IT Employment

Resume tips for experienced IT pros

Building a resume for experienced IT professionals who want to land higher-level IT jobs is quite different from building the average resume to land entry-level administrator jobs.

You're an experienced IT professional. You've been around the block and done it all. You think your resume is packed full with great stuff because years ago, you read all the articles on how to build the perfect resume and you've been following most of that advice ever since. Any employer should take one look at your resume and hire you on the spot, right?

That's what I used to think too. I'm not a resume expert, but I thought I had a killer resume. Then, three potential clients in three month's time nixed me because they thought I was "light" in areas where I was actually a specialist.

If that isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is. So I called a close friend of mine, who is an IT manager at a large company. He knows my abilities, he's an IT geek at heart, and he's seen a ton of resumes. He looked at my resume and said, "Yep, I'd have thrown it right in the trash." I called a couple more friends in similar positions. "It could use some improvement," one of them told me. Ouch. At least they were honest. Basically, I had a resume that would sell me as an administrator or engineer, but not as an architect or consultant, which was the type of work I was looking for.

I began gathering comments and suggestions from these guys and completely rebuilt my resume from scratch. What I learned in this process is that building a resume for experienced IT professionals who want to land higher-level IT jobs is quite different from building the average resume to land entry-level administrator jobs.

I am going to share eight resume tips that sum up what I have learned.

Resume pointers

Most of the standard rules for building a resume still apply: Make sure you have a readable format, proofread for spelling and grammar errors, keep it simple, etc. However, experienced IT pros need to follow some more specialized guidelines. A few of these tips may actually contradict your previous notions of what to include (and exclude) on your resume. They certainly contradicted mine.

  • Keep your list of "core skills" short and sweet. When you've worked with a lot of different technologies, you want to show the world all you've done. However, having a long list of core skills actually gives the impression that you know only a little bit about most of those things and that you're a generalist, not the specialist that the potential client/employer needs. Keep this list to a handful of key skills or possibly eliminate the list altogether.
  • Don't list certification exams. At the very least, minimize the impact of this list. The average IT pro might want to list exams passed to build up a resume, but for the IT veteran, this actually marginalizes real-world experience and accomplishments.
  • Quantify projects and results. For example, if you do an Active Directory implementation, specify how many sites, domains, and servers were involved. If you design an e-commerce system, specify the increased percentage of sales that resulted from the project. Tell the potential client/employer exactly how you helped a previous company that you worked for.
  • Bullets, bullets, bullets. Don't use paragraph style writing to describe your projects, tasks, and duties. Bullet-point every major accomplishment or project and leave out the minor things. (Your resume is already going to be too big anyway.)
  • Include examples of work, if possible. For instance, maybe you've written articles for an online magazine, or perhaps you built an e-commerce site. Include links to pertinent examples so potential clients/employers can see firsthand what you do.
  • Highlight major accomplishments. If you're a high-tech consultant, you may have a lot of smaller projects and clients. Maybe you were hired as a "grunt" for a couple of short-term assignments but had a major project last year. You can't exclude the small stuff, or potential clients/employers will question what you've been doing. But you can minimize the impact by focusing attention on the bigger things. Some ways of doing this include using a slightly larger font, boldface, or italics, or even drawing a thin border around the major accomplishments. But don't go overboard-subtlety is still key.
  • Seek advice from actual managers. Recruiters, agents, brokers, and human resource personnel are all different from managers. Managers want to see results, and they usually know how to spot a weak candidate. If managers think your resume reflects someone who can't do the job, you'll never get anywhere. Run your resume by some managers you know and have them critique it for you.
  • Know when to stop. If you list all your experience from all the jobs, contracts, or projects you've handled, your resume will be more like a book. Find a place to stop listing your experience. If you feel you must at least acknowledge previous experience, try making a separate section and just bullet-point where you worked and what your title/function was. Of course, you'll usually want to do this only for the less-accomplished jobs that you don't want to highlight on your resume.
19 comments
JPCoffey
JPCoffey

