IT Employment

Quick resume tip: Lead with your skill set

The companies you've worked for should not take precedence over your skill set. Here's how to restructure your resume to reflect that.

There are a couple of good reasons you should be using a skills-based resume. For one, you want potential employers to focus on what you know rather than where you've worked. Another is that your work history, like that of many people in the current economy, may be spotty, and you'd like to show that despite holding a series of jobs, you've kept your skills up to date.

Most employment specialists recommend that you avoid using one general resume for all jobs you apply for. Instead, they suggest you customize a resume for each position. Focusing on the skills you have that match the job you're applying for is the best way to do it.

Click here to download an example of a skills-based resume, and see if you see the benefit.

More resume tips:

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

38 comments
sohanw
sohanw

Good option. It is important to carefully select the keywords to suit the job. I like it.

bspell
bspell

As a technical recruiter for many years now, I have seen about as many resume formats as you can imagine and I still strongly prefer the tried and true chronological format. I work in a specific city and rarely recruit outside. What projects you did at what companies matters a great deal to me as I have come to know most of the companies in the market and the reputation they have. If you implemented virtualization technologies that saved the company on hardware costs, manpower and overhead it makes a difference whether you did that for ExxonMobil or Joe's Flooring Company. I know it's an extreme example but you get the point. I suppose if I recruited nationwide it wouldn't matter as much to me though.

mafergus
mafergus

As a former hiring manager who has also seen thousands of Resumees I prefer the ones that give me both pertinent job history and skills sets. I want to know what skills you have accumulated and I want to know how they were applied. Neither a laundry list of skills or a list of positions that aren't relevant do much to impress me.

abc123a
abc123a

This is a great resume format. I love it. I plan on trying it on a couple of companies to see what happens.

peralesr
peralesr

As the hiring manager for a small Help Desk (11 people) in Austin, I have looked at almost 2000 resumes over the last 5 years, interviewed about 60 people, and hired 22. With that in mind, I really dislike the skills-based resume. The main problem is that I have interviewed too many people that don't actually know the skills listed on their resume and now, frankly, I distrust everyone who uses a skills-based resume. Did you take a C++ class 10 years ago while you were in high school? Don't list it on your resume if you haven't used it since. Do you know how to ping an IP address and set a computer to a static IP? That's great, but don't list TCP/IP as a skill unless you really understand that protocol inside and out. Did you take a CBT years ago on Crystal Reports? Good for you, but don't say you know Crystal unless you can actually build me a working report right here, right now without having to reread the tutorial. I understand your points about using the skills-based resume if you have a spotty work history and wanting people to focus on what you know, but you have to be careful in what you include. If at all possible, my advice is to eliminate the skills section and integrate them into the bullet points of your work history. Do you really have a strong understanding of and experience working with Crystal, Windows, SQL, swtiches, routers, Linux, etc., then use those keywords while describing how you used them at your previous jobs. As an example, rather than put a generic "server administration" bullet, like you have listed on your example skill-based resume, give me a bullet point describing what kind of servers (Windows 2003? Exchange? Unix? VM servers? ), how many servers you worked on, and what you did with these servers (backups, administration of accounts, applying service packs, etc.) Above all, be descriptive and be honest! I agree with Toni's point that you should tailor your resume to the job you are applying for. It's ok to highlight certain aspects of your experience to match the job description, but always remember that, if you get the interview, you could be asked to describe all those technologies you listed.

PScottC
PScottC

I entirely re-wrote my resume in this style about 7 months ago, and here are a few things I kept in mind when writing: 1) My audience is (for the most part) recruiters 2) My audience is older than me and cannot read my 8pt font resume. Use 10pt font. 3) My audience is primarily is going to compare my listed skills to the job description when sorting the in pile 4) My audience wants to see my most recent position on the first page to determine if I'm out of work and damaged goods 5) My audience will lose interest if too many bullet points exist in a single section. Limit bullets to 5 and try to keep each point to 1 line. 6) No one will ever read every word of my resume, they will only skim it. So, laundry lists of technologies are OK, just keep it to 3 lines of text or less. With these things in mind I retooled my resume to show as much as possible on the first page (even though the entire resume continues to be 3 full pages). I have a stock of precanned phrases that can be swapped in for various positions that I am interested in.

snaik95899
snaik95899

Every time I log onto a website, there is someone offering resume advice. I am current;y unemployed and looking, but the sheer amount of information being given is totally overwhelming. One site gives you tips on what to do, and the next site says they are forbidden to do on a resume. I wish there were some type of standards for resumes like APA or MLA formats as in English papers to make things easier.

