Must Have Items when Leaving the Military and Getting a Job
by Sean M. Wheeler, USNR-Ret
If you are planning to leave the military and want to maximize your job potential, there are several things you’ll need to get done to prepare for the job search:
– Make copies of your DD214 (electronic and paper) and safely store the original.
– Get your basic resume written for federal and non-government applications. Yes, they are different. Attach letters of recommendation, etc.
– Set up your social networks and monitor them.
What’s the big deal about the DD214?
When I first got off active duty at age 22, the DD214 was just another piece of paper to me from the Navy. It didn’t really seem that important to me. Now I know the DD214 is the most important document from all of my military separation and discharge paperwork. For the job search, it is your proof of military service to potential employers and tells them your rank, separation status, awards and other information they may want when making a hiring decision. It’s best to make copies and be certain the original is kept safe. It is also a good idea to have a clear scan of your DD214 in a secure area of your computer as well. This allows you to up-load it immediately when filling out online job applications. Many companies use the online process now and accept electronic filing. With the scanned DD214 on your computer, you have immediate access to it so that you can submit it right away along with the resume and other application materials. In fact, most employers that I’ve dealt with will not accept anything else as proof of military service except your DD214. This is particularly true when applying for Federal, State or local government jobs. Since they are one of the biggest employers these days, you must have the DD214. Once you provide that, you can then send them other documents such as your military biography, letters of recommendation, fitness reports and evaluations, copies of Letters of Commendation, Awards, etc. That information is great to send in with job applications, but only if the employer asks for or allows it. First and foremost, they will want that all-important DD214.
Another good idea to consider is having a copy of your DD214 recorded with the local County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. That way, if all other copies are somehow destroyed or lost, you can still get a copy from the Clerk’s records fairly quickly instead of having to write to a military office which may take months for a reply. The process with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office is usually quick, easy and very inexpensive being somewhere in the neighborhood of a few dollars for the recording fee. Taking the time to do this will pay you back in spades if all other copies are lost. It has happened, so don’t risk it. One other good place to check for safekeeping a copy of your DD214 is your local government work force center or unemployment office. These offices often have a Veteran’s representative as part of the services they provide. Here in Colorado they will keep a copy of your DD214 on file.
It may seem like a lot of work for one little document, but that document is worth its weight in gold when employers have Veteran’s Hiring preferences. While you are meeting the Vet’s services representative, they can also provide you with good information on local job opportunities, unemployment compensation, VA health care and volunteer services. You earned all of these extra benefits as a Vet and should take advantage of every one of them in this very competitive job market. One last note, the lack of a DD214 form can bring some processes through the VA to a screeching halt. Having to wait months to get a copy form the military won’t help matters either if you are doing something like trying to purchase your first home with a VA Loan. If you have to write to the government for a replacement, you can get a copy by writing to the National Personnel Records Center. Google them online and check their requirements for what they need from you, such as a completed form SF-180 along with a letter stating the reason for your request, you name, rank, social security number. Simply put, it’s far easier to have several paper copies, an electronic copy stored securely on your computer, and one safely recorded with the local Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
What kind of Resume should I use?
If you don’t feel like you have a gift for writing, or you just want to know where / how to start a resume, there are vast number of resume writers, web sites and even free services available to help you put one together. Once they provide you with a starter resume, you can always change it to suit your personal style and the type of job you are looking for. Again, your local work force center or employment office may have staff that can help you write a resume, and they often provide this service for free. In Colorado the work force centers provide this service at no cost, and they have great classes on how to write resumes and market yourself in this competitive job market, also at no cost. You can’t beat the price!
There are probably just as many opinions available on what’s acceptable for a resume and what isn’t. You will also find different opinions on what’s considered the “in” style and which styles are thought to be “outdated” for whatever reason. For example, 10 years ago you would always list references on your resume. The argument was that if employers had to ask for references it was an added step they would not want to take…so you had them on the resume. The conventional wisdom now is that you don’t list references. Why? Who knows but resume styles (like hair styles) change over time and in a few years it may switch back. The benefit to not listing references is that you can have them on a separate sheet and you can send them in at the same time you send the resume. This gives you more room on your resume to tell specific things about yourself, your accomplishments and what you think sets you apart from other applicants. The key is you must stand out above everyone else applying for the same job. Another standard rule about resumes that still applies is that they should be no more than two pages long. I heard a story once about a well-known public figure who applied for a job with a two line resume. It had his name, and a second sentence that said simply “you know who I am and you know what I can do”. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have this selling potential.