While I don't agree with some of the finer points made by the author it is an excellent article as it addresses the need for change in this extremely tight job market. It also mirrors a real life experience I had in my own career which I mention in our online help file. A link to that file is provided here, http://www.jobtabs.com/oth/online_help/John%20Cole%20and%20Michael%20Ray.html I firmly believe the Killer Resume is dead. What is needed now are Killer Resumes, as in more than one resume. Each resume needs to make the value proposition for the exact job type to which you are applying. REMOVE entirely anything that doesn't sell you as a great candidate for that position. This is one of the most difficult things for job seekers to do. Yes, they want to highlight some of their greatest accomplishments, but if those accomplishments cannot be translated into employers bottom line, they are irrelevant. While it is a bit irrational, employers generally want to hire someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool candidate for the position they are trying to fill. It is almost as if they want the person to live, breath and sleep that job and never want to be promoted. That is how we advise our clients to tailor their resumes. Carrie's comments were excellent and I pretty much agree with all of them. While the article was overall very good, I have to mention some finer points I disagree with, Certifications - Always list them. They may not be appreciated by some companies, but they indicate that you fulfill some measure of a standard. Usually the ones who don't appreciate the certs are the ones who consider themselves hard-core but did not get a certification themselves. You simply have to convey that you are hard-core without appearing to focused on sheep skins (paper qualifications). Bullets - Use bullets to support a short statement. Too many bullets is not good. Remember, anybody seriously considering you has probably read more resumes than they ever want to admit to. Paragraphs and bullets together make the resume easier to read. Tell them you are qualified for the exact position they have and support it with the underlying bullets. Unrelated Experience - Nix it. Be a dyed-in-the-wool expert for what they are looking for. Nothing more, nothing less. All you ever wanted to be when you grew up is the position they want filled. It is selfish of the employer to think that way, but that is they way they think and you need to use their tunnel vision to your advantage. Cheers, John Coffey, President JobTabs, LLC