israelking
israelking

After taking a look at the Sample, I can clearly says: This advise and sample Resume works PERFECTLY for me. Thanks for sharing this new approach with us. God bless!

eiwacat
eiwacat

Thank you for this clearly written and precise example of a skills-based resume. The example does state that a master skills list is included; however, I did not find it. Perhaps I did something wrong. Any suggestions?

kmdennis
kmdennis

>>>difference whether you did that for ExxonMobil or Joe's Flooring Company

santeewelding
santeewelding

You speak as a pimple on the ass of Joe's Flooring Company.

JCitizen
JCitizen

description sounds like my cover letter strategy. I still refuse to put more than two pages in a request for interview. 1) Cover letter 2) Resume In my neck of the woods three pages get you file 13.

kmdennis
kmdennis

Thank you! I have always wondered how you can fit 10 years of relevant info on 1 page! People really embed photos in resumes that are not for modeling agencies??? Again excellent! Do you have a link with with some real examples?

jacobus57
jacobus57

I do everything "right," according to all the blogs, papers, articles, and other bleats I have read about resumes and cover letters. I have excellent skills, am a superior communicator, a very quick study, and gosh darn it, people like me. I'll be hanged if I can get so much as a first interview. And, I may add, there is only one position in my entire working life that I did NOT get after making it to an interview, so I know it isn't a matter of me being some sort of waste product. On the other side of the hiring coin, do I know MANY people at all levels who lie, pad, and flat-out fabricate? Do I know people who would be unable to tell a noun from a verb with a .38 pointed at their temple? Do I know WAAYYYY too many people who not only survive, but thrive, by sucking up or having "dirt" on superiors? The answer is a resounding YES to all of the above. The bottom line is that superior managers--that is, those who know the way to look great is to surround themselves with excellence--are very few and far between. And the gatekeepers in HR? It goes without saying that most of them are venial tools. So, how does someone with great skills and an excellent work ethic get past the razor wire???

Jea123
Jea123

I advise my clients to prove that they have the skills they claim on their resume. For example, I rarely allow them to just list software applications they know. I make them tell me how they've used the software, what kinds of documents, what sorts of features they've used, etc.

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

I am currently looking for a managemen position and I have been told many times that a skill set portion of a resume is for technical positions. If I apply for network admin or something skill based I think a skill set list is good to have but I would keep it related to the job you are applying for even if you have 1000 skills. So what do you think managers? No skill sets for management or supervisor positions? I list budget and project work instead.

kmdennis
kmdennis

Well you could have done us all a favor by even posting a copy of some of the best and those from whom you actually hired.(of course minus the names and personal identifiers) Your example about the server administration shows exactly why the skills based format is better. What you have listed is only one bullet point about one of the many duties which already eats up 5-10 lines. Add to that MS Office 2007, Adobe Pro (and other AV editing software, Antivirus, programming (well personally, I don't program but write batch files and scripts) etc. Are these to be repeated for each of the places you have worked? You gotta be kidding me! One thing I like is to ask me to show you how to do something! now that differentiates the potential people who can prove what is on the resumes. I have done one such interview and got 8/10 and the two I missed were not listed on my skill set, but I could find out and do quite easily. Sadly I did not get the job:(. And btw, you don't have to know TCP/IP inside out to be able to work with the protocol unless you are programming software which require in-depth knowledge of the protocol. Search IBM Redbooks on TCP/IP and tell me how many people you have interviewed with that level of knowledge. Understanding the OSI model is far more important to Network Admin than knowing TCP/IP inside out.

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

I agree in principle to what you are saying about listing your skillsets on a resume: Don't list things you can't do right at that moment or haven't used in ten years. And I will start doing that the moment Hiring Managers stop listing and demanding every obscure technology they have used in the last 20 years or might use in the next 20 years. Have you read these things? The list of "MUST HAVE"s in these job descriptions list the obscure responsibilities of half the department: program smalltalk and F#, administer PostgreSQL, run thinnet and thicknet token rings, speak conversational Swahili, Windows 3.1 Networking, thought controlled biometrics.... If you as hiring managers want job seekers to get real about skillsets, quit writing job requirements that ask us to be floor wax and dessert toppings. Until then, if I have been successful at a skill and it might be relevant, even if I am rusty at it, it is going on my resume. Deal?

