Emerging Tech

Eight resume tips for the experienced IT pro

If you're an IT pro whose been around the block, you may need to retool your resume to reflect it. Here are some tips for crafting a resume that tells people just how experience you are.

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.

35 comments
kmuckett
kmuckett

Very useful. I intend to use these tips to revise my CV. It's about due for renewal anyway.

Jack Flash
Jack Flash

This is a very good checklist. I have been using some of those methods through the years. Here you will find a mentioning to day to day using your resume: http://mybook.tbdnow.com/?p=7

cseebald
cseebald

A common mistake many people make is to think that one resume should suffice for any job they are applying for. So it is recommended that a resume be customized for each position - especially if you have a variety of experience and/or the qualifications for any positions you are applying for differ somewhat. Doing so makes it easier to keep it "short and sweet," because when you're focused on a resume for one position it's not as difficult to omit info that's irrelevant to that position. Yes, it's quickest and easiest to have one resume to pop into an envelope with a cover letter that you revise for each position, but it's not the best method. Savvy job hunters who are qualified in more than one area will often have several variations of their resumes on hand (e.g. one for administration, one for consulting, etc.) - any one of which can be adjusted/revised as needed.

reisen55
reisen55

Management may be impressed with the experienced IT pro to a point, but then they consider an inexperienced but far cheaper IT newly-hatched graduate in distant Bangalore who works for 1/4 salary and no health care benefits so it is a dead end. Experienced IT is not desired by corporate America anymore. Lynn Blodgett of that American job Killer group, ACS, has almost said so verbatum.

william_j_bill_jones
william_j_bill_jones

if the resume is destined for someone in Human Resources...nothing will work short of knowing someone...Brevity is best...if they are interested they will call...one cannot define ones self in two pages...Accomplishments should be noted as well as areas of expertise...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

As a developer type I tend to go for a career history that gets less detailed over time. Who cares that I was proficient in DOS 3.1 as a junior support and development technician in the 80s? I also try and emphasise what and why about a project as opposed to the how, I mean after twenty + years the mechanics of it should be a given. I've made a point of chopping down my front page skills list, and then under each employment having a list of the skills that I used there (and then). This is of course hard skills. At this stage of my career soft skills should be standing up and being counted at every opportunity. The one I think I would say, is if you still get the bulk of your hits through recruitment agencies leave the skills in there somewhere. Even, if it's on the back page as a summary. Otherwise you won't get hits in their highly technical wordsearches. :p

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I now definitely know my resume is in deep you know what. I passed this post onto my pre-law son and he agreed with your entire assessment of what's important. Glad I'm the boss, other-wise I'd have to work really hard to get mine up to snuff. Great post Randy.

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

When one has NO hands-on experience (or at least not much), it helps I believe to include the certification. In my case, I have used the GUI tools for limited Exchange administration and troubleshooting, but I took the exam to increase my knowledge base and to "prove" that knowledge to potential employers. If they need a "one of many" administrator, I may fit the bill and then can grow through my experience. I consider that to be highly valuable under those conditions, and will/do list the cert. Where an exam or course falls outside my cert path (e.g, MCSE), I may list it as well. Experience is fine, but employers like to see that you are "certified" as well, as long as you do it judiciously.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you are putting yourself up for a spcific opportunity, and you've gathered enough trustworthy information then I agree. If you are out of work and going through a selection of agencies and job boards, then you keep it a broad as possible to get the hits.

tfsmith
tfsmith

Amazing isn't it? I was looking at a resume the other day: d- d+ high school, 2 years jc at California school with teachers predom from India, University same interesting group of professors .... now he is a straight A student. Remarkable turn around from d to A student in 90 days! Well, it just got better and better. The good-Ole-boy network is alive and well in America.

RayJeff
RayJeff

...No comment. I know exactly what you are saying.

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

I think that you are missing the point of the article. Take a CLOSE look at the title: Eight resume tips for the **experienced** IT **pro** I don't think that you are the "target audience". This article is for people who are trying to get a job where experience is more important than certifications. The idea being "I don't care what certifications this person has, what kind of results can they produce?" Don't forget, this is only a resume. An interview is for finding out the details. A person would still need to be able to make it through an interview for the job.

