One of the most difficult challenges you'll face as a military spouse is finding a new job each time you move. By creating an effective résumé that highlights your skills, you can get started with your job search before the moving truck arrives. A well-designed résumé will help you communicate your skills in terms an employer can recognize and appreciate. Think of your résumé as a marketing tool — it should tempt the reader to learn more about you.
Assessing Your Skills
Military spouses offer many unique skills, but many spouses are unsure about how to communicate those skills on a résumé. Before you begin to work on your résumé, take a look at your skill sets.
- Work skills – These include your computer skills and any skills that are part of your work experience, such as typing, bookkeeping, sales, or customer service. They can also include foreign languages you know or other skills you may have learned while doing volunteer work or in school. List these skills — they will be the focus of your résumé. Skills are frequently expressed as active verbs, e.g., manage, analyze, communicate, implement, develop, organize, coordinate, supervise, design, etc.
- Intangible skills – As a military spouse, your frequent moves and life changes have helped you gain some special abilities. Employers value many of the skills that military spouses bring to the workplace, such as being able to adapt easily to new situations, learn new things quickly, and handle multiple tasks simultaneously. By incorporating your intangible skills into your résumé, you can showcase them to potential employers.
Types of Résumés
You'll need both a printed résumé and an electronic one you can send by email or post on a job search site. Your paper copy is for mailing to employers and handing out at job fairs. Your digital résumé will look a lot like your paper résumé, but you’ll need to put it in a format that can be emailed to potential employers or cut and pasted into job search websites.
Unless the employer requires your résumé in a specific format, you can choose to organize your résumé into one of three general format types. Ideally, the type of résumé you choose will be the one that showcases your particular skills in the best way.
- Chronological – This résumé lists employment history in chronological order, starting with your most recent experience.
- Functional – This résumé highlights skills and de-emphasizes frequent job changes and gaps in employment. The main body of the résumé includes skills and accomplishments, which may be divided into specific areas of expertise (such as management, marketing, or technical skills).
- Combination – This résumé emphasizes skills learned in a variety of jobs, while maintaining the job history many employers like.
Parts of a Résumé
Your skills and experience are different from those of any other job seeker, so your résumé will be unique. However, all résumés contain basic elements regardless of the format type you choose. Here are the common résumé sections that help to organize your résumé.
- Contact Information – This includes your name, address, phone number, and email address. Make sure this information is correct and that you can be contacted through any of the information listed.
- Objective (or Job Target) – This is a statement to identify the job you're looking for and what makes you uniquely qualified for the position. It should only be one or two lines. If you know the specific job title, you should include that here. For example, "A position as Sales Manager for AAA Corporation in which ten years marketing and sales experience will be valuable."
- Summary of Qualifications – This bulleted section is placed just below the objective, in the visual center of the résumé. It includes five or six lines highlighting the skills that make you uniquely qualified for this job. This section may also be called "Highlights of Qualifications," "Summary of Skills," or "Summary of Experience." For chronological résumés, a shorter summary will sometimes work well.
- Employment History – This section may also be called "Relevant Experience" or "Professional Experience." How you describe your employment history depends on whether you choose a chronological, functional, or combined résumé format.
- Education and Training – This section will include colleges and training schools you attended. List the name of the school and the location, but not necessarily the dates. List all colleges you have attended, as well as any training that is relevant to the job you're seeking. This section tells the employer what degrees, licenses, certificates, and credentials you have earned and the state in which they are valid. If you have earned a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) of any level, list it here. This credential is especially helpful for spouses who do not have any post-secondary education or training.
- Special Skills – Here you might want to list foreign languages, computer skills, or any other relevant skills that will set you apart from the other applicants. Many job seekers choose to leave this section out, incorporating the information in other sections — most commonly in the "Summary of Qualifications." However, if you have several skills that don't fit easily into another section, include this section.
Customizing Your Résumé
Once you have chosen a basic format and identified the sections of your résumé, it's time to showcase your abilities and accomplishments in a way that is concise and easy for the reader to understand.
- Target your résumé. Ideally, you should tailor each résumé to the job you're pursuing. For many job seekers, this means writing several résumés, each one targeted to a different job. Creating a résumé worksheet — including all your employment, skills, accomplishments, volunteer work, and training — will give you something to draw from when you create a targeted résumé and give you something to cut and paste into a résumé-building site.
- Identify keywords. If you’re posting your résumé on a job search site, it's likely to be processed electronically. It's important to build the right keywords into your résumé so you’ll be flagged as a potential candidate. To find the right keywords start with the job posting. It will list certain buzzwords that you should repeat in your résumé. You can also use examples of job descriptions for your target job to identify certain skills and technologies that should be worked into your résumé.
- Include your accomplishments. Instead of simply listing job duties, highlight your accomplishments. If possible, use numbers to legitimize your accomplishments. For example, "Managed budget of $15K for school fundraiser."
- Make your résumé concise. Generally, it's a good idea to limit your résumé to two pages — and to not more than one page if you have limited experience. Your résumé is a marketing tool intended to create interest in your abilities. You can go into more detail about your experience during the interview.
- Include volunteer experience if it is relevant to the job you are seeking. Volunteer experience is legitimate work experience and will add credibility to your skills and accomplishments.
- Leave out details not relevant to the job. Don't include marital status, height and weight, or religious affiliations (unless they are appropriate for the job). Also, leave off salary information, unless you were specifically asked to include it.
- Check for errors. After you proofread your résumé, ask a friend or family member to read it. Reading your résumé slowly, out loud, or backwards can also help you catch typos and other errors.
Writing a Cover Letter
Almost as important as the résumé, your cover letter or email will help sell the employer on your skills and their relevance to the job opening. Be sure to take the time to create an original cover letter that will interest the reader and is tailored specifically to the job opening. Keep these tips in mind:
- Research the name and title of the person who is doing the hiring and address your cover letter to him or her. Although this isn't always possible (with a blind ad, for example), in many cases you can simply call the company and ask.
- Focus your cover letter. Mention the job you are applying for in the first paragraph. Then focus on relating your skills and abilities to the company's needs. Your cover letter should be concise — two or three short paragraphs using a business-letter format.
- Don't repeat your résumé. Instead, expand on the skills and experience that are particularly relevant to the job opening. In the final paragraph, mention that you will call to follow up on your résumé — and don't forget to sign your cover letter.
- Proofread. Proofread your cover letter carefully, just as you did your résumé. Have a friend proofread it and then proofread it again yourself. Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and typographical errors show a lack of attention to detail, and a possible lack of basic English (reading and writing) skills.
Organizations that help military spouses find employment include the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), local and United States Chambers of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes Job Fairs and special Spouse Events, and local installation Spouse Employment Readiness programs. Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) consultants available through Military OneSource (1-800-342-9647) can help connect you with these resources and help you prepare your résumé and hone your interviewing skills!