kmdennis
kmdennis

You indicated that you did this about 7 months ago. Have you landed a job yet? Did you start getting more interviews and or responses since then?

bspell
bspell

my specific comments are below the quoted items. "4) My audience wants to see my most recent position on the first page to determine if I'm out of work and damaged goods" Depends on how long you've been out of work. I just submitted two guys to Developer jobs today that have been out of work for 9 and 14 months respectively. They both are very good at what they do but their background is with Powerbuilder and those positions don't come up very often. Generally speaking, if it's an in demand skill, I start wondering about someone if they've been out of work for 6 months. My market is not as bad as the rest of the country though so calibrate as necessary. "5) My audience will lose interest if too many bullet points exist in a single section. Limit bullets to 5 and try to keep each point to 1 line." Unfortunately you are probably right. I do not. I actually prefer more info and longer resumes but In understand you have to write to the lowest common denominator. "6) No one will ever read every word of my resume, they will only skim it. So, laundry lists of technologies are OK, just keep it to 3 lines of text or less." Not many recruiters will but a lot of hiring managers will, especially if they are using an agency recruiter to help them fill the position. They will have less resumes to read than if they posted their own ad. That gives them more time to be thorough. They also feel like they need to justify the fee they are about to pay so many times they will read more than you might think. Regarding laundry lists of technologies, I'd say don't stop at three lines if you truly have more experience. Make sure they are categorized and make sure that you can speak to any of them if asked. "I have a stock of precanned phrases that can be swapped in for various positions that I am interested in." I suggest that to a lot of people. It really is the best way to go if you are going to put effort into a job search.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

I have lot of skills, and anyway I have to force myself to list not the places where I've worked in (it does not matter much), but: WHAT I'VE DONE, and WHAT WHERE THE RESULTS, and WHAT WERE MY RESPONSABIITIES. SO I have to slash the various skills. You don't need to be very expensive, because anyway you'll be tested in a meeting. Employers don't what that, they want to be able to sell us, and be able to demonstrat that we can integrate well in a mission, and be able to communicate. In other words you must be able to sort your experiences, and show the progresses done, and what you can do now : will you be able to adapt to new situations, will you be able to learn new things ? Concentrating a resume on skills is really a BAD ADVICE. Most resumes are not read extendedly, a few keywords will be looked for a specific missions. For the rest, you need to show that you'll be the one that will match the job, and that you'll be productive in the new environment. Details that count are the fact you've been creative, and that your decision will not be necessarily be the best, but that you'll also be able to consider the ideas shared by your coworkers.

IT-b
IT-b

I'm in the position of interviewing technical people, and for those positions, I go straight for the skills section. For software development individual contributors, where you've worked is not nearly as important to me as what you've done there. For management positions, it might be different. Also, post the skills in the most relevant order. I saw a resume that had 20 years worth of skills listed in chronological order. Windows 3.0 was listed first, and Vista came along 6 lines later. If you're technical and haven't used a skill in 10+ years, and don't plan to, leave it off and list the skills you'd like to use near the top of the list.

peter
peter

While I agree that focusing on your core skill set applicable to the job you are applying for is a good method, do not underestimate the power of working for a good organisation in your industry. Working in publishing it is key to have proven knowledge and relationships which are gained at a major publishing house and that is seen as far more important than the skill set, as those can be learnt, while relationships take much longer to build.

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

There is no master skills list--that was a mistake.

jacobus57
jacobus57

Personally, I would be MORE impressed with the person who did the work at Joe's. This is why: most likely, they carried the project from start to finish by themselves. No one working for a mid-size or large company would have the opportunity to propose, design, implement, and support a project solo. Alasd a preference for the Exxon employee is more evidence of the stupidity and narrowness of those involved in the hiring process.

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

It really does seem that half the time it is just simple luck of getting a new job or actually a matter of who you know. Being well connected is so much better than having all the right skills or even a degree. You are applying to the same job as the supervisor's friend. Who gets the job? I only wish I had lived in one place all my life. Moving around really made it hard to be connected in one city. Networking is the number one way to get a job. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

santeewelding
santeewelding

And, superior communicator, "...to all (of) the above..," excise (of). It is unnecessary.

