditional interview.  It is imperative that you treat is as such.  Make sure to thoroughly prepare, get dressed in your interviewing clothes, and be on time.

2.  Tips for preparing an interview setting: sit at a desk or table, sit up straight, use your land line, have some water and your resume at hand, and for a Skype interview check out your background and how the lighting affects your on-screen appearance.

3.  Take a breath, restate the question, and then provide answers in the thirty second to two minute range.  Try not to talk too fast!

4.  Make sure that there are no distractions, and turn off apps, televisions, mobile phones, or anything else that could interrupt your interview.

The “traditional” job interview, Part 1: Getting ready

So the big day has arrived: your first job interview!  It is pretty exciting, scary, daunting, and exhilarating all at once.  The time you spent networking, writing a resume, crafting a cover letter, and getting it front of  human resources at a company where you would like to work has paid off.  You have a date with hiring manager.

Just like all dates, though, there is a lot at stake.  Instead of a peck on the cheek after a movie, however, you are looking for another date in the form of follow on interview or maybe a long term relationship in terms of a job.  Also just like hoping for a peck on the cheek you must make sure that you everything right, because if you don’t you will be back to square one with nothing to show for your efforts.

In order to make the best impression it is important to show up for the interview as prepared as possible – everything from how you present yourself to how you speak to how you think on your feet.  To make it a little easier, I’ve broken down the traditional interview into four segments: research, preparation the interview, the interview itself, and followup.

First off is continuing your research.  You have already submitted your resume and it resulted in a call for an interview- good job!  Now you need to refine your research into how to successfully complete the interview.  You can search the net for general interviewing tips, but you will be better served to go to a site that provides real insight into company-specific interviews.  My favorite is glassdoor.com because interviewees post their interview experiences, including the types of interviews, questions, and how things went.  It is well worth a few minutes of surfing to see what you are up against.

You should also ask around.  Use your network to see if there is anyone who has interviewed with the company you are looking to join or who has interviewed at a similar company or for a similar job.  They can provide a lot of insight into the process – especially if their interview landed them a job!

Next you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.  You will learn some valuable information about the interview process through your research, but now you have to use it!  What kind of questions do they ask?  How do they ask them?  You must prepare for questions ahead of time, even if you do not know what the specific questions will be.  Nothing ensures a life of continued unemployment like giving the silent stunned mullet look to the interviewer because you didn’t bother to think about the questions ahead of time…

Practice answering questions.  The questions can come from your research or from the items on your resume.  After all, the company called you in because they found your resume compelling.  You should study your resume and think about what an interviewer may hone in on, and prepare for questions along those lines.  Transitioning military folks always have “leadership” in their resume, so you had best be prepared to talk about it!  Whom did you lead?  What techniques or skills did you employ to get people to do what needed to be done?  How will your leadership experiences transfer to the company where you are interviewing?

Ask a friend to go through a mock interview with you.  Give them your resume and a printout of your research findings, and ask if they will be gracious enough to spend some time helping you practice.

If you have the time, I would recommend that you do a full blown rehearsal – including wearing your interviewing suit and sitting on opposite sides of a desk.  Rehearse the whole process, from arriving at the company to saying goodbye and leaving the building.  If you practice it all once or twice you will reduce your anxiety and be better focused on the interview.  Remember, the interviewer is taking everything in from your appearance to your habits to your level of anxiety, and if you are too uptight or nervous it will not bode well.

Now you are ready for your interview.  Before you go, however, there are some basic things that you should do.

In the military, you prepare for inspections in a disciplined and results-oriented manner.  When you have a uniform inspection coming up you spend a lot of time making sure that your uniform is correct; you measure out where the ribbons and badges are placed, cut off any spare threads (Irish Pennants for you old-schoolers), and press in creases so sharp you can shave with them.  Shoes are shined and the edge of the soles are dressed to remove any scuffs.  You get a haircut the day before the inspection to make sure that your grooming is within the required standards, and then you ever so carefully get dressed and present yourself for the inspecting officer or NCO.

You should approach your job interview with just as much attention to detail.  Get a haircut the day before.   Critically look at your clothes- they should be either fresh from the cleaners or at least have all of the wrinkles pressed out.  Your shirt should fit and your necktie should be professional looking, clean, and conservative.  Shine your shoes!  Even though society has largely moved away from shoe shining as a daily task, I know of one executive who was promoted over three more qualified peers because because he took the time to shine his shoes.  It shows dedication to your appearance and the discipline to do the little things, both of which are a big plus in any line of work.

