Software Development

Remedying three common resume errors

Resume expert Kevin Donlin explains how CIOs can avoid three resume mistakes: poor readability, unexplained work gaps, and generalities. He offers tips and advice, and provides an edited resume that you can download.

Kevin Donlin owns and runs Guaranteed Resumes, a resume and cover letter writing service that also provides job search assistance. Each month, he’ll critique a CIO resume, providing suggestions and advice. Members can download the edited version of the resume and compare it to their own. If you’d like Kevin to critique your resume in a future column, send it in.

This month’s example resume, from Thomas W., a former CIO at a software development firm, illustrates common shortcomings that can prolong the job search. The main issues are:
  • Readability.
  • An apparent employment gap.
  • The need for more specific results.

The copy of this resume that I’ve edited and marked up (see Figure A) is available for download so that you can use it as a template when updating and revamping your resume.
Figure A

The readability aspect
Readability is a common issue among IT professionals' resumes, from help desk technicians to CIOs. No matter how many good things you’ve done on the job, your resume won’t help you get hired if it doesn’t get read.

Luckily, improving readability in this resume won’t be too difficult. Thomas W. simply needs to break up the text-heavy portions into bulleted sections. Restructuring the layout this way will invite more readers in.

For example, consider this section:

Expertise includes strategic planning, infrastructure, quality assurance, business process improvement, application development, and international business. Proven ability to lead and motivate high performance teams focused on maximizing productivity. Exceptional communicator, with emphasis on building strong client relationships, forging beneficial partnerships and negotiating cost-saving contracts. Skilled, hands-on technologist, adept at quickly putting changes in motion with direct leadership to development and implementation teams. Visionary ability to take organizational objectives and produce real solutions for long-term success. Extensive experience managing large-scale business critical projects, dedicated to improving customer satisfaction, decreasing costs and controlling risk.

Now break up this paragraph into the following bulleted list, adding or deleting a word or two and bolding important terms:
  • Management expertise includes strategic planning, infrastructure, quality assurance, business process improvement, application development, and international business.
  • Proven ability to lead and motivate high-performance teams of up to 15 IT professionals who maximize productivity, with emphasis on building strong client relationships, forging beneficial partnerships, and negotiating cost-saving contracts.
  • Skilled, hands-on technologist, adept at quickly putting changes into motion with direct leadership to development and implementation teams. Visionary ability to take organizational objectives and produce real solutions for long-term success.
  • Extensive experience managing large-scale projects, dedicated to improving customer satisfaction, decreasing costs, and controlling risk.

You could further improve this section by focusing it a bit more and adding even more specific results, but my revamp suggestion illustrates a good start.

Dealing with an employment gap
Thomas W. needs to modify his experience section and either describe his current position or account for the gap in employment; most potential employers want to know what he’s been up to since September 2001. (Tip: One quick trick to minimize gaps is to leave out the months from the dates. But in this case, that doesn’t help much since we’re still left with all of 2002 and the start of 2003 to account for.)

If you're employed, you should describe the current position, including as many achievements as possible. Ideally, you can include work experience here at a high-management level, whether it's consulting or a short-term project.

If you're unemployed, and it’s been more than a few months, I recommend putting everything on the table for possible inclusion here, regardless of whether or not you were paid. Volunteer activities, special projects, consulting positions, and continuing education—all these can possibly be used to fill in the time gap since the former employment date.

You’ll need a one- to two-line explanation for the period as well. Whatever explanation you give, don't be apologetic. There's nothing criminally wrong with being out of work. The goal is to clearly show that you're eager to return and are working on efforts that go toward finding that new role.

Here’s an example based on a recent resume I wrote for an IT client:

Completing IT management consulting projects and research into UML, grid computing, and software development methodology (2002-present).

Also, the resume should demonstrate that you’ve kept up to date on important changes in technology—a list of courses, seminars, and educational efforts can clearly illustrate this.

How to get results
Like most resumes, Thomas W.’s focuses about 80 percent on duties and responsibilities and 20 percent on specific results. If he wants the phone to ring with job offers, he needs to reverse that ratio and focus 80 percent on results.

This bullet point, which was buried at the bottom of page 1 on the original resume, can be improved in two ways. Put the “what” first and the “how” second, changing this section:

Renegotiated contracts and service agreements with long distance, local and cell phone carriers, which improved level of service while reducing annual expenses by over $250,000.

to read like this:

Saved over $250,000 in annual expenses and improved service level by renegotiating contracts and service agreements with long distance, local, and cell phone carriers.

This rewritten section is much more likely to catch a reader’s eye.

Place your best and/or most recent achievement near the top of a resume page, where it’s even more likely to be read. Keep in mind that you want to show results. Here's one example for the Qualification Highlights section:

Saved over $250,000 in annual expenses and improved service level by renegotiating contracts and service agreements with long distance, local, and cell phone carriers as CIO (2000-2001).

Additional resume suggestions
Beyond the three areas I’ve examined, two other issues need to be addressed in this resume.

While age discrimination is illegal, it is still a reality. To avoid the potential for age discrimination, you'll want to modify phrases such as:

…over 20 years of demonstrated success…

From my experience and conversations with executive recruiters over the years, I suggest using a lower figure, which is still accurate yet fixes a lower possible age for you in the minds of readers:

…over 15 years of demonstrated success…

Every resume creator needs to watch punctuation throughout. While the description Start up Software and Technology Solutions Company may stand out, you may run the risk of offending grammar sticklers looking for any reason to weed out resumes. It’s best to stick to standard capitalization and punctuation:

Start-up software and technology solutions company

By improving the readability aspect, addressing the employment gap, and adding more specific results to this resume, Thomas W. can dramatically improve his chances of impressing employers and recruiters in this or any economy. The same holds true for you.
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