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

Yes, I think IT has become far more demanding than what it used to be. Now for a Server Admin they prefer a candidate that has a B.S. degree!? WHAT? And then on top of that it is required to have MCP, ITIL, CCNP, VMware and any other hot skill that is out there today. Really? I am not sure of how many orgs let techs learn every posible technology in the shop. It seems now we must not only be a jack of all trades but a master as well. Maybe I will go back to sales, at least then when I write a resume and say I can sell their is no way on God's green Earth anyone will refute my claims. I am not advocating lying or fabricating truth but I don't think most resume's have 100% factual information on them - embelishment? Is that some garnish on your resume I see? I really think a technical job and IT is where the tire meets the road. These other jobs, HR, sales, markteting - really must have the easiest time in the world making up bullet points and skill sets.

ron
ron

Awesome reply but you are absolutely right, the requirements are so freaking crazy. It's as if you need to be wearing a "S" on your chest in order to apply.

RayJeff
RayJeff

*clapping hands* You nailed it on the head. The job descriptions are the basic problem. And you are right. As long as job descriptions are laid out as they are, we will unfortunately layout our resumes as they are.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Thanks for that follow on post. I do pretty much the same as he, but I don't bother with the three last pages. I figure the older the information the easier it is to truncate it or forget it. I stay at my jobs so long that most my references are either dead of the company is defunct. I like to use the cover letter as the way to lead in skill sets and tailor to the help ad also. There again, it is wise to gauge the HR department. Many of them don't know squat about a proper technical resume. Sometimes you just have to use a standard MLA style and forget the technicalities. Doesn't hurt to hire a resume writer, they are good at it; and you can copy the style from then on; or adjust as necessary. It is all strategy customized per target employer. I have never put more than 10 resumes out to snag my job. Sometimes walking in the door gets me the job immediately. One of the previous posters was right; if you can answer technical questions pertaining to IT - your golden. They won't even look at that scrap of paper!

kmdennis
kmdennis

I happen to agree with most of the other comments. This is a great style which I hope is adopted as one of the main standard format to be used. It is much more focused, get to exactly where you are at in terms of being qualified for the job. I have worked a number of different places FT/PT/Temp/Contractor and I have gained so much different skills which are also relevant to my jobs. Following the traditional resume format would mean at least three pages (10pt) of the different companies and responsibilities. I think the places where you have worked should have less/least significance when compared to the skill set. Thanks for a great format and I am about to reformat my resume and send it out hoping to land a job soon. All that extra information about what you did and how you accomplish it should remain for the interviews. The resume, I believe, should tell the recruiter if this candidate is qualified to be interviewed for the job. All the rest should come out in the interview.

jwildhair
jwildhair

Always use proper spelling & grammar; And, if you MUST use translation software, either find someone of the native tongue to which you are translating to check for errors or send a copy of your resume in your native language to insure your conveyance of intelligible skills.

bspell
bspell

Jacobus, I did say that it was an "extreme example". I used those two example companies to represent a small local company and a larger company. If I would have listed any of the mid sized companies in my area, most of you wouldn't have heard of them. The point is that most of my clients are less interested in people who gained their experience in a small company where the project was theirs to do start to finish. Of course in a large or mid sized company no one person would have the opportunity to propose, design, implement and support a project but that's exactly the point. Because mid sized and large companies are far more likely to use a headhunter to help with their search. When they decide to pay a fee, they do not want the "jack of all trades, master of none". They want the expert role player. Taking a role in a small shop is a double edged sword. It gives you exposure to many more facets of projects and technologies that you cannot get in larger companies where you will be "siloed". Many people I know prefer this setup because they get more satisfaction from their job too since their work gets noticed more. People need to know that if they want to move from there into a mid sized or large company it won't be as easy as jumping from one large company to another and is best accomplished through networking and referrals (as are all job searches).

gbyshenk
gbyshenk

I'd suggest that the issue is not really the job descriptions themselves, though they may sometimes be excessive. Rather, more likely the issue is that the choice of who is called in for an interview is based upon who has the skills 'match' on their CV -- regardless of whether those skills are current or even real. FWIW, when interviewing, I absolutely hate getting someone who doesn't actually have the skills or experience claimed (particularly if that someone is sent by an agency, who is supposed to be screening that sort of thing). That said, when I write a job description, I try to limit my requirements to a reasonable list of what is actually required.

peralesr
peralesr

I have seen many job description out there that are too demanding. Peronally, I write a general job description that will generate some resumes and then I go through and pick what I think will fit our needs and then follow through with interviews to really get to know the person. I do have the benefit of working for a not-too-large company where I can really control the hiring process. I'm guessing larger companies probably have to write stricter job descriptions by necessity because they are hiring many more people and need to quickly find the people that match.