It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits Amazon.com.  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!

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Why are transition assistance programs not as effective as they should be? The answers are out there, but nobody is asking the questions.

When Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines leave the military service they are generally young, fit, and eager to get to work in the civilian world.  Many go to school to obtain an education, but many more jump headlong into the job market.  Unfortunately, they are not as prepared as they could be to compete in the cutthroat employment marketplace.  It is not because the government is not trying to help transitioning military folks learn the skills they need to get a job, because there are a multitude of programs out there to help with transition.  Unfortunately, those programs are not nearly as effective as they could and should be.

The Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and Department of Labor have spent many millions of dollars (over $50 Million in 2012 alone) on various programs designed to help veterans make the transition from military service to the civilian world.  These agencies are charged with conducting classes, seminars, and counseling that is designed to help those who are hanging up their uniforms with the challenging and often confusing process of becoming a civilian again.

Despite the efforts of these agencies, there is a serious problem with unemployment for recently discharged veterans.  The population of younger veterans who are recently discharged is having the toughest time, with those in the 20 – 24 year old age bracket hitting an unemployment rate of 35% in March of this year according to a Syracuse University study that was released last month (available here: March 2013 Employment Situation of Veterans) .  That stunning number is well over double the rate for the same population of non-veterans.

That means that a lot of our veterans are out of work, and as a result the DOD is paying a lot of money out in the form of unemployment benefits to those who can’t find a job.  It is a shocking amount of money.  I mean really shocking!

How shocking?  Try nearly $1 Billion dollars a year (the actual number was $928 million for 2012 and is on track to increase in 2013).  Almost one billion dollars.  For unemployment benefits.  For veterans who cannot find a job.  And it comes out of the DOD’s annual budget, and every dollar that is spent on unemployment benefits for a veteran is a dollar that is not spent on the people still serving or the equipment that they use to keep our nation safe.

Paying unemployment insurance for separated military personnel is not new for the Department of Defense.  In fact, the DOD has been paying millions of dollars in unemployment benefits for a long time, but the billion dollar pricetag is unprecedented. In 2003, the military paid about $300 million on such benefits, and a decade later that cost has over tripled.

There are a lot of reasons for the increase, with the most obvious being the increase in the number of people leaving the military and having a rough time finding a job in the tough economic conditions that exist today.

That is only part of the story, however.  The Obama administration, to their credit, has increased funding and awareness for the plight of jobless veterans.  Unfortunately, those efforts are not paying the dividends that they should be.  With such a high level of emphasis and funding for transition training and education, you would think that the unemployment rate for veterans would be at or below the non-veteran level.  Unfortunately, it is not.

That is where the data from the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey becomes very interesting.

As I continue to research the subject of military transition, I have been analyzing the data from the survey and a few data points really jump out.  The first data point is how little feedback about the transition process is actually gathered by the organizations that are actually doing the transition training.

Every branch of the military uses After Action Reviews (AARs) to gather feedback from events and learn from the lessons that the AAR provides.  Pilots debrief every mission in order to become better aviators and infantrymen get together and discuss the lessons that they learned from their combat or training engagements.  These debriefs and lessons learned sharing sessions are part of every service and every career field.  Capturing lessons and learning from experience is a crucial part of what makes our military unbeatable.

Unfortunately, the AAR process does not seem to apply to transitioning or recently transitioned veterans.  Despite the culture of learning from experience, the vast pool of potential data sources — recently transitioned veterans — is virtually untapped.

The data shows that, of respondents who left the service between 2003 and 2013, less than one in five had been contacted by the Department of Defense or their branch of service about transition.  Of those one in five who had been contacted, less than half (0r just under 10% of all respondents) were asked to participate in an AAR of the transition process.

In other words, fewer than one in ten recently discharged veterans have been asked to help make the transition process better by providing feedback on their experience.

That, to me, is an incredibly disappointing statistic.  It is not particularly surprising, however.  Nobody officially asked me anything about my transition, and in my many conversations with veterans I have found that nobody asked them either.