Even where we do, we’d likely be applying for jobs where the potential employer already knows us. In that case the resume is not needed anyway. So, two solid pages of information about you is a good goal to set. Another bit of conventional wisdom says your resume should not to go back more than 15 years in your employment history. If you feel you need to cover something further back, do so in a summary. Earlier military history could be covered in a single paragraph. It could state when you first enlisted or got commissioned, commands you worked at (not all of them) and what you did in a few sentences. At the top list your rank when you left the service, your designator, MOS or job title, and your security clearance along with how long you held it. People who are interested in your military background will know what all of that means without you having to go into great detail. If they are not interested, you will be wasting a lot of space covering details they aren’t interested in or don’t need. The clearance information and rank in particular also give your potential employers a good sense of your trustworthiness and management abilities in one simple sentence.
Above all else, your resume must be easy for the Human Resources staff or Hiring Manager to scan quickly. In many cases, they will spend only 15 to 30 seconds looking at it. It’s got to sell in that micro-amount of review time. If what they are looking for doesn’t pop out right away, your resume will likely get tossed. What you want is to encourage them to read further and spend more time considering you. Thus, using the right formatting, headlines, etc. for a particular job will keep you from ending up in the trash can or as a victim of the “delete” button. Ok, so how are you supposed to know what the right headlines and words are? — A great way to find out is by checking the company’s website and job description. Their website will tell you how they see themselves, and more importantly how they market themselves. Use the words they use, and you have a much better chance of ending up on the call back list. If their website says “we’re customer service driven…we’re team focused…we’re creative and think outside of the box” all of these are examples of how the company sees and promotes in itself. That tells you what they are going to look for in a new employee. The job description will also provide lots of tips in the actual description and qualifications sections. For example, if they say they want someone with “management or supervisory experience” consider using that as a headline in your resume. Or if they say they want someone with solid experience in customer service…use that. Describe your customer service skills. — Every job I can think of in the military has some customers. For me as an intelligence officer at sea, my customers were the pilots I worked with. At shore commands, my customers were the folks I provided information to on a daily basis in my briefings and written reports. Look to your evaluations and fitness reports for bullets you can use in this area. After all, since you have already gotten a good write-up, the creative work in describing yourself is already done. Use what they wrote and credit the source. You may have to change a few words or acronyms but presenting positive comments from others about you is just as good as a direct reference. Better still, you don’t have to rack your brain trying to figure out how to describe yourself well when others have already done so.
As noted there are a number of resume styles to choose from. Two of the basic ones are the historic resume, and the descriptive resume. The historic format is an old standard. It typically lists your employment history, education and experience with time frames for each in chronological order. It can also include your interests, volunteer activities, awards, etc. The descriptive resume lists accomplishments for a specific job or set of jobs, without tying it to a date. I still prefer the historic style, and I would modify it to a particular job. However, if your gut tells you that a company is going to want something more descriptive, consider using that. By way of example, I’m thinking about applying for a job with a local Apple Store. I’m no kid, but that’s not going to stop me even though people tell me Apple is only going to be interested in hiring the under-30 set. So I’ll use a descriptive resume there with some historic stuff. I have great customer service skills. I use and know their products as well as any kid. I’m also a gamer from way back (yeah that’s right…people over 30 are gamer’s too) so I could describe my gaming and other skills to demonstrate to Apple that I have the interest and energy to sell their product. That way I’ll sell myself as being a good fit in their store. When selling yourself to an employer, it’s important to tailor your resume style to the position for which you are applying. This also lets your resume style introduce your unique personality, the creativity you’ll bring to the job, and the reason’s you are the right candidate for them. As to a few of the basic elements needed for all resumes, regardless of the style you choose, consider the following:
Paper: Use resume quality white paper, which you can get at any good copying store. White paper is always appropriate, whereas choosing a colored paper may cause the employer to think your choice is gaudy and inappropriate. Bright pink leaps to mind here. Still, if you’re applying at the Pink Paper Company it may be a good choice to use their product. In most cases however, basic white or off-white is the way to go.
Text / Font: Use black for your text color. As to the font you choose pick one that is easy to read. You can be creative in using a special font for your name, address, phone number…but the text should be one of two types considered acceptable for business correspondence and for clarity. These are serif fonts, which have feet such as the Times New Roman or sans serif fonts that don’t have feet. They include a font like such as Arial. The best way to check the readability of your resume is look at it both on the computer screen and in print. Some resume pro’s say that one font or the other is better on the eye, but I find both to be very easy to read. You can also change the font style for headings, name, etc. but use a font like Times New Roman or Ariel in the body. These read like a book or newspaper, so the font doesn’t become a distraction. The larger, bolded, and more fancy fonts make the headings stand out along with underlining. Just be sure not to use more than three font styles, because then the text gets “busy” and is also more difficult to read. Also, be consistent with your font styles and sizes…all headings should be the same for example. As to font size for the body, 10 point is probably the smallest you should use. It’s similar to what’s in a typical novel, and still large enough to read. Headings, your address, telephone number, etc. can be a larger font up to 14 points. I also put my LinkedIn, Twitter and Gmail addresses at the top and bottom of my resume with the larger font.
