Kevin Donlin owns and runs Guaranteed Resumes, a resume and cover letter writing service that also provides job search assistance. He fields questions from TechRepublic members and offers advice based on his experience and expertise.

I can’t understand why I haven’t been able to find a job for five months. I have a strong academic background (M.S. in Computer Science) as well as experience in the IT field. I worked as a software developer, a business information specialist, instructor, and part-time lecturer. I worked very hard on my resume, job-seeker calling card, and cover letters and got help from some experts, but this did not get me even one interview. May I send you my resume to review?


Your two-page resume, as shown in Figure A and Figure B, is typical of most I see in the high-tech field: long on duties and responsibilities and short on results.

Figure A

Figure B – Page Two

Your resume must be absolutely error-free in terms of grammar and punctuation (yours suffered from random capitalization and inconsistent use of fonts) and it must excite interest by focusing on specific results. This is because your competition for jobs is two-fold.

First, you’re competing for the job against qualified candidates whose expertise is similar to yours. That’s obvious. But you’re also having your resume compete for attention against scores submitted by unqualified candidates who apply for jobs just because they can with a few mouse clicks. As a result, employers must sift through hundreds or thousands of resumes, some qualified, many not, before getting to yours.

You can’t afford a resume that’s anything less than top-notch and letter perfect. What can you do to make your resume stand out?

Here are two improvements.

Start strong
Too many IT resumes, including yours, take too long to warm up. I would pump up your current opening—
Objective:Software Developer position

And come out with guns blazing, to show how you directly contributed to a company’s bottom line, like this:

Summary:Accomplished software development professional with three years of experience in O-O programming (Java and C++). Saved $137,000 by designing and implementing intranet using ASP (2002).

That second opening, which I usually call a Summary, gives you the flexibility to include a “grabber” sentence—the most powerful, marketable, eye-opening thing you can say about yourself that will compel employers to keep reading and call you—at the end.

Emphasize achievements with facts, figures, and dollars
No matter what you do or where you do it, you are going to be hired for one of two reasons: to make money (usually for sales/marketing types) or save money (more likely for you). Now, before you say: “But I’m a programmer. How can I find a dollar value for what I do?” Take a look at a few ways that high-tech folks can produce bottom-line savings. Answer these questions to help you load your resume with these kinds of figures:

  • Did you save money by developing an application in-house as opposed to outsourcing it? How much?
  • Do you do the work of two or three people? If so, how much does that save your employer in salaries?
  • Did you develop an application ahead of schedule, so that it could be rolled out earlier? If so, how much time and/or money did this save?
  • Did you find a way to decrease the number of bugs in an application? Did this make your customers happier? If so, did it keep X percent of them from defecting to competitors? If so, how much annual revenue did you save?
  • Are you the most productive among 10 employees? Can you prove that?
  • Do your applications sail through QA faster because you’re a clean coder? How much faster? How much time/salary does this save, on average?
  • Do you handle a higher number of tech support calls than anyone else? How many more? How does this affect the bottom line?

As long as you can back up your claims in writing or by a phone call to a supervisor, you should focus 80 percent on specific achievements in your resume and about 20 percent on duties/responsibilities. Unfortunately, most folks in high-tech fields get this completely backwards.

Here’s an example from your resume to show you one way to get specific (my comments are in bold):

“Worked on several (how many?) Internet/intranet solutions and tools in creating robust Database-driven Web applications using JavaScript and embedded SQL.” As a result, what happened? Were they sold? Did they save time/money for internal/external users?

So, by starting off strong and focusing on the specific good things that happen when you do your job well, you’ll have an immediate advantage over other job seekers in this economy. And be sure to run your resume by at least three friends whose grammatical judgment you trust.

Don’t forget to follow up
One final point has nothing to do with your resume. In the current job market, follow-up is everything. If you submit your resume to 10 job postings and then wait for the phone to ring, you’re in for a long wait. To maximize your chances of getting the job you want, contact employers directly after submitting your resume. Resumes are deleted or lost every day.

When following up, send a brief e-mail, followed by a phone call one week later, followed by a fax, then an e-mail, etc. Repeat until they’ve made a decision. Try to share something useful each time you contact an employer, whether it’s a trend you see among software end users, input on a competitor’s product—whatever.

Your objective in following up is to give employers another reason to call you. Since almost none of the other applicants will be doing this, it’s an easy way to stand out.