Tech & Work

How to cut dead wood from your resume and avoid raising red flags

Resume expert Kevin Donlin explains how technical executives can improve their resumes by putting their achievements first, chopping dead text, and avoiding raising red flags on issues such as formal education.


An IT pro, hoping to explore other technical executive roles, submitted his resume to me for insight on improvements that could be made. I sat down to review the document with technical recruiter Daniel Parrillo, president of Strategi LLC in Sacramento.

In a nutshell, here’s what Parrillo had to say: “It's not a bad resume, just not a very strong one—especially for this job market.”

I agree completely. The challenge lies in taking this resume, shown in Figure A, to the next level—transforming a good resume into a great one that generates interviews and job offers. You can download the edited version, complete with suggestions for revamping your own resume.

Best practices to follow
Parrilloand I came up with four major tips that can help our IT professional, whom we’re calling John Job Seeker, to bring his resume to a more concise and attention-getting level.
Figure A

Shoot off the big guns first
The initial improvement focuses on the first thing recruiters and hiring managers want to see on a resume.

“He should definitely add a Technical Summary to his resume, to provide, at a quick glance, a look at all his most valuable technical skills,” advised Parrillo.

I recommend that this summary section also include three to four bulleted paragraphs describing some of the candidate’s very best achievements. Doing so can really generate excitement and make a hiring manager want to call to find out more.

Remember that recruiters and hiring managers are more time-starved and deluged with resumes than ever—never assume they will read to the end of your resume, no matter how exciting you think it is. You need to shoot off your big guns near the top of the first page.

Unfortunately, on this resume, John’s critical accomplishments section comes at the end. Worse, even, the achievements he does list are really nothing more than professional memberships.

Avoid red flags
“This candidate needs to add an education section to his resume,” noted Parrillo. Without some mention of a degree or college course work, this resume stands almost no chance when compared to resumes that include a description of education.

If you don't have a degree to list, Parrillo recommends using whatever course or technical training you've taken.

“If he’s currently pursuing a degree or taking some classes to keep his skills current, he should list those as well,” said Parrillo.

Clear out dead wood
Like most resumes I see, John’s is rife with dead wood, language that fails to excite or compel the reader to pick up the phone.

Here is one example from this resume of how you can user stronger action verbs and more specifics:
“Management team member responsible for the procurement/development and training of all technology, data processing, and information systems.”

Here’s how I improved that sentence by trimming away the dead wood text:
Served on top management team. Planned and managed $2.3-million budget to procure all technology, data processing, and information systems. Also hired, developed, and trained staff of 13 IT professionals.


To be hired as a manager, portray yourself as one
John’s resume doesn’t seem to list any projects he was assigned and responsible for—the responsibilities of a manager. He should include and explain this and any other high-level management duties.

“Hiring management is looking for results-oriented resumes, so if John did any project work, the resume should state that he did the work from concept to completion. And if he did any budget forecasting, that should be in too, since it reflects strong management responsibilities,” said Parrillo.

To make sure you’re presenting yourself in the right framework, a good exercise is applying the “So, what?” test to the resume before sending it out.

Read over every sentence and if you find yourself saying, “So, what?” after any sentence, the text is not compelling enough. You must rewrite that part until it shines. Then, as with any resume revamp, run your entire resume by at least three trusted colleagues for candid input.

By culling dead wood, rewriting lame text, and making sure your achievements are front and center, you'll create a resume that clearly illustrates who you are, what you’ve done, and why you’d be a valuable member of the prospective employer’s executive team.

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