Developer

Avoid the resume trap: Make your resume relevant

When you're searching for a new engagement, don't make two common mistakes on your resume: not emphasizing the results you've produced on contracts, and not explaining how you can help your potential employer. Find out how to present your experience.


Kevin Donlin owns and runs Guaranteed Resumes, a resume and cover letter writing service that also provides job search assistance. He fields questions from TechRepublic members and offers advice based on his experience and expertise.

Question
Two years ago, I went from being an employee for a large IT consultancy to a multiyear contract position when I struck out on my own. I'm now in the same position that many people are facing right now: lots of experience without a lot of prospects. My contract is up soon, and I've been looking, but I haven't received any offers. I'm doing more networking, and I'm trying to improve my resume. What specific advice can you offer consultants like me to help my resume stand out? Any help would be appreciated.

—David

Answer
After reading more than 2,000 IT resumes since 1996, I've reached this conclusion: About 90 percent are doomed to produce only a fraction of the results they could. Why? They fall into what I call the resume trap because of two critical mistakes:
  • Focusing on duties and responsibilities instead of results
  • Focusing on career goals instead of an employer's needs

Why do candidates continue to make these mistakes? Job seekers stick with the same formulaic language, regardless of its effectiveness. Potential employers aren't likely to sit down with them and explain why a resume didn’t catch their eye. They’ve either just filed the resume away or dropped it in the recycling pile. It’s probable that no one else has ever conducted a point-by-point breakdown of these job seekers' resumes to identify the problems, either.

Whatever the reason, here's a way to avoid the resume trap and make your resume stand out from 90 percent of other job seekers.

Focus on results in your resume
Here is an example of resume language that emphasizes duties, not results:

Performed full life-cycle software development on multiple projects.

Does this sound like a results-oriented achievement or a large, nebulous task? Now, here’s that same achievement, only this time, we’re emphasizing specific results:

Played lead role on five software development projects. Researched end-user needs, programmed in C++, tested, implemented, and trained 134 employees. As a result of in-house programming efforts, saved $244,000 vs. 2001 costs.

See the difference? In this example, we detail the work involved, giving an employer a chance to see your duties and responsibilities.

Here’s another example. Instead of saying this:

Responsibilities included (but were not limited to) implementation of policies and procedures, training of new employees, interfacing with subordinates and vendors, and light tech-support duties.

Say this:

Worked with staff and vendors to increase network throughput by 23 percent in five months. Also trained 14 new help desk employees, five of whom were rapidly promoted.

Don't make employers work to figure out your value. Be explicit by emphasizing the results you've produced.

Focus on the employer's needs
Employers hate hiring. Every hour spent reading resumes, screening, and interviewing candidates is one hour they can’t spend doing their real job; it’s time-consuming and frequently frustrating. Now, along comes your resume and it starts like this:

Objective

Seeking a challenging position in a forward-thinking company where my skills will be utilized to the fullest extent and recognized with potential for rapid advancement.

What kind of reception do you think you're going to get by focusing on you and your needs, making the employer wade through your “gimme, gimme” opening to get to the rest of your resume? Especially when reading resumes is the last thing they want to be doing?

Turn this objective—and every other part of your resume—around, so that it focuses on the employer and his or her needs.

Here’s an example:

Objective

Position where six years of networking and technical support experience will add value and increase efficiency.

By focusing on results produced and on the needs of the employer, you’ll stand clearly apart from 90 percent of other job seekers. Their resumes say, in effect: “Give me a job.” Your resume will say: “Here’s how I can help you.” How much more refreshing and enticing do you think that approach will be? One thing is certain: It can make your job search much shorter.

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