Most employers are going to check these, and your Facebook page too, so you can list them. I’ll have more on that in a bit. For your name, be creative. The below example is shown in a 26 point font, and is boxed (with the box outline turned off) so that it can be adjusted around the top easily. The address, phone number and Gmail information are all in another box, but this time the outline on so it stands out. Just below the name are the social network addresses that employers want these days. The line right below the identifying information is the resume title, and it must relate directly to the work you are seeking. Here’s how it looks:
FARMER, LAND MANAGER, AGRICULTURAL RELATIONS, VETERAN
(The rest of the resume starts here.)
Text Alignment & Bullets: The text or body of your resume should be left justified. Centering or right aligning your name and header information is ok because that helps these things to stand out. Resumes featuring bulleted lists are easy to read as well, and have that clean, professional look. When using bulleted lists, stress your specific skills and achievements with bulleted one liner’s. The various word processing software sets all have different bullets so you can be creative. Just be consistent throughout the resume and you’ll get a professional look.
Photographs and Graphic Elements: I’m personally not a fan of putting my picture on a resume. It takes up space and they’ll see you soon enough. If you are getting into something like real estate sales, it might be a good idea. Generally, I’d say not to. Some shading, horizontal lines or other graphic elements can be used, but not over used. With the right fonts, bullets, headlines, and use of bold or underline, there should be enough graphic elements to make the resume easy to scan. Beyond that, what you write has got to quickly highlight the unique talents and skills you have to offer. For more ideas, Google “resume writers” or “resume styles” and you’ll get hits on sites that say they write a resume for free. Once you get there, they sometimes want you to set up an account and may charge for that. It can be typical misleading advertising often found on the internet so be sure to read the fine print.
Some of these companies have very small charges and may be just what you are looking for, but there are other’s out there who can probably give you the same advice for free so it’s good to keep surfing and check around for the free sites that really are free. Military.com has some great information on resumes, and they are free to anyone to sign up with. Ask your friends too, they may have great resumes that landed them the job quickly.
Letters of recommendation / References: Before you leave the service get letters of recommendation from supervisors, commanding officers and others who have worked with you. It is far easier to do this before you leave than after. Also, verify that you can use someone as a reference before your put their name on your reference list. That way they’ll not be caught off guard when an employer calls about you. Like the resume, it’s good to have these scanned and on your computer so that you can upload them to job search sites, potential employers or as attachments to applications. As a parting thought on all of these things. Have them spell checked, grammar checked and have several people read them over if you can. A good online site to check the spelling of words is www.dictionary.com. I have tweaked my resume and checked it many times, had several people check it but guess what? Last week…I found an error. Not a big glaring one and no one has noticed or said anything yet. Still, any errors can be fatal so have everything checked and double checked. As they say in construction, measure twice, cut once. Verification is the key!
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE PERILS WITHIN
Who doesn’t have some sort of social media site they are on these days? Ok some folks don’t but it’s time to get into the 21st century. Social media can be a big help in the job search. In fact, I connected with Hire Patriots though LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter and Facebook. To start, I recommend setting up an email account just for your job search. This can be done easily on sites like Gmail.com and the email account should have an appropriate name, preferably your name. Because mine was taken at Gmail, I put my last name first, then my first name and middle initial. That makes it easier for employers to be sure who they are sending the email too and your name. My personal account is different and uses the mascots from both my universities, but to an HR type, that could be anyone. So set up a business email with your name. That also helps you easily find your job search related email that you need and you don’t have to surf through family emails, offers from Sears, notices from the school, etc. to find what you’re looking for.
LINKEDIN: For social media sites I’ll start with LinkedIn. It is possibly best described and the business world’s version of Facebook. This is not the place to tell the world what you had for dinner or that you just “checked-in” at the grocery store. It is the place to highlight your professional self. LinkedIn’s basic account is free and on it you can list items from your resume, your employment history, your education and even your interest in books. Through it, you can find others who share your interests, and thus maybe find a job lead or better yet a new job. LinkedIn’s basic account doesn’t offer as much as the premium business accounts, but the basic account still provides a lot.
It is one more tool in your box to help in the job search. Here’s my LinkedIn address and I will accept all invitations to connect: http://www.linkedin.com/in/wheelerseanm.