Carrie
Carrie

Randy ??? Thanks so much for addressing the resume needs of senior IT pros. I am an IT resume expert and have access to the latest resume research with IT Hiring Managers. Most Hiring Managers ??? IT or otherwise ??? will tell you the same thing: keep it short, sweet and simple. But when provided with options, it turns out that the resume content that motivates decision makers is depth ??? especially for candidates with more than 10 years experience. I think your personal research and instincts are right on in many of your tips. Good Job. There are a couple of key areas I???d recommend amending for this incredibly competitive job market. 1. Content is king in a highly competitive market. That???s how candidates can differentiate themselves. ???Strong project management abilities working with diverse team to bring projects in on-time and on-budget.??? Sounds fine, but what does it say that???s different then any other competent PM? Today???s employers need more specifics to justify calling you. The detail you might have saved for the interview in the past now needs to go into the resume ??? or you might not get the interview. It???s not just about your technical skills. Leadership and quality decision making are expected from senior candidates. 2. Keep content focused on your target position. The goal of a resume isn???t to detail your work history ??? it???s to motivate the reader to want to call you. Here are some quick pointers: - Keep the resume to 2-3 pages, never more. Use good judgment based on your years of experience. - Decision Makers will focus on your experience over the last 10 years ??? the last 3-5 being the most critical. List older jobs; only include the most exceptional detail. - Select the activities from your past/current positions that best support your target job. Why would you list an activity you???d never want to do again? - Rather then listing 10 projects with 1 sentence each, select the top 3-4 and provide 3-4 sentences for a more in-depth picture. - Your resume must paint a picture of how you can strategically move organizational initiatives forward, not just that you are technically astute. 3. Tangible results are great but??? Tangible results are not enough in a candidate-rich market ??? most IT leaders can show similar results. It's no longer just about WHAT you did. It's also about HOW you did it - the backstory. Your resume needs more detail about both the WHAT and the HOW. Unfortunately, employers have come to doubt broad, unsubstantiated statements, so detailing the backstory is critical to give your initiatives legitimacy, depth and energy. More importantly, this background info also helps employees see more about WHO you are ??? not just want you???ve done. 4. Accomplishments aren???t just about the numbers. Stepped in to turn-around a flagging project? Tell employers how you made it happen and you???ve got a compelling accomplishment. It???s about showing potential employers how you step to the plate; how you overcome challenges. 5. Bullets only? Respectfully, sorry Randy. A mixture of paragraph and bullets is more interesting, more substantial and easier to read. Start with a paragraph to outline your overall position and mission for your company. It???s important for employers to see your activities in context. Then give them the bullets to bring out the key activities that really show your stuff. Don???t be afraid to use more than one sentence in a bullet. This helps bring out the depth of your experience. Strong Professional Summary - The most important part of your resume. This is where most candidates lose out. Have you heard that you only have 20 seconds to catch employers??? interest before they move to the next candidate? This tidbit came from our research nearly 10 years ago. Think of the Professional Summary as your "handshake" with the reader -- then the way it reads is crucial. I like to say that the Professional Summary needs too read like an Armani suit might feel - crisp, professional, confident - just right. It must include a career overview that clearly supports your target position plus the attitude/aptitude features that make you a unique candidate in the marketplace. Only 1 in 5 resumes is actually reviewed when submitted. This job market is 180 degrees from what you've ever experienced ??? unless you have more then 80 years of experience. Candidates are stunned to find the resume that worked fine in the past isn???t generating calls. There are simply to many resumes to review them all so employers stop when they???ve reach the top 10 they need for the phone screen. This is much more of a numbers market than ever. 1000 employers may need to have access to your resume to generate the needed number of interviews. When your resume is finally being reviewed it needs to make that opportunity count. I hope this is helpful. My firm surveys and interviews thousands of IT Hiring Managers on an on-going basis. We are technical people who have lived and breathed the IT industry. And after all, what???s the foundation of sound software design: talk to the users. So that???s why we conduct this research ??? to make it easier for Hiring Managers to spot top talent and to help candidates demystify the job search process. I hope this information is helpful. Look for a free resume evaluation ??? it can really help. Happy Hunting P.S. Don???t rely wholeheartedly on MS Word???s spellchecker or you might end up like one resume I saw stating the candidate had worked on a ???data whorehouse??? rather than a data warehouse.

delta47
delta47

you might want to make sure you have specific keywords if you plan on putting your CV on a job resume site say careerbuilder... as a recruiter in my previous job last 2005, we search for "keywords" in a CV. example: Lear Pilot, Avionics Technician, then we narrow it down by calling the candidates, setting the interview etc. etc... Fat lot of good it did me when my life went down the drain. Right now am on top of the drain, might get sucked under again since i am working in a minimum wage job with multitasking in play - multiple job descriptions like ASS(ASsistant for Sales), Receiving Clerk, Filing Clerk, Salary Encoder, Basic Encoder, Sub Dispatcher for delivery truck loading, Inventory Team Lead, Bad Orders Receiving Clerk, Stocks Checker... what else? Might get promoted to an ASS (Assuming Sales Supervisor) by the end of the week, I dunno...

erh7771
erh7771

....How is letting one know about your education and industry credentials a bad thing in overall view of things? Regards

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

I think this was a great article. Those asking for sample resumes would be best served consulting google and searching for the types they need because there's a cornucopia of samples out there for chronological, executive, and entry level types among others. Apply the nuggets that the author gives you in this article to the templates that you'll find online. The author was simply trying to put a bug in your ear about do's and don'ts and at least IMO, it was well taken.

tussman
tussman

Fortunately, the IT world yields more exactness in skill. I always suggest applicable bullets and brevity. See good resume / online profile example at http://www.resumenet.net.