Leave for your interview early.  Make sure that you allot enough time to be at least ten to fifteen minutes early.  I recommend going at least an hour early and stopping by a coffee shop near the company’s office.  That way you will have plenty of time to spare for traffic or to take care of things you may have forgotten (like putting gas in the tank).  When you get to the coffee shop you can review your notes, have something to drink, and get your mind right for the interview.

In the next post, we’ll leave the coffee shop and head over to the hiring manager’s office…

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Lessons Learned:

1.  The interview is the result of all of your hard work up to this point- don’t wreck it with a poor performance!  Follow these four steps:  Research, Prepare, Attend the interview, and Follow Up.  We talked about researching and preparation in this post, and in the next post we will address the interview and followup.

2.  Treat the interview like an inspection- get the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves.  Look at your clothing as you would your uniform and square it away as you would for your Commanding Officer.

3.  Shine your shoes!!!

4.  Rehearse with a friend ahead of time by using questions garnered through your research as well as your resume.  Be ready to answer questions by practicing ahead of time.

5.  Head to the interview early, and use the extra time before you go through the company’s front door to prepare, reduce your anxiety, and make sure you are ready.

Cover Letters

We have spent several posts together on the thrilling subject of resumes.  As a part of a job-seeker’s correspondence toolkit, resumes are the heavy weapon that a hiring manager looks at to determine whether or not to call you in for an interview.  Simply sending in a resume is not a good idea, however.  It is not that simple.

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s position.  She has a pile of resumes on her desk and she has to work through them to find the best candidates for the position.  A skilled manager will spend a few seconds on each resume, and in that time if you do not catch her eye your hard work will end up in the shredder.

The resume itself is not particularly eye catching because they all look pretty much the same.  Without something to really grab the reader’s attention your resume will never see the light of day.  Fortunately, we have another bit of correspondence that can help with that: The Cover Letter.

Think of the cover letter as your introduction to the company.  If you had thirty seconds to tell someone at the company why they should read your resume, what would you say?  The cover letter is that thirty seconds, but instead of speaking directly to a person you need to be able to convince them to keep reading with the contents of the letter.  If you don’t, your resume won’t make it into the “call for interview” pile.

A good rule of thumb is to expand on the objective statement from your combination style resume.  The objective statement articulates what you, the potential employee, are seeking in terms of employment.  It should match as exactly as possible the description of the job that the company is trying to fill, which you should be able to find out through your research on the company.

The second rule of thumb is to show, briefly, why you are the best candidate for the job.  Highlight an aspect of your skill set or your experience that will intrigue the reader and get them to turn the page and read your resume.  For an example of a cover letter that I used, and which resulted in an interview and a job offer, click here: sample cover letter.  This particular letter was written for a job in the defense industry, where the job required experience in ground operations, fire support, and military training.  Those areas were contained in the resume, but I pulled them out and hightlighted them specifically in order to get the firm’s attention – and it worked.  Remember, the key is getting the hiring manager to keep reading!  You really need to hone in on what the company is looking for and why you are the answer to their needs.

The format for a cover letter is pretty standard in the business world.  It is similar to most other forms of correspondence, but to help you put one together here are the elements, from top to bottom:

1.  Your address and contact information.  Include street address, phone number, and email.

2.  Company’s Address.  Include the hiring manager’s name if you can find it.

3.  Greeting. If you know it is a man, use “Sir”, and if it is a woman, use “Ma’am”.  If you don’t know, feel free to use “Sir or Ma’am”, but stay away from anything that could be viewed as informal or unusual.  Don’t start off with “Hey there!” or “Devil Dog,” because you will not look professional and they won’t read past the greeting.

4.  The body of the letter.  Three paragraphs is about right, with the first paragraph telling the reader why you are writing them (i.e., “I am very interested in working at Big Corporation”).  The second paragraph should emphasize your strengths and skills, and why you are the right person to hire to fill the need at the company.  The third paragraph should be a positive reinforcement of the previous paragraphs as well as information on how you will follow up with them (I didn’t have this in the example, but should have.)  Something along the lines of “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.  The best way to contact me is…”

5.  Closing.  Use something conservative and respectful, as you did with the greeting.  “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” are fine, “Cheers” or “Semper Fi” or “Later” are not the best choices.  Remember, the only impression the person has of you is what they read.  Don’t put something at the end of the letter that will make all of your work a waste of time.

6.  Signature.  Type your name at the bottom of the page with enough space to sign your name above it. I recommend writing your full name and avoiding nicknames or callsigns –  you can introduce yourself more informally when you are there for an interview.