Koerper
Koerper

Almost every employer wants to know about your actual certifications. I agree that if you haven't completed the cert, you should leave off those classes and exams. E.g. The MCSE requires 7 or 8 exams. I don't care if you've passed 5 of them and taken classes for the other 3. Let me know when you're done.

hcparekh
hcparekh

It is not easy for everyone to come-up with a superb resume but anyone can convert her text resume into graphical / analytical / visual presentation at www.CustomizeResume.com regards hemen parekh hcp@recruitguru.com

Old Man on the Mountain
Old Man on the Mountain

I AM an experienced IT pro, having accomplished a great deal with great respect from my peers. My point was simply to say that listing individual exam certifications IS acceptable if they fall outside a given cert path or are listed separately by employers (e.g., A+, Network+). I did not take the Exchange test as part of my MCSA, but added it to my certs to demonstrate my comprehension of the subject matter as an add-on to my limited experience. The writer of the article suggested we not list individual exams. He did NOT say certifications should not be listed at all. I was simply expressing a contrary opinion. So, I don't understand your labeling me as not part of the "target audience", especially since you know nothing of my experience or abilities. Finally, as long as employers want certifications, having them with or without experience (or little experience) WILL mean something. The cert exams are not easy to pass, and I take exception to anyone who trivializes another who has the stamina and aptitude to obtain a certification.

cyberdragon666
cyberdragon666

In today?s job market certifications are a critical point on your resume (regardless of your experience or knowledge level). Long gone are the days of people reading all of the resumes that get submitted. I have massive IT experience. Multiple degrees and years upon years of experience. BUT when I first started my last job search I got approximately a 1% response rate. Why so low you ask? Because I didn?t have any certifications listed. I thought my experience spoke for itself. Untrue in the job market today. Today almost all resumes are submitted through email or job search engine. What is the first things the companies do? The filter it based on keywords. What are the most used keywords for these searches? That?s right, certifications. If you don?t have certs listed you immediately get dropped out of the running. When I added certs to my resume, I immediately was getting a minimum of 50% response and usually more like 85%. The problem is, as I see it, a lot of the time the people posting the jobs don?t necessarily know what they want but they have heard the certs used as buzz words so those are ?the most important thing on the resume? to them. There was a time when certs were only for people with no real world experience but that is not the case anymore.

cbader
cbader

I think the listing of certifications is important, especially when most, if not all, the job ads I see require a candidate to be certified. As far as listing what I dont have...I have no problem listing my MCSA certification and listing my MCSE as 'In Progress'. It shows Im that Im continuing in my studies and making progress, not just resting on my laurels. Usually when I tell a prospective employer that Ive recently passed a test and that I only have one more to go they are satisfied, if not impressed.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

When people start asking me for one instead of a word document, I'll think about doing it, myself... Personally I see all sorts of problems to this approach. Particulary on job sites.

stan
stan

Put in "I know nothing about (insert buzzwords here). But then buzzword hits will only get you so far, lol!

stan
stan

Never bothered to get any. If you were getting that low a response, you must not be targeting your search very well... I spent most of my career in development (both hardware and software) and have changed jobs frequently. Thats the nature of development. And over the last 30+ years I've had about a 94% response rate, and 90% job offer rate.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Organizations that let HR departments run wild with their unrealistic and rediculous job descriptions are the culprit in your case. A simple keywords section with all the appropriate buzzwords and certifications would have gotten you past the keyword filter. I once saw a job description that wanted all four of these certifications: MCP, MCSE, CCNA, CCNP. If you did the LOGICAL thing and listed just the MCSE and CCNP, your resume would be rejected on the spot. Dimwitted HR drones strike again!!!

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

...it just goes to show you that you really have to consider what you are looking for and who your target employer is. There really is no "golden rule" when it comes to a resume. I personally feel that there's a certain art to putting together a resume. I hadn't really considered the "buzz-word" searches that you mentioned, good point. However, my point still stands in that certifications are NOT going to be the buzz-words that they are looking for here. None of this is black and white. I'm sure that even the author of the article doesn't think that listing a cert or two is bad here, but just doesn't think it should be an emphasis on this type of resume. There will be other buzz-words in this case I think (softskills?). Thanks for the reply.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

aren't just certs. There just another trick on the resume now to get past pimps and HR numpties, who really (hopefully) validate your claim to useful knowledge. If you aren't getting many hits from Monster et al, just change your resume a bit and upload it again, I guarantee you'll get more. They definitely do something with the age of the file. Wouldn't it suck if you'd spent all that time and money on a cert, added it to your resume and got 35% extra hits because it was more recent. If that's what they are searching for, then it will help, but generally they'll just put MCP in or some such and go from there. Disheartening I know but we are talking HR and pimps here, people who just passed a media studies degree or some such.

