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How to Transition From Military to Civilian Work Without a Resume

Jobless veterans Jobless veterans take a class at the new Workforce1 Veterans Career Center in New York. The center offers area veterans assistance in their job search, help with resumes and classes on how to perfect the interview process. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I am retiring from the U.S. Army after 24 years as a senior commissioned officer and rated aviator, but I want to work outside the defense industry. My skill set is very broad and leadership-focused. I’ve been looking for jobs at the executive level, and over the last three months I’ve selectively submitted resumes for jobs (seven total) that I think would rock my world. My evaluation of these job postings puts them right in my roundhouse. I’m not getting any responses to my resumes, though, and I don’t know how to break through. Any advice you have would be appreciated.

Nick Corcodilos: Thanks for your service to our country. I’m particularly troubled by how difficult it can be for military folks to transition into the civilian world. I’ll try to offer a few suggestions.

First, please keep in mind that the average manager spends an average of 30 seconds reading a resume. That means you need to tell managers quickly how you’re going to address their specific problems and challenges. Here are a couple of short articles that might drive this home:

“[Tear Your Resume In Half](http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs38halfaresume.htm )”

Resume Blasphemy

I recently gave a presentation to Cornell University’s Executive MBA Program — these are executives who’ve been running companies for seven to 15 years and invest about $145,000 for an advanced two-year business degree. I’ll tell you what I told them.

When you hand your resume to an employer, what you’re really saying is this: Here’s everything you need to know about me. My education, my credentials, my work history, my accomplishments, my skills. So go figure out what the heck to do with me!

Most managers are terrible at figuring this out. And consider that they’re looking at hundreds of resumes — not just yours. A resume does not address an employer’s specific problems or challenges. If offers no plan. It’s basically a bucket of nuts and bolts. What’s the employer to do with it? You’ve left it up to the employer to figure it out. It’s so bad in corporate America today that employers let software algorithms “figure out” what to do with you! Why would you want to play that game?

In my PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?” I talk about how to show a manager that you’re the profitable hire for his or her specific organization. This process can be used to produce a “blasphemous” resume — but the work to produce it essentially eliminates the need to use a resume at all to get in the door.

Rather than submitting your information, this is all about talking shop with people connected to the company. It’s about studying the problems and challenges the manager faces. In the course of talking to insiders, you’ll not only learn about the ins and outs of the business; by talking shop with them, you can get introduced to the manager, and you’ll know what to say when that meeting occurs.

The objective is to get a customized, insider education about what the manager needs, and to let your new friends lead you directly to the manager, while your competition is sending in resumes.

The Basics” will help you get started.

You’ve already selected your target companies, so you’re ahead of people who insist on applying for jobs they find. It’s critical to “Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.” Having specific targets is more than half the challenge. Honing in on them is the rest. If you do it this way, it almost doesn’t matter if they have open jobs. Managers will create or open jobs when they meet someone who can drop profit to their bottom line. It’s what a consultant does when pitching services to a prospective client. She shows up with very specific plans to fix something or to make something work better.

One caution: Don’t deliver so much up front that you’re doing free work they can poach from you. Offer a plan for solutions, but leave them hanging a bit, until they make a commitment to you.

The best way to “break through” is not to mail in your information on a resume, and then wait for someone to figure out how your military experience fits their commercial needs. It’s to triangulate so you can actually talk with the hiring manager so you can explain it to him in a dynamic dialogue. (We discussed this briefly in “How New Grads Can Get in The Door For A Job Interview.”)

Find and talk to people near the operation: customers, vendors, other employees, consultants — anyone who touches the business. Never ask for job leads or to “take my resume in.” Instead, ask for advice and insight about the manager and his department. Then, close by asking if there’s someone on the team you might talk with to learn more. This chain of contacts can lead you directly to the manager.

Finally, avoid HR at all costs. I explain why in this audio segment from KKSF talk radio: “What’s HR got to do with it?” I think your bridge from the military to the private sector is your acumen. Use it to show you can ferret out the nature of a manager’s challenges — and that you can tackle them. I hope this helps you land the job that rocks your world!


I’ll be hosting a live “Ask The Headhunter” chat April 30 at 1 p.m. ET. Join me, and pound me with questions till I drop! You can post your questions below or use the hashtag #AskTheHeadhunter on April 30. And we’ll have a link to the chat soon.

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions

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