So, take a look at your resume and pick out the strengths that meet the requirements of the company that you would like to apply to for a job.  Using the format in this post, emphasize the things that the company wants, and write as professionally possible.  A solid cover letter, when accompanied by a professional and well written resume, is a huge step in the direction of landing an interview.

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Lessons Learned:

1.  The cover letter is the gateway to having the hiring manager read your resume.  It must be professional, compelling, and well written or they will never turn the page.

2.  Emphasize your specific strengths or skills that the employer is seeking.  Pick those from your resume and expand on them for your cover letter.  Be certain that whatever you write in your cover letter is in your resume, though, otherwise the reader will wonder why there is a disconnect between the two.

3.  Keep it to one page!  Brevity is key.  There should be a lot of white space in the cover letter; it should be less dense than the resume.  Remember, the cover letter is the attention gainer and the resume is the meat of your offering to the company.  Don’t cram too much in the cover letter.

4.  Tailor the cover letter to the company you are applying to.  The resumes may be the same for multiple opportunities, but each cover letter should be individually focused on the company you are sending it to.

Writing your resume, part 3: The Combination Format

For those of you who have been holding your breaths in anticipation of the final installment in the resume postings –  here it is!

Today we are looking at the most flexible but most difficult resume to compose: the combination format.  As the name implies the combination format is actually a blend of the functional and chronological styles, which makes it more impactful in many industries.  It is the preferred format in situations where you have a very good idea of the job you are seeking and can tailor your resume to show your skills (think functional style) and experience (think chronological).

The difficulty in writing the combination style is that even though you are bringing in the best of both worlds you still need to fit it into two pages or less without doing something cheesy like shrinking the font down to microscopic size or using bigger sheets of paper.  Ruthless editing is everything!

What will greatly help you edit is researching the company and position where you are applying.  This will help you refine both your skill set and experience so that you are showing only what is relevant to the job or firm; you don’t have room for everything, so you can pick and choose what needs to be presented.

As with all things, there are some advantages and disadvantages to the combination format.  That said, if well written and focused on the job and firm where you want to work they can be easily mitigated.

Advantages:

  •  If you have little experience in the work area that you are seeking you can offset it by showcasing your skill set
  • Likewise, if you have a tremendous amount of experience you can use it to offset a limited number of entries on your chronological history
  • If you are changing careers, you can emphasize both your skill set and your experience to show why they are relevant for a new career path

Disadvantages:

  • If you have been job hopping the chronological section will still show the frequency of change in your employment history, as well as any significant gaps.
  • If you have no experience and no skills in the area where you want to work this format will highlight both situations.  You may be hoping to change your life and go in a radically new direction, which is great, but since this resume style is tailored to demonstrate both your skill set and experience that may be problematic if you have neither.

In this format we also introduce a new element: The Objective Statement.  This is where you, the applicant, articulate why you are the best person for a particular job.  Interestingly, if you surf around and read some of the posts and articles about resumes you will see that the objective statement is a controversial subject.  Many writers feel that it is unnecessary and wastes space, while others feel that it is an important component of a well written resume.

My take on it is that the objective statement is the best way to focus the reader (think hiring manager) on what it is that you can do for them.  It makes their job a little easier.  Think of it like the thesis for a term paper – you state your position up front and then support it throughout the rest of the document.

A large number of transitioning military folks seek work in the Civil Service or with a government contractor.  The objective statement is particularly useful for those who are seeking those jobs because the requirements to fill those jobs are generally fully disclosed and readily available, which means that you can tailor your resume to fit the stated requirements.  Showing the person who has to fill a position that you are the right person is the purpose of the objective statement, and a well written one that is supported throughout the resume has the advantage over someone whose resume is not focused.

The tight focus on the job you are seeking also allows for more latitude in the use of jargon and acronyms.  If you are seeking a job with specific technical skills then the odds are that the reader of the resume will understand your area-specific terminology.  That said, be judicious and use jargon sparingly unless you know for certain that the reader will understand what you are saying.  My example resume contains a fair amount of jargon and acronyms, but in my research I found that using them was not a problem.  You can see it here: Combination Resume Sample.

After the objective statement comes the Summary section.  This is a few sentences that show a thumbnail sketch that backs up your objective statement and shows why you are the right person for the job.  It also introduces the functional areas (as bullets) that showcase your skills that support your objective statement as well as your summary –  and, of course, why you are the right candidate for the job.