hcparekh
hcparekh

Customization of resume is an art that does not come easily to every jobseeker. Then there is a science of customization which converts a plain text resume into 8 graphs, online / automatically / instantly. If the main goal of a resume is to capture the attention of the recruiters and it's secondary goal is to motivate the recruiters to read it long enough to interpret the jobseeker's story, then you will appreciate what www.CustomizeResume.com can do for your career. To impress the recruiters, what you need is a graphical / visual / analytical presentation. Regards Hemen parekh hcp@recruitguru.com Mumbai - India

tfsmith
tfsmith

Well said Sir or Madam or Ms or whatever. The Jedi Master has pointed out the very worst of the worst the holy MCSE, et al. The 'Scholastic answer' if you have a 'degree/cert/atta-boy' from "insert name here" then you know it all and can do anything. Rubbish. FYI in my experience a person with experience does not equal just good people skills or 'schmoozers', unless they are related to the owners. The need to take Microsoft or other vendor cert classes are just HR required rubbish as stated. As stated by brownw03 your third country national with a great degree who cannot read speak or write English is not worth a d**** communication is every thing. A pretty smile, nice cloths and shiny degree are useless without the ability to communicate clearly.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Our job isn't skills it's applying skills. Where you get the skills is irrelevant, have you applied them successfully should be extremely relevant if you require experience. Certs putting someone in a position to acquire experience no argument, instead of, nah.

stan
stan

By experience, I mean actually having done something, not merely having been present when something was done.

stan
stan

From my experience, the least qualified people (as far as actually doing anything useful) have the most certificates.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

I've met many a paper certified moron in my day. Anyone can regurgitate information from a 4 day bootcamp. Experience means more because it's one thing to say you KNOW Cisco IOS commands and how to plug cables in a router, but it's another to have actually configured a router in an anctual enterprise environment. If a person doesn't have actual hands-on experience doing a particular job, then he shouldn't list it on his resume. Just because I have been associated with Network Engineers, doesn't make me experienced in Network Engineering. However, if you have experience, it's worth more than being paper certified.

d.j.elliott
d.j.elliott

I have been in computers since 1981, and you express my opinion of certifications exacatly. MS classes are almost completely useless--1000 PPslides/day and stupid labs. Certs based on those classes are stupid, squared. (Before anyone gets exorcised, I have 3 Master's degrees, so I have a little experience in training.)

RayJeff
RayJeff

You know, I'm really not getting this at all? Certifications are better than actual experience? Certifications are a much better determinator of someone's abilities? I really am CLUELESS, aren't I? And what's REALLY SCARY is that HR thinks this. Most peope who go for certifications don't go through a program at an educational insititution, where it's taught as a full-fledged academic program. They usually go to a weekend brain dump, 1-3 day weekday boot camp or study by buying the study guides with software support (simulators, etc). While all of this is well and good, unless these same people already have experience first-hand practical experience with these technologies, then it doesn't help them. It doesn't help because all of the scenarios that are posed aren't always the ones that appear in actuality. Anyone can memorize information. It's how you can process and work with that information and that is what I've seen the problem with certification owners. The one and only certification program I've gone through is one for Internetworking at the technical college where I worked on my Associate in Computer Technology degree. The certification was basically the CCNA cert made into an academic program by the college. I guess their reasoning is that if you didn't pass the actual CCNA exam, you could still be certified by the college in networking. In the very first class, our instructor, who was also my instructor for several other classes I had said, just as "Cisco highly recommends" that a person going throught the CCNA program have experiece in networking and a little beyond basic working knowledge of PCs. or have an A+ cert before hand. I was one of the very lucky ones because I had several networking classes within the degree programs, classes on computer systems and plus I was a student worker in the college's IT department; so, I had the background. But, the large majority in the class didn't. So, as we my class went through the program, people were dropping out by flies. Not dropping out because they couldn't handle it...dropping out because they could not pass each section. In the end, I completed the program and I got the certification through the college, but I didn't pass the actual CCNA exam. That was only because TIME DOES MATTER. I waited too long after completing the program to take the exam and missed it by 3 points. it wasn't a big deal to me because at the time, Networking wasn't where my interest were. But, I keep it on my resume because it was a hell of a program to go through and it's worth me having it there. I have done some networking, so the cert goes to reinforce that work. So, to say persons with certification know how to "walk and talk like someone in a office" is rubbish. It's the persons with all certs that are the kings and queens of walking and talking. Ihave nothing against them personally. But, I do take issue with people who think that having certs w/o actual experience or w/o education should garner more respect than persons with education & experience.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

