Is your CV strong enough?

Guest blog, kindly provided by Stephen Thompson at Armed Forces CVs

This year has been, I’m sure we all agree, both challenging and unique. The C-19 situation has meant that more people have lost their jobs since March than would have seemed even possible before then. And job losses continue. There has never been a worse time to leave the forces, and a mad scramble for new engagement terms is the result.  Many are still leaving.

Unfortunately, the external situation means that there is more competition than ever for jobs. So, your CV (and cover letter) need to be stronger than ever. You really need to work at the content to both separate yourself from the “pack”, and be even more persuasive in convincing an employer that your experience, qualifications, and training in the military is better than that being displayed on civilian CVs presented for the same role.

The most important information on your CV is that which shows RESULTS. Outcomes.

Gone are the days (if they ever existed at all) that you could take a Word template, change a few details to personalise it, and submit that as a CV.

Although I’ve “banged on” for the last 25 years about using civilian language (civvy-speak) so that a potential employer or their “gatekeeper” understands what you’ve done, the factor I have just mentioned–RESULTS–has always been, as our American cousins would say, “front and centre”.

Despite this, over 75% of the CVs I review have few or any tangible results mentioned within them. This is, frankly, commercial suicide.

Hiring managers and recruitment agencies zip through most CVs that land on their desks, because much of what they see is so boring. Every day they see the same thing. Most of them are consigned to the circular file without being read.

Why is this?

Because most jobseekers (and this doesn’t just apply to the military) jump onto the Internet, download a sample that seems good enough, and do as I mentioned earlier.  Unfortunately, this also applies to people transitioning through CTP/CTW; attendees adapt a template they’ve been given, get some help with presentation and tailor the content, and take that weak CV away with them. They’re blissfully unaware that (while I have no axe to grind with CTP/CTW; they do their best within their remit) the CV they have prepared is woefully inadequate.

It may be one way to write a CV, but in today’s incredibly competitive marketplace (even before C-19) it is totally ineffective.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you need more than just “good enough”.

You need extraordinary. You need to take the extra step that will separate you from the pack.

The best way to do that is to let the prospective employer know what RESULTS you accomplished and produced during your previous work life.

Most service leavers who have had a CV reviewed by me, will have had this point rammed down their throats. But many still do not take heed and send those CVs out, regardless.

Hands up all those who have had my comment, “there is too much task centric information, job description-type prose, that only tells the reader what the job required you to do rather than what results you achieved for your employer.”

Despite this, CVs still go out with no quantifiable information within them.  Anyone can visit my websites at and to get this information completely free; this and many other tips are there for all to see and use.

You should tell the employer how you will make them money, save them money, streamline or speed up process, improve stakeholder engagement, increase market penetration, ramp up quality control, reduce staff attrition, and so on.  If you then apply money, numbers, or percentages in active statements of quantification around these contributions, you will do more than 85 to 90% of your competition for the post.

Too many rely on vague generalisations, most of which have probably appeared in the ad for the position.  Think about it. Even the most inept competitor will have attempted to “cover off” the points/skills mentioned in the advertisement. But for many that’s all they will have done.

Instead of writing, “met or exceeded targets,” write, “managed a dedicated professional team of eight to outperform their previous personal best by 22%, which the organisation’s CEO recognised and commented on immediately.”

Here’s a real extract I put together for a staff sergeant temporarily filling an MTWO’s post in Catterick Garrison a little while ago:

His original CV said:

“Responsible for a mixed vehicle fleet to provide transportation to a frontline infantry Regiment.”

Do you think that would get an employer’s pulse racing? Or make he/she think “How can I manage without this person”?

For a start, the use of the phrase “responsible for” should never appear on the face of a CV. Ditch it completely. It’s weak. It tells the reader what somebody required you to do (i.e. the decision wasn’t yours to make), rather than what you PERSONALLY CONTROLLED AND CONTRIBUTED. The last four words in that sentence should give you a strong clue about how you should describe any experience in your CV…

I rewrote it:

“Managed, controlled and directed a mixed ability team of eight drivers and four maintenance staff to deliver critical transport support to military operations in the UK and abroad. Consistently maintained 96% availability and serviceability of a two million-pound vehicle fleet that included all-wheel-drive off-road vehicles, tracked engineering plant, minibuses, and both rigid and articulated heavy goods vehicles.”

Although that may appear to be a lengthy “bullet”, it will be far more persuasive than 10 mundane, job description-type bullets that tell the employer absolutely nothing of any value.

That one bullet, being detailed and quantitative, will overshadow the bulk of your competitors’ CVs.

The CV should not be a complete “blow by blow” account of every minute of your service. That is not what will get you through the door to interview. Instead, three or four compelling statements like the above will tell the employer all he needs to know about you and the way you contribute. Even better, it tells him what you are likely to add to his organisation, rather than what you will cost him. A completely different presentation.

Showing how you can transfer the skills you’ve perfected in the military to the employer’s operation speaks a language he both appreciates and understands.

So, in the future, think about RESULTS when writing your CV. The ACTIONS you took that benefited the company tangibly, increased revenue, cut cost, and introduced techniques and ideas that made a real difference.

Don’t you think that would strengthen your CV and improve the likelihood of you being interviewed?

Stephen Thompson is an ex-infantry WO1 (1QLR/1PWO).  He writes CVs professionally, primarily for ex-military, at Armed Forces CVs (