Immediately following the summary section are the more detailed narratives for each of the functional areas that you identified in the Summary section.  I title this section of the resume “Accomplishments” and use it to show how my skills in each area make me the best candidate for the job.  It is important to remember that each skill must relate to the objective and summary; otherwise you are wasting space and confusing the reader.  Remember: Focus, Focus, Focus on the job you are applying for!  Anything that does not bolster your objective and summary is taking up valuable space that you do not have to spare.

The accomplishments section is the end of the functional component of the resume.  The next section is a whittled down version of the chronological format, presented from the newest experience to the oldest.

This is where editing is really important!  In a traditional chronological resume you have a couple of pages to work with, but now you are down to half that space.  What I recommend is to only go back in time as many years as are needed to directly support your objective and summary statements.  For my resume (Combination Resume Sample) I chose to go into detail on the jobs that I held for the previous six years.  Those jobs are directly related to the job I was pursuing.  I then wrote a brief paragraph about other previous work experience that again supports the objective and summary statements.

The format ends with a recap of Education, Affiliations, and Awards that highlight those areas.  Here is where it is OK to include some things that may not be directly related to the objective and summary.  If you have received awards that are unique or show recognition for your great work or leadership, then by all means include them because they will show that you have distinguished yourself.  Likewise, if you have completed education or training that shows a depth of experience beyond the scope of your target job that can help as well.

In a nutshell the Combination Format is the right one for most government and contracting jobs as well as others that are have clearly defined requirements for employment.  The best part about this format is that it showcases both your skills and your experience, but to do so effectively requires a lot of research and ruthless editing.

And with that our string of posts about resume formats comes to a close.  Next we’ll dive into the wonderful world of cover letters!

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Lessons Learned:

1)  The Combination Format is best for jobs and companies that are specific in their requirements.  This helps you focus your resume specifically on what the employer is looking for.  It is the best format for government and contracting jobs.

2)  You must focus your resume on the job you are applying for, which means that this particular resume format requires that you update and revise it for each job you are seeking.  A good idea is to place a date stamp in the footer of the document for the date that you complete it; just make the font the same color as the background and nobody but you will will know it is there.  Since you know where it is you can check the date by highlighting that area of the page – and this will be very useful because before you know it you will have multiple versions of your resume saved and it will help you keep them sorted.

3)  Ruthlessly edit and refine your resume.  You cannot go past two pages, and if you try tricks like filling up all of the white space or using smaller fonts the hiring manager will likely pitch it out.  Get to the golden nuggets of your skill set and experience – get rid of the rest.

4)  Write an objective statement that targets the job you are seeking and support it throughout the remainder of the resume.  It should grab the reader’s attention because it resonates fully with the job that they are trying to fill.

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:

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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…

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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!

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…

So now what?

So there you are, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in your hand and the rest of your life in front of you.  You have made the decision to hang up your combat boots and get out of the service.  What you have not decided yet, though, is what to do next.  You stir your coffee, look out the window, and ask yourself “so now what?”

It is a great question, and you probably don’t have a truly great answer for it.  In many ways leaving the military puts you in the same position you were in when you graduated high school or college: the world lays before you with prospects to go in pretty much any direction you choose.  Which path is the one you want to take?

There are many possibilities.  You can go back to school, get a job, move back in with your parents, or become a hermit.  For the first time in years it is a choice that no senior officer or NCO will make for you.  So what are you gonna do?

Contrary to popular belief it is unlikely that you will be able to find a porch to sit on for the remainder of your days, unless you are retiring to a cabin in the middle of the mountains and plan on living on whatever you can grow, catch, or hunt yourself.  The retirement benefits aren’t that generous.  You are going to need to supplement your well earned but meager pension.

What if you are just getting out after a hitch or two?  Finding the retirement porch is probably decades in the future, so you need to find something to do until the rocking chair becomes your retirement throne.

So, back to the question: now what?

There are two common paths that people leaving the military take.  They generally either go back to school or find a job.  Many vets, like me, end up doing both at the same time as they work their way through college or graduate school.  Regardless of which path you take, however, you are ultimately going to end up back in the market for a job, if not a new career.  That is what the next string of posts will focus on: getting a job.

Despite what you may have heard, you can find employment after you get out despite the sour economy.  It isn’t easy, though.  There is no magical job fairy that sprinkles you with sparkly guaranteed-employment dust.  There are opportunities, though, but it takes some work to take advantage of them.

How long has it been since you wrote your resume?  How about a cover letter?  Have you had any experience being interviewed for a job?  What kind of skills can you show to a potential employer?  What do you want to do?

These questions and many more will be answered as we look into post-military employment….