So leaving aside the demonstrably incorrect assertion that no certs = no skill and no interest, are you really dumb enough to believe being certified = being skilled. You don't by any chance work for an organisation in the cert industry do you, when you aren't letting the boss win at golf.

brownw03
brownw03

I'll take experience over a "paper hanger" any day. Many certifications are practically useless, having tested on obsolete technologies or, as in Microsoft's case, purposefully filled the candidates head with misinformation. Vendor specific certifications often ask questions about competitive products, but frame the answers based on competitor product versions that are several generations out of date. Often times these questions are in regards to how to integrate heterogeneous systems. What may have taken thirty steps to accomplish with Company A's version 1.2 version, may now take only two in version 3. This does nothing except to fill the candidates head with bad information, information that distorts their view of reality. As to the process of acquiring the certifications, I know of individuals "cramming" for them, and forgetting the knowledge (for lack of a better term) within weeks, if not days. Yes, they have a paper to hang on the wall, but do they have any hope of providing the best solution, even providing a good solution? Probably not. Paper hangers seem to come across to me as, "I have this snazzy paper that says I know my stuff, so bow down to me". Puh-leaze. At least the IT veteran has a work history that can be researched and verified. References can be contacted. Details of the projects can come out during an interview. Applicable knowledge can be tested. As an IT person with over 25 years in the business, I've had the misfortune of working with some very incompetent paper hangers over the years. In those cases, I take great delight in pointing out their errors and omissions. A couple of the paper hangers even had the intelligence within them to comment back to me "that is not what they taught me to do" - thus shedding more light, for them at least, on the sad state of being certified. Vendor specific certifications are purely marketing tools. The vendor?s best interest is for you to know their "feature list" well, and to not know their competitors features well. Thus, every cert they issue is another minion to peddle their wares. Then they've spun this marketing strategy into a money generator for themselves by making the minions pay to go to all the training, pay to get the certification, and pay to maintain it. Only so the minions can sell more product for them. What a great scam. I've also enjoyed attending certification courses and being able to "filter out" the misinformation, as I had no intention of taking the tests. I refuse to waste brain cells memorizing incorrect information. It's a blast to derail the instructor by challenging a point, and disproving him the next day by demonstrating it. Ultimately, the instructor falls back to "All I can say is that this is the way it would be on the test". I've even been told by an instructor that I should file a "correction request" to modify the test and training materials - which was compiled and validated by other "certified" professionals supposedly. At least persons in those classes will see the truth, even if they later fail to obtain a "paper" to prove it. HR loves certifications. It gives them an escape hatch: "Well, we couldn't have known they were incompetent. They were certified in Product X". Well, that's just lazy. If you care about what you get, construct a test, and test your applicants. You can target what matters, and ignore the rest. One of the few things they do correctly where I now work, is that that they do test applicants based on the job skills that are required. In my present job, I was tested along with twelve other front runners. Eight of those left within 15 minutes of being handed the test. I and three others, finished the test in about two hours, and only I passed it. At least two of the twelve had MCSE or CNE certs. The MCSE was one of those who chose not to complete the test, and the CNE didn't pass it. Just one example I know, and your mileage may vary. Oh, and another comment for those in HR, could you please hire persons that are capable of passing at least a 6th grade proficiency exam for English? Even in IT, we do need to be able to communicate with others. It's bad enough that many can't speak clearly, but when their writing skills match their speech, they may as well not be here.

tekwrytr
tekwrytr

In many cases, "experience" is not persuasive; it may indicate little more than that an applicant walks, acts, and talks like others in the office, and has managed to blend in long enough to list experience as proof of competency. The only thing experience proves is that someone, somewhere, wanted to associate with the person involved on a daily basis. Considering the high value placed on "liking people who are like us," the major criteria used in hiring is often general fit with the organizational culture, rather than competency. IT certification does what academic credentials fail to do; establish that the applicant actually knows something useful. In many cases, certification also establishes an interest in the field that goes above and beyond the minimal achievement necessary to secure employment. For hiring managers to prefer one applicant that displays "experience" that may indicate little more than schmoozing the right people in the right way over a period of time over another with valid proof of a desire to excel in his or her field is silly. It also negatively impacts the bottom-line--the HR department, in its desire to avoid making mistakes in hiring, may seriously misjudge the value of the new hire to the organization. Competent schmoozers tend to have lots of experience, while skilled IT people tend to have meaningful certifications that indicate an interest in the field that goes beyond filling a position. tekwrytr

impuck
impuck

It's obvious from your replies (previous three) that this post is most assuredly not for you. You are not architects or even engineers.