Is your resume keeping you from getting the IT job you want? If so, trash it, and start from scratch on a new one. This week, I’ll tell you why you should rewrite your resume today, and I’ll tell you how.

Be prepared
Even if you’re not looking for a job, you need a current resume for three reasons:

  • Convenience. Suppose you leave your current job by your choice, termination, merger, acquisition, dissolution of the company, or nonrenewal of a contract. On top of everything else you’ll have on your mind in those situations, you don’t want to open your resume and realize, “Ouch, I haven’t updated this thing in years.” Update your resume while you’re gainfully employed. Be prepared.
  • Reviews. When your performance review comes around, you might be reporting to someone other than the person who initially hired you. Give your new manager a copy of your current resume.
  • Random chance. Suppose you bump into someone who says, “Oh, you sound like you’d be perfect for this job! Send me your resume.” If you don’t have a current resume ready, you may or may not get around to writing a new one or updating the old one. Without a current resume, you might miss a great opportunity.

Be proud
Recently an acquaintance looking for a new job submitted her resume to me. The print preview of that document appears in Figure A.

Figure A
This resume is poorly designed and written.

I liked that the resume had only two sections, Employment and Education. However, before I could pass it along, I had to be brutally honest and point out some problems in the design of her resume:

  • She used the boring Times New Roman for the small, 8-point text.
  • The contact information took up almost two vertical inches of space, including two unlabeled telephone numbers and two e-mail addresses, all on separate lines.
  • She made the names of her employers bigger and bolder than her job titles.
  • Her job descriptions were blocks of text, each seven to 10 lines long!
  • The resume spilled over onto a second page, and she failed to repeat her name or put a page number on the second page.
  • The Education section listed eight lines’ worth of academic achievements and extracurricular activities.

If that sounds like your resume, it’s time to rewrite it. Here are my recommendations.

The look

  • Use a modern-looking font, like Arial, that’s easy to read and something that will fax or photocopy cleanly.
  • Use a 10- or 11-point font for the text of your resume. Don’t make potential employers squint.
  • Use a larger font only for your name. Use bold or underlining to emphasize anything else, such as a job title.

The content
The job descriptions should tell a potential employer what you know how to do and can bring to the new job, or what you’ve done that will help you learn how to perform the new job. I recommend listing your job title first, as in: TECHNICAL WRITER. ABC Publishing, March 1999 to Present. Then enter the job description starting on a new line.

For each job description, describe what you did (or do), as succinctly as possible. Be specific. Use bulleted lists where appropriate.

You’ve probably heard that you should use active verbs when describing your achievements. The table below lists some excerpts from my acquaintance’s resume and an illustration of how to make passive phrases more active and vague phrases more specific.

Passive and active phrases
Passive Active
Responsible for coordinating efforts of… Coordinated efforts of…
Responsible for the supervision of

help desk analysts

Supervised 10 help desk analysts
Other responsibilities included

recommending and training…

Also recommended and trained…
Had perfect attendance record Honored for perfect attendance
Provided network support Supported 200 network users
Improved network up time Increased network up time to 99.9%
Get to the verb as quickly as possible, and be specific.

The organization

  • Don’t assume the employer will get your contact information from your cover letter. Cover letters are often discarded without being read. Put your contact information on the resume itself. If you list more than one phone number, label each as “home,” “mobile,” or “office.”
  • If you have formal education but little IT experience, list your education first. Otherwise, lead with your experience.
  • List your IT specialties, such as operating systems and applications, in a separate section. Like it or not, the first pass made by many employers is to look for key words and phrases.
  • Don’t list an objective. On rare occasions, if you have inside information about the job, an objective might work. Otherwise, it will only waste valuable resume real estate.

About references
Don’t use “References furnished upon request.” People recruiting and interviewing technical people know that you’ll furnish references.

Be proactive and submit a list of references, on a separate page, when you submit your resume. If employers are interested in you, waiting for references only holds up the process.

To format your references, copy the name and contact information from your resume and paste it onto a new page. Then list contact information for three or four references. (Don’t forget to tell your references that someone might be calling!)

What’s your top resume tip?

If you hire and manage IT people, we want to hear from you. What’s the first thing you notice when you pick up a resume? What’s the primary reason you keep or discard a resume? Do your part to help the job seekers and post a note below or follow this link to write to Jeff.