Make Your Résumé a Winner by Answering These Ten Questions!

Today we have the honor of a guest writer with a tremendous amount of experience coaching individuals through their transition out of the military. Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he has assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in new jobs. Tom was a founding partner of Career Development Corporation, one of the first and most highly respected firms in the military-to-civilian career transition industry. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, Second Edition, was published in 2018 by University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, as a follow-up to the first edition which was published in 2012. Today, we will look at the first five of his 10 questions that are essential for a winning résumé.

Tom Wolfe is or has been a regular contributor to,, Military Transition News, Civilian Job News,Stars & Stripes,, Military Wife Network, and Veterans of Modern Warfare

A winning résumé presents your experience in a way that also indicates your potential. It grabs and holds the attention of the reader and makes him or her want to know more. Simply stated, a résumé is an interview-generation tool and, like any tool, it must be well-cared for and appropriate to the task. How well does your résumé measure up to that standard?

  1. How easy is it to read? Your résumé must pass the seven seconds test, specifically, the reader will pay close attention for that amount of time, at which point he or she either becomes interested enough to keep reading or loses interest and moves on. White space, i.e., the absence of ink, is critical. Edit out all unnecessary words; choose a font (sans-serif) style and size that is easy to read; minimize the use of text boxes, borders, and other graphics; dump personal pronouns; cut out adjectives and adverbs whenever possible. Use bullets, which make the information easier to find and read (see questions 3, 5, & 10).  Make sure it is free of military jargon, acronyms, and phraseology. 
  2. How long should it be? You get one page for every ten years since high school or college but no more than two pages. If you go to a second page, make sure the most important and/or relevant information is on the first page or the reader may never turn to page two.  If two pages is impossible, consider using a stand-alone résumé addendum. A well-written cover letter can also often eliminate the need for a third page.
  3. What style is best?  There are three styles from which to choose. 

    chronological displays the information in a reverse timeline and grouped within sections, the most common of which are contact information, objective, education/training/certifications, experience/achievement, and additional/personal information.

    The functional focuses on consolidating specific and similar skills under functional headings, independent of the timeframe in which they occurred. Typical functional headings include Project Management, Command and Control, Operational Leadership, Customer Service, Quality Control, Training and Development, and Process Improvement.

    The hybridchrono-functional version is good for military personnel with more than ten years of service. Use the functional format and add an abbreviated reverse chronological experience section, listing only the primary job titles and the years in which these assignments were held.
  4. Should you include an objective? It depends. Yes, if it focuses on a specific, targeted position for which you are qualified. You must be reasonably certain that the opening exists. No, if you are expressing your objective in vague or general terms. Consider having two versions of your résumé. Use the one without an objective when you also include a cover letter that expresses your interest in a specific job. In the alternative, take advantage of the powerful signal you will send with a specifically worded objective on your résumé. Caution: an objective that takes up more than one line is not specific enough.
  5. What are you selling?  You will be hired for one of three reasons:  your experience, your potential, or a combination of both.

    To be hired for your experience, you must be the square peg that fits the square hole. It is the combination of jobs, training, and certifications on your résumé that generated the interview and got you the job. You are selling your past, not your future. Hiring you is low risk, your value-added is immediate, and your starting salary will be higher. However, you may also sacrifice career and salary growth. 

    Being hired for your potential means the employer believes in your future and will train and develop you accordingly. Your past experience means little and you are starting over. Hiring you is risky and your future is unknown. Since your value-added is downstream, your starting salary will be lower. The employer is investing in you way beyond your paycheck. For most military personnel, neither one of those first two reasons is acceptable. What to do? Compromise.

    Go to work for an employer who cares about both your past and your future. To pull this off, make sure your résumé focuses not only on what you have done but also on how well you did it. Achievement in past endeavors is a great indicator of your ability to succeed in the future.

We will take a look at the 5 remaining questions in our next blog post. In the meantime, please check out for more information on Tom Wolfe’s book. $

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