Military spouses come in all ages, with all varieties of skills, all kinds of experience, and all levels of education. Still, no matter how diverse spouses may be, there are several common mistakes they make when writing their resumes.
For six years, I have been assisting active-duty members and their families with writing resumes and searching for jobs. During this time, I have noticed the same five problems that can serve as a disadvantage to getting an interview in this highly competitive job market.
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1. Jumping on Free Templates.
The first mistake I often see is using a free template to create a resume. While it seems like a good idea because it’s free and it’s better than staring at a blank page for hours on end, it is NOT a good tool to use. These formats tend to be very basic and impossible to individualize. They do not maximize the use of the space on the page, or allow for flexibility in changing the template. This can cause a lot of frustration and end up looking rather sloppy.
When I receive a resume like this, the first thing I do is get rid of the template and start with the content. Then I can arrange the content myself with more flexibility to fill the page and add more information that might not have fit into the template’s framework.
If you’re really stuck and have no idea how to get started, check out some resume sample books from your library. Make sure the publishing date is relatively recent as styles and elements change frequently. There are a great many of these kinds of books with literally hundreds of different formats to choose from.
2. Slavish Devotion to the “Rules."
Another mistake is sticking to old-fashioned thinking. Just as you need not stick to only one page, it is OK for you to stray from the traditional chronological format. It is common to see a combination of chronological (most recent position first), and functional (no dates at all). The hybrid is typical these days whether you are trying to hide gaps in employment or whether you’re simply trying to highlight certain specific skills you have acquired.
Related: Tips for Resumes that Get Noticed
Hate writing objective statements? Well, guess what? Don’t bother! A simple headline that includes the target career or industry is sufficient. It’s best to get straight to the point. A simple, “Administrative Assistant," is much better than, “Seeking an opportunity to use my office skills to increase productivity for a business or company that offers good benefits and promotion potential.” The employer probably doesn’t care what you’re looking for until they decide they want to hire you, and that usually happens after the interview.
3. Only Showing the Money.
Not including your volunteer positions is a huge mistake. Even if you did not get paid for a service you provided, you still demonstrated or developed a skill in completing that task. Regardless of what you did as a volunteer, it’s worth mentioning -- even if only to show that you did something, and that you have interests and motivation. This is why I highly recommend to spouses to find a volunteer opportunity as soon as you arrive at your new duty station. You can continue to look for a paid position, but at least you can fill the gaps in your resume.
4. Losing Your Spunk.
Military spouses should demonstrate more confidence in their job search. Often, the first thing they say is that they don’t want to tell employers that they are a military spouse. While I understand their trepidation about revealing the fact that their tenure in a position may be short lived, in today’s world where our country has been at war for nearly a decade and a half, most people have an appreciation for what our military members are doing/have done for us. In addition, most businesses located in the vicinity of a military base are supporters of the base and military families.
All of this said, I do not believe it’s necessary to announce on your resume that you are a military spouse or when your active-duty member’s rotation date is. It would be nice to announce this at the time of the job offer, but until then I don’t recommend mentioning it.
5. Blind to Your Own Strengths.
Lastly, I often see a lack of ability to identify their skills or strengths. There are several suggestions I have to ensure you are representing yourself in the best light. Again, I am going to tell you to make a trip to your local library and check out some resume sample books. Some of the books are targeted to specific industries, for example health care, technology or education. Pick the book that has examples of resumes for individuals working in fields the same or closest to yours. If you can, find a resume for someone doing the same jobs you have done. Carefully analyze what words they have used to describe their skills. Using the same exact phrases that you find in that book is not plagiarizing. Feel free to borrow. Just be absolutely sure the statement is true for you, and you are fine.
Another source of terminology or descriptions of duties for specific jobs is the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Just type in the title of a job in the search box, and it will direct you to a full description of what that job entails. It’s incredibly useful if you feel stuck in describing what you do.
Following these few tips will take you a long way toward having a very professional product to represent you. Of course, don’t blow the whole thing by having typos or inconsistencies. Have a friend whom you know is a good writer look it over and get as much feedback as possible. The final test that will reveal it’s true quality is when you land your first interview.
-- With more than 12 years' experience in the DoD as a federal employee, Tina Sims, MA, ACRW, CPRW, GCDF, is highly sought after for her resume writing skills, transition assistance support and job search coaching for military members and their spouses. She is the owner of Spirited Career Services.
Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Military.com Job Search section.
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