WorkingDigital
WorkingDigital

The resume should focus on what you did, not what you can do (skills) or what you were supposed to do ("responsible for..."). One of the biggest resume mistakes is listing a bunch of vague responsibilities that read like a job description. For example, "Managed a team of developers that support ABC Company's internal systems" doesn't tell the hiring manager much of anything. As the article points out, quantifying results is very important. Individual contributors should provide project results and specifics. Leaders need to relate their work to financials (ROI, revenue, profit margins), turn-around situations, client metrics, and other measurable indicators like number of employees, size of budget, etc. Also, try to avoid spending too much time on "we" results. Team accomplishments are important, and we've been conditioned to sharing the credit. But the resume is an exception because you need to call out what you contributed. That goes double for the job interview. Regarding bullet points: be sure to write full sentences when describing your prior experience. I agree that paragraphs aren't appropriate, but you can fit a lot of detail into simple sentences - even when describing skills.

m.aliazeem
m.aliazeem

Really its a very helpful article and i FIXED my cv same time ;-) But i have a question that How to give details of your projects like I am working with my current employer for last 3 years and have done various project based assignments, so should i put all of them?and what size of projects can be put into?

wsindhu
wsindhu

IMHO, bullets should highlight the most important achievements of the project and it's easy for employer to cram, on the other hand, paragraphs would take reader's time to understand what this project was actually about and how you participated. Bullets are good for gurus and paragraphs are best of novice :=)

sreespace
sreespace

The article would do good do refresh the fine pointers for building an engaging resume. But beyond that point what refining and detailing to do is missing. The generalist vs specialist approach is quite handy but more often you would like to show forth your exposure to wide technologies in IT sector. What i think, we can do is prioritize or weigh them according to our competency in each of them. That should give a farther edge than not highlighting your minimal knowledge at all.

DeanosT
DeanosT

Great article, but as per the last few comments, would it be possible for you to post a few sample resumes. I have been looking for another job for over a year, but keep getting turned down and I am sure it is the way my CV is laid out or done. I have 20 years IT experience in MANY fields behind me and really need to move on from the rut that I am in now.

Trentski
Trentski

Most of this is general knowledge, bullet point everything. Except for the exams, I put my qualifications on, eg certified windows 7 configuring or whatever under the education section. I know my employer loves to hire people with more certifications and they even give a bonus to current staff to get more certifications. Most people in my role have at least twice as much experience as me. I think the certifications is what got me through the door

Hazim13
Hazim13

example resumes would have taken it to the next level. The pointers are most helpful but I need to understand the format. I'm applying for a position that closes on the 25th and would be indbebted to anyone that can post an example format. Thanks!

stevenpowers
stevenpowers

Do you have examples of resumes you could post? I have been told that bullets are not good to use, where you state it is ok. Is it when you are a novice you should not use bullets, but as a seasoned professional you should?

Jupiter9
Jupiter9

You do see all those ???s don't you? Write blog comments in notepad or some other plaintext editor, not in Word. I see this EVERYWHERE.

pik20b
pik20b

Carrie ... Great tidbits as I sit down to update my resume. The hard part for me is saying how I developed a new software application that saved $$$ or reduced widgets when a client came up with the idea. All I did was provide the functionality. How can I turn this type of work history into an accomplishment?

AlexNet0
AlexNet0

Education and certifications are worth mentioning, but only that, if you are trying to impress a potential higher-level manager, you will need examples of specific projects or accomplishments you completed that will show that you actually possess the skill to achieve whatever will be asked of you in that position, not simply that you studied the concepts of it and passed.

fhrivers
fhrivers

If the hiring manager actually wants details, he'd ask during the interview. Resumes should be like the poster outside of the movie theater. It gives you a general snapshot of what the movie is about. You'd have to buy a ticket to find out if it's a good movie or not. The same is true with a resume. Bullet points give the HM a snapshot of your skills. If they want to know more, they know who to call.

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