IT Resume Makeover: Making the Military-to-Civilian Transition
Making the move from the military to a corporate IT leadership role can be difficult. Don't make it harder on yourself by showcasing the wrong skills.
By Rich Hein
Bobby Saxon is an immensely talented guy: He ran for Congress in 2008, cofounded two companies, served in the Georgia National Guard since 1983 and, over the last five years, served as an active duty U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, working in the highest echelons of the Pentagon in complex technical environments.
As an IT visionary, accomplished entrepreneur, highly decorated war veteran, Saxon has experienced more success in the last 15 years than many people could hope for over a career. Amazing as all that is, he has a problem: Saxon is trying to transition into a civilian position as CIO or director of IT, and he hasn’t been getting the desired results.
At first, Saxon’s resume was five pages. After all, 25 years of IT and military experience is hardly something you can cram into a one-page resume. Also, in the military industrial channels he was working in, he has seen many three-five page resumes. At the recommendation of and with the paid help of a jobs board resume-writing service, Saxon recently distilled his resume to two pages.
Armed with his new resume, he began again his search and, although he was getting some interest from employers, the positions he was being invited to consider weren’t at the levels he knew he was capable of performing.
Saxon had clarity around the role he was looking for, but he wasn’t quite sure how to get there. Then at a chance meeting and conversation at a CIO leadership event, Saxon was offered a chance to take part in CIO.com’s resume makeover series.
Talent Expert, Roy J. West Enlists to Serve
Seeing a fellow Army veteran trying to make this daunting transition, Roy J. West, CEO and founder of The Roy West Companies, agreed to offer his services to not only make over Saxon’s resume, but change his perspective on his job search.
West is an expert in the areas of talent management and employee and customer engagement strategies. During his 15-year tenure with the hospitality giant Marriott Corp., he worked closely with the Gallup Organization to develop and implement talent acquisition programs across four of Marriott’s vacation brands.
One of the first items on the agenda was for West and Saxon to meet to better understand Saxon’s path to date and from there define the types of roles he would have the best chance to become among the best in the world.
After speaking with Saxon, West knew that the role he is looking for wouldn’t be found on a job board. “The process or job hunting strategy for someone as senior as Bobby is not MASS. He can’t rely on an HR executive going out on one of the big job boards and inputting keywords ‘technology visionary’ or even ‘CIO Candidate’ for that matter,” says West.
After meeting and gaining a better understanding of the challenges Saxon faced, West invited him to complete a talent assessment called the Clifton StrengthsFinder Impact 34. The CSF Impact 34 is a proprietary tool developed by The Gallup Organization based on seven decades of research.
Having led the deployment of the StrengthsFinder assessment to more than 10,000 individuals over the last 12 years, West is one of the world’s foremost practitioners in coaching/mentoring using its results.
After several in-depth discussions around Saxon’s assessment, the focus began to narrow. What the CSF Impact 34 revealed was that “Bobby has the talent to get work done across multiple talent dimensions: Strategic Thinking; Influencing; Relationship and Executing. “He is one of the unique ones. He can do it all,” says West.
However, as a result of his time with West, Saxon realized that what he does best and is happiest doing is crafting vision, formulating strategy, influencing /building consensus and developing relationships. “He can also drive any strategy/operational plan to execution, but once it is up and performing, he needs to go back and create another one,” says West.
The Overall Length
At first glance of Saxon’s resume, West was impressed with the breadth and depth of his experience. He knew the original resume was a great starting point, but it needed some work. He was less concerned about the length, but he wanted to support Saxon in customizing it as much as possible.
“We reduced it from ‘the course of his life’ to a summary. I personally have never been a big proponent of cutting a resume short unnecessarily; however, I tried to get Bobby’s to one page just to see if it could be done without diluting his brand,” says West.
While there isn’t a definitive page number that resumes should be, according to West, they should be laser targeted to the position you are searching for. In an effort to highlight what Saxon did best, West removed a portion of the military unit designations and many of the technical skills and competencies. “His [Saxon’s] first response was likely dismay because I had taken so many of his extraordinary credentials off the page. I had reduced the details that [in his mind] demonstrated the sheer complexity of what he had to navigate in order to create the amazing results he had delivered.
West felt that many in the civilian world would respect Saxon’s military service but wouldn’t necessarily understand the magnitude of his accomplishments. “Trying to provide a resume in such detail that you teach them all, that is not the solution. Your best chance, your only chance, is in the job interview not on your resume,” says West.
Ensuring the Profile Summary Reflects Saxon’s Talents
On the original resume the profile summary was not only two paragraphs, but it had been written by the job board using terms that it felt were important. West’s goal was to ensure that summary was representative of Saxon’s talents and reflective of his personal brand. In other words, it needs to make a promise of an experience that an organization could reliably count on if they invited Saxon to assume one of its leadership positions.
“This is not the place to put a bunch of catch phrases. The keywords here have to originate from the candidate’s naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, and be congruent with the keywords and phrases the candidate will intuitively deliver in the interview and be representative of the behaviors they will exhibit every day once they commit to a role,” says West.
And, yes, the profile summary is the place where you have to earn the right for them to read more.
Brand Needed Focusing
The bottom-line, according to West, is that at Saxon’s level (CIO, COO or CEO Candidate), listing software competencies and professional-development certifications isn’t necessary. West set out to create a summary that represented Saxon’s value proposition based on the talent, knowledge and skill he brings to the table. “The net is that the resume that we began with is a base and he must customize it for every role he applies for,” says West.
So while he got the resume down to one page, West advises that as you find roles in organizations that match your values, talents and experience, it can be appropriate to add back some of the information relevant to that that role. “It doesn’t matter if it is one page, a page-and-a-quarter or two full pages,” says West.
West said he had difficulty tracking the chronology of Saxon’s career. “I am a former active duty/reserve U.S. Army Officer like Bobby, and yet, I found his chronology confusing. I knew that if it was confusing to me, it would be confusing to others,” says West.
After speaking with each other a few times, the chronology became evident and the simplicity of the new resume made the chronology/order easier to follow.
All About Networking
According to West, the resume is simply a way to showcase that you have met the price of admission for consideration. Resumes get no one hired. “What would matter more than even a crisp one-page resume with a laser-like cover letter customized expressly for the company and the specific role, is the call, email or visit from someone in your network advocating you for the role to the person making the hiring decision. Especially when your advocate can use your resume to articulate your talents and how you used them to deliver results,” says West.
Job Search Adjustment
After multiple meetings with West, Saxon decided to try a new tack, by targeting only companies and expressing interest in roles he knew matched his strengths. And, while he was a bit taken aback by the brevity of the recommended one-page resume, he understands and agrees with West’s game plan and has agreed to give the new plan his full attention.
Saxon is a man who knows what he wants and he needs to be in an environment where IT is a game-changer. “I don’t want to be the guy who maintains the servers. I want to be the one who takes your biggest problems and creates a technology solution, “says Saxon.
“Startups, start overs, large organizations where he can have autonomy to create and provide input on and make decisions at the highest levels is where he will have the greatest impact and realize the well-being that accompanies doing what you do best, every day. I believe Bobby is now in the position to find and accept that role,” says West.
Many experts agree that the end-game is to have a job you love that gets you excited to go to work. One of the first parts of that equation is knowing what motivates you. “The desired outcome here is not to have a great resume, it is to have a career and role that you love,” says West.