Tech & Work

Resumes that work: How to sell your skills in two pages

While it's generally accepted that you shouldn't put "professional wrestling fan" on your consulting resume, some other elements aren't that obvious. We'll show you what belongs on your resume and what's better left unsaid.


By Molly Rose Teuke

Editor's note:This is the second half of an article that discussed tips and tactics for consultants’ resumes that originally appeared in Contract Professional magazine. This installment suggests elements that effective resumes should include.

Recruiters look for several key sections in an IT resume: objective, skills, professional experience, education and training, and interests. The objective comes first, the interests last; where the other components appear depends on what you want to emphasize.

Objective
"You need to be very specific about what kind of job you're looking for and the skills you want to use," says Tracy Bumpus, who is certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and serves on that organization's executive board. "I like to see one or two specific and related positions in the objective—say, network administrator and systems administrator. This can also be a good place to mention whether you're willing to relocate."

"Your objective," said Gord Stein, former IT contractor and now vice president at CNC Global, "should relate directly back to the client's needs. A good objective will clearly answer the question, 'What does this person want from an assignment with our company?' While the rest of the resume tells where you've been, the objective tells where you're headed."

Skill set
Bumpus likes to put skills in a block near the top of the resume. She divides them into four categories: programming, systems or platforms, networking or client/server, and applications.

"It gives the reader an immediate idea of what you can do," she says. "If you've got the right skills and you have them right up front, your resume will get read. Every single hiring manager I've worked with says a skills set up front makes their job easier."

As you review your skills, scrap any that don't underscore your objective. Then cross out any that don't relate to the job you're after.

"This means you're likely to need more than one resume," says Stein, "but the key reason for doing it is that when a client is reading a resume, if there are a lot of skills they're not looking for, they will assume less of the desired skill. IT people in particular often have multiple technical personae—business analysis, systems analysis, technical writing—and it's essential they set up a custom resume for each of them."

Contract Professional on TechRepublic
Contract Professional (CP) 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.

Professional experience
This section will include the company name—unless there is an understanding of confidentiality—and a one-line profile; dates (month and year); city; the role you played, such as team leader, project manager, or program developer; and a description of the job, with a heavy emphasis on results.

"Your results should be business-oriented, not IT-oriented," urges Stein. "This part of your resume answers two questions: Can you hit the ground running and bring this project home on time and on budget?"

Bumpus suggests using a technique she calls "CARS." "Tell me the challenge you faced, the action you took, the result you got, and the satisfaction the client got from having you on the job," she says. "And use quantitative data when you talk about results."

"The two things I care about," adds Arnold Zimmerman, senior partner with California-based Hollander Horizon International, "are responsibilities and accomplishments. I want to know what role you played and how you did. If you saved ABC Division $86 million over 12 months with XYZ developments, tell me."

The best way to make facts jump off the page is to bullet them within each job listing.

Education and professional development
This is the easiest piece of a resume to pull together, especially if you've kept notes in your portfolio. First, list college and post-college degrees (never high school), then other professional training.

If you have a long list of training credentials, you might want to list them on a separate page as an addendum. As with skills, screen out training that doesn't support your objective.

Interests
Opinion varies on whether to include interests. Bumpus finds it a waste of space, but Stein argues for listing those interests that demonstrate mental agility, determination, ability to be a team player or perhaps a leader, and similar qualities.

"Telling me what you do in your spare time gives me a window into your personal character," he says.

Zimmerman recalls a resume that listed running, photography, golf, and orienteering, with a note that the candidate was the U.S. relay champion in 1996.

"From that list, I can make some reasonable assumptions about this guy," he says. "He's got some energy, he thinks about how he looks at the world, he's reasonably social, and he's competitive. You get a person like that in front of the right job, and it's usually a go, 1-2-3."

This section can also be headed "Interests and Accomplishments" and can include awards, published technical papers, and the like. The key is to list only items that clearly underscore your professional fitness for the job you're after. If you prefer, accomplishments can be included on a separate page as an addendum.

What should never go on a resume
Your resume should never include marital status, age, health status, or other personal information. It should not reveal your hobby of visiting amusement parks.

Do not include professional information that doesn't underscore your objective, nor anything that doesn't pointedly address what you want that resume to do for you.

A tightly focused resume will speak volumes about your professional status. "When a good resume comes across my desk," says Zimmerman, "one of the first questions I ask myself is, ‘Can we afford this person?' I'm usually able to tell, by the style and professionalism of the resume, where the candidate stands financially. There are very few wasted words on a high-powered resume. You know the phrase, 'Just the facts, ma'am'? Well, a good resume has just the facts. They're solid, they're important, and they're big."

A good resume will last five years if it is updated annually. It's a good idea to rethink the format and key information every few years, depending on where your career is headed and what changes you see in the industry.

"When you've finished writing a solid resume," says Bumpus, "you've undergone a rigorous process that's taught you everything you need to know about yourself and the market you choose to work in. When you're done, you're fully prepared to present yourself confidently in any interview and to make wise choices about your career goals and how you get there."

What impresses you on a resume?
What catches your eye on a consultant’s resume? What’s the best way to present information? Share your tips with us in an e-mail or by posting a comment in the discussion below.

 

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