When you set up your page use a professional of business like photo. If someone invites you to connect, accept the invitation. You can always change it later if you need to, and it helps to build your network. Do not click the I Don’t Know This Person button, as LinkedIn will penalize them for sending out bogus invitations. If you don’t want to connect, simply delete the request. However, if a user gets more than 4 IDK’s (I’m not sure of the number but that’s close) they will suspend that person’s account. It’s their version of a penalty box and you don’t want to go there as LinkedIn considers it harassment. They take the issue very seriously. The best thing is to start with people you know, and LinkedIn will help you do this by scanning your email account to see who you know is already on LinkedIn. You can also send an invitation to me at the above address, and to Hire Patriots.
I’ve been on since this past January and have built up a connections list of 171 people in that short time. Once you get above 500 connections LinkedIn stops counting on line. Along with the two outstanding connections above, you will also find many Veterans Groups, Enlisted and Officer Associations, special interest groups, political groups and business you may be interested in and the list is endless. I’m in a number of groups such as apple computers, banjo players, project managers, landscape architects, pro.jobs, officer associations, a group called connect to the world and…of course…Hire Patriots. You can even start your own group. Just remember, LinkedIn is a business social networking site. You must keep it professional in language, tone, etc. but the discussion topics under the groups can cover anything related to that group, on a civil level of course. Finally you can also connect to LIONS, which are LinkedIn Open Networkers. LIONS fall into many interest categories, and can help you expand your connection list quickly. One last resource, LinkedIn has apps that you can use to display different things on your home page. I use an app that connects to my twitter account, and it posts my tweets on LinkedIn. I also have a link to my Facebook page.
Other things to do on LinkedIn are to add your resume information, job history, education, interests, etc. It’s best to do this in a word processing software then cut and paste into LinkedIn. That gives you a chance to spell check, grammar check and all that good stuff. You do not want misspelled words of bad grammar on LinkedIn. Gives the wrong impression. Also, optimize your header, title and content with specialty key words. When others are searching LinkedIn for a project manager, these will point them to your page. You…are your brand. At LinkedIn you need to be creative just like on a resume to show how you are different from everyone else. You can check pages of others once you have connections to see how they approach this and the types of key words they use.
FACEBOOK: What can I say about this site that most people don’t already know? One thing is this. When looking for a job it’s important to keep control, total absolute and complete control, over your Facebook settings. I have heard of to many instances where people got denied an interview because of what was on their FB page. Therefore do not let your friends have any control over your settings. Also do not let people such as “friends of friends” post photos to your wall, or tag you in photos on their sites. The reason is simple enough. When you are looking for a job don’t assume that only your friends are looking at your page. Recently I heard in one job search class that over 80% of human resources professionals…those that are going to be looking at your resume…are checking Facebook sites. It stands to reason that if you have photos of drunken debauchery or other wild adventures on your page, it may well cost you the interview and thus a job. It is a good bet in this day of social media that HR types will look at your page to see how you act away from the office. It’s none of their business you say? It is public information, and companies want to know how you behave away from the office, as a basis for trying to figure out how you’ll fit with the company. On my page I don’t let anyone post who is not a friend. Unfortunately, I had to unfriend one person who’s postings were little more than political expletives. The language was simply inappropriate and I did not want recruiters to think I agreed with that kind of hateful garbage. I also don’t let anyone check me in anywhere. You never know what some of your friends will do as a joke. It’s not funny if they check you into 10 different bars the night before you’re going to an interview and the HR person checks your site the morning of the interview and finds that. Your interview could be shortened or even cancelled.
TWITTER: I’ll admit, I didn’t see the job search advantage of Twitter right away. I thought, how can these little tweets give me anything useful? Well, I’ve made several connections in my job search network based on the tweets. It is also a good way to get quick leads on job openings, job fairs, current events, etc. As with LinkedIn, I use a photo on Twitter. On Twitter, follow people who follow you. Also just like on LinkedIn you will find many companies, military and other organizations or individuals with a wide variety of interests. Some of your LinkedIn connections will have a Twitter page as well. This is another easy way to build up your contact list. My Twitter account is: http://twitter.com/Sean_M_Wheeler and again I’d be happy to have connections. As I said, you can always change your mind and delete a connection if things get strange or inappropriate. As you can see, I also set up my Twitter account with my name so I’m easy to find, which is what you want in the job search. One thing to remember on Twitter is that all tweets are archived and searchable. Think of it as your mom having the ability to log in and check up on you. Job recruiters can do the same. I’ll admit I’m still pretty new to Twitter, but they have a link with information on how to maximize your use of their site. The address is: http://twittertips.org.
WRAPING IT UP:
The job search is a challenge, but with the internet and other free services available there is at least a lot of help you can find in figuring out that search. For folks with a military background, many companies are now placing a higher value on your service. Use every advantage you can get because you’ve earned it. Save your DD214, get a good resume and use social networks sensibly to take your career to the next level. To all Veterans, thank you for your service!