Millions and millions of dollars are being spent every year on the military transition process, yet unemployment rates for veterans continues to exceed their civilian counterparts.  Nearly a billion dollars is being spent by the DOD on unemployment benefits for those unemployed veterans.  You would think that somebody would connect the dots between the efficacy of the military transition programs and their effect on the unemployment rate, but sadly the most readily available resource of feedback is largely being ignored.  Nobody is asking the vast majority of people who have gone through those transition programs and entered the civilian workforce about their experiences and how the transition programs could be improved.

The answers are out there.  Too bad nobody is asking the right people the questions.

In yet another shameless plug- I can never get enough data in the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey.  So if you have transitioned from the US military (it doesn’t matter when), please take the survey!  If you have take it, I thank you.  Please ask others to take it too!

Some preliminary results

Thanks to all of you who have read my posts about the transition survey that I using to conduct some research into the military transition process.   A lot of you have helped me out, and I truly appreciate your time in taking the survey and for sharing it with others who can help.

That said, I can never get enough data.  If you are a veteran or a military person going through transition, please take my survey here: Military Transition Survey .  Thanks!

So far the data are showing some interesting trends.  The Marine Corps is the best represented so far, so for those of you in other branches here is your chance to catch up and beat the Marines….

About half of the respondents are combat veterans, and veterans from every conflict since the Korean War have taken the survey.  My first look at the data shows that there are many more programs available today than were out there for earlier generations of veterans, with many of our Vietnam, Korean, and Cold War veterans responding that they had no formal outprocessing resources.

More recent veterans report that there are a lot of different programs currently available, and that they produce a wide disparity in results.  Some are reported to be great, and others are reported to be useless.  I am looking forward to diving more deeply into the data to learn more.

The split between veterans who did and did not serve in active combat is about even, as is the ratio between enlisted and commissioned respondents.  Very few warrant officers have weighed in, though — so if you are a warrant officer, please jump in!

I will start analyzing the information in greater depth next week, and I’ll keep you posted.  Till then, keep sharing the link and get as many of your peers and friends as you can to take the survey.

Thanks!

 

Another plug for help!

Last week I wrote about a survey that I am conducting about the military transition process.  So far the response has been good (thanks to all of you who have already taken it!) but I am only about halfway there.  In order to have an unbiased survey it is important to get as many responses as possible in order to make sure that the sample of those of you who take the survey are representative of the entire population of transitioning or transitioned folks.  At the risk of being redundant, I ask again that if you have gone through or are going through the transition process and have not yet taken my survey, would you please help me out?  Also, please forward it to anyone, from any branch and any time period, who has made the jump?  I promise that this will be my last humble request!

The survey is 29 questions long and takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.  Here is the link:

Military Transition Survey

Also, I am very eager to hear from all of the branches of the armed forces.  The Marine response has been great (keep them coming!), and I want to make sure that you know that I would like to hear from any and all who have undergone the transition process.

Thanks!  In my next posts we’ll start looking at some of the emerging and interesting trends that the survey is revealing.

A chance to improve the military to civilian transition process

As those who follow my writings about military transition know, the process is often contrary, capricious, confusing, and supremely frustrating.  I have been writing about my experiences for nearly two years now, and over that time I have been disappointed to see that the process has not really improved.  Transition is still just as consternating as ever, despite millions of dollars spent on the process by both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.

I am currently writing a book about my transitional journey, and that is where you come into the picture.  I have created a survey in which I am humbly asking every veteran and every military person who is going through transition or has completed transition to participate.  I have my own observations and opinions, but as author Eric Herzel once said: “One’s opinion should only be as strong as one’s knowledge on the matter.”

Since I am planning to write much more about transition, I really need to incorporate the collective knowledge of as many of you who have experienced transition in order to make my opinions as fact-based as possible.  Will you help?

Without further ado, here is:

Military Transition  Survey

Thank you in advance — and I will be posting the insights and results soon!

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.