By Molly Rose Teuke
Learn new skills, hone your techno-savvy, and you get ahead, right? Keeping up to date is a contractor's stock in trade. So why are so many IT professionals using a resume that's anything but cutting edge?
"The biggest mistake consultants make in preparing a resume is writing it for themselves," says Gord Stein, former IT contractor and now vice president at CNC Global, a Toronto-based IT consulting firm with offices in the United States and Canada.
"They want it to tell everything there is to know about themselves without any thought to the client," he says. "But if it doesn't show a clear understanding of the client and its needs, a resume will do more to unsell than to sell a candidate.
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Contract Professional is a monthly magazine written specifically for contract IT workers. CP provides information on technology trends, training and job opportunities, tax and financial issues, and contractor-friendly cities. To read more, visit Contract Professional online. This first part of a two-part article appeared in an earlier issue of Contract Professional.
Phase one: Know the client
"Writing a resume is a two-phase process. In phase one, you get to know the prospective client," Stein says. He recommends exploring three key areas.
First, who are the client's end-user groups, both internally and externally? What services or products does the client provide? What are the characteristics of the market in which it operates, and how is that market changing over time?
Second, what is the unique competitive advantage of the client's organization?
Third, does IT form a critical component in its success? "If it does," says Stein, "then that company will value you and the work you do, and you have potential there. The reason this research is important is that you can't begin to see yourself in that organization unless you know who they are and how they operate."
Tracy Bumpus, who specializes in writing resumes for IT and engineering professionals, suggests also looking at leadership, turnover, team spirit, and other less-tangible issues. She asks her clients to list 20 companies they might want to work for and then learn about them.
"It takes some time, but it's not that hard and it pays off," she says. "As you gather information, you'll cross some companies off your list and add others—just like buying a car, but unfortunately, people put more research into buying a car than deciding whom they might want to work for."
Bumpus is certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and serves on that organization's executive board.
Web searches are the quickest way to gather information, but you can also check trade journals, consult the reference desk at your local library, or request an annual report and other print materials from the company itself. Networking is another useful tool; do you know someone in the organization who might answer a few questions?
Phase two: Take a hard look at yourself
"A good resume maps out two things: what an organization is after and what you bring to the table," says Stein. "Phase two is doing an inventory on yourself."
But taking a hard look at yourself and your skills is no easy task. "Resume writing is tedious, hair-pulling work," concedes Bumpus. "That's why you need to have a career portfolio, and it needs to be in a safe deposit box or wherever you keep your important papers."
Think of it as a professional scrapbook. The first items will be college transcripts, articles or papers you've written, presentations you've prepared, and details of professional training.
Next comes job-related information: a list of assignments and dates, project outlines, quantifiable achievements, performance evaluations. Finally, include anything that says something important about you: a complimentary memo, a handwritten note, a formal award.
Put these items in page protectors in a ring binder and review them periodically, tossing out what no longer seems relevant to your career. Do this and you'll have at your fingertips everything you need to know about yourself to write or update a good resume.
But how do you pull the data into a coherent document that clearly shows your value, direction, and intent in the few seconds that a recruiter or client will spend screening it?
The most common choices are the reverse chronological resume, which presents a progression of jobs (most recent first) and the skills gained in them, and the functional resume, which highlights skills and downplays job progression.
Arnold Zimmerman, senior partner with California-based Hollander Horizon International, an executive search firm specializing in senior-level placements, recommends the chronological.
"When I see a resume with skills and accomplishments followed by the chronology, it doesn't tell me much," says Zimmerman, who also serves as president of the National Association of Executive Recruiters. "I want to know where those skills came from, how the candidate learned them, and how fast he or she is moving. When a functional resume comes across my desk, I wonder what the candidate is trying to hide.
"I want to spot the superstar," he adds, "and I need to see a job progression to do that."
Molly Rose Teuke is a frequent contributor to CP.
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