When Your Resume Screams 'I'm Not Good Enough'
I know what that feels like to look up from the bottom of the hill. I've been there.
Both times that I left the military, I approached the process of searching for a job as an insurmountable climb. It wasn't just about a job. It was about acceptance. It was about proving my worth. Any success in the military wasn't enough. I was striving to meet the standard of 'good enough' in order to get a chance to step out as a leader in the civilian world. My price of admission into that world was my resume - or so I thought. It was the symbol of my hard work, achievement, and sacrifice. Because my perspective was from the bottom looking up, I wasn't showcasing my potential. I certainly wasn't leading. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was screaming to anyone who could hear me that I was simply not good enough.
Striving Too Hard for Validation
In the effort to be anything to anyone, my identity was lost in the effort to prove my worth to everyone else but me
Because the dialogue about the resume approached hyperbole, I assumed it was the center of gravity to finding the right job. Quantifiable metrics. Actions words. Targeted messaging. In my astute compliance to the established guidance, I scoured over my evaluation reports and awards to find any statistics to validate my credentials as a leader. As far back to the time when I was company commander nearly 15 years earlier, I was striving to showcase every piece of evidence to suggest that I was good enough. When it wouldn't fit on the page with 12-point font, I switched to 11-point. When 11-point didn't work, I went down to 10. I played with the margins and the line spacing. I tried to jam every detail from my 21 year career into two 8.5x11 inch pieces of paper.
I had plenty of help in crafting the document that shaped my identity. I had more than 2 dozen resume professionals, graduate school career counselors, and hiring managers review my work. I removed the military jargon. I translated military positions into their corporate equivalents. I provided numbers - plenty of numbers. I used parallel construction and active verbs. When I was finished, I fit so many words into such a small space that at first glance, my resume looked like nothing more than in indiscernible jumble of words. In my effort to say everything, I wasn't saying anything. It looked and felt rather desperate.
I had seen resumes like mine before. I had to screen dozens if not hundreds of resumes for job candidates throughout my career. Sometimes they were five and even six pages long. Honestly, I never looked past the summary and the headlines. I wasn't interested in the details. I never read page two let alone anything on pages three through six. Furthermore, if I didn't receive a personal endorsement for a candidate, I might not have even gotten halfway down page one. I was only interested in seeing whether the candidate met the basic criteria of education and experience to move to the next step in the hiring process. To be honest, I summarily dismissed the resumes like the very one I prepared for myself! I labeled those people as inauthentic and trying too hard, and that was me - inauthentic and trying too hard.
When I worked on the Joint Staff - one of the bullets stuffed into the pages on my resume - I learned the fine art of succinct, impactful communication. I just didn't apply it to my resume. The standard set by every boss up to and including Chairman Dempsey was that if you couldn't reduce the most salient points into a 5x8 notecard (12-font with appropriate spacing) then you didn't know what was important. If you were to apply that methodology to my resume, you would conclude that I simply didn't know what was most important about me. If I didn't know my value, then how the hell was anyone else going to recognize what I had to offer?
It's About Context . . . Not Content
I had so many versions of so many different resumes that it was hard to believe that I was still talking about the same person.
I used the resume to fill the growing void in self-confidence through the transition process. I lost my perspective. I had forgotten the fact that the qualities of a leader are universal. It didn't matter whether I was wearing a uniform or business casual. That was the bottom line up front that I failed to convey from my perspective at the bottom the hill. Albeit a necessary evil in today's job market, the resume is nothing more than a summary of what you have to offer based on what you've done in the past. It doesn't speak to your true value. Only you can do that.
Whether in paper form or through your profile on LinkedIn, your resume can't compete with the power of genuine relationships. Real relationships are so much more effective than anything I might fit into a two-page resume, but like too many leaders in the transition process, focusing on the resume was easier than reaching out to build relationships. Real conversations require authenticity. Authenticity requires vulnerability. Instead of showing the courage to look someone in the eye and connect on a meaningful level, I preferred to start at the bottom and look up.
Candidates are supposed to tailor their resume to a specific job posting. That may be true, but if you find that you must completely rewrite your resume for every potential job offering, maybe you don't know what you are looking for. Maybe you need to set your intentions on your purpose and identity for life after the military. Just like me, you might be trying too hard to find anything at the expense of discovering the right thing. The many different jobs you had in the military had one thing in common - YOU. Your values, purpose, and intrinsic strengths are what fueled your success in the past, and they are your best assets for the success of any employer in the future.
Know your foundation. Be the hero of your own story. Have the courage to step out from beyond the templates to build relationships. Speak your truth in your own voice. Two pieces of paper or a url are insufficient to speak on your behalf. Take your position as a leader and stand face to face with people who will honor your values and help you realize your purpose. Being the leader you were meant to be through the difficult process of transition might just be the best way to connect with the right employer. After all, you already climbed the hill. You know what the view is like at the top. You've been there before.