Tech & Work

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.

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