Five resume tips for IT consultants

One of the best ways to communicate your reputation to prospective new clients is to let your resume speak for you. These tips will help you create an IT consultant resume that will open doors.

Whether you spell it resume, résumé, resumé, or curriculum vitae, you need to craft a document that summarizes your IT consulting skills and experience. For one thing, you might be asked to produce a resume when you're meeting a prospective client. It's also a good idea to keep a record of this information. When you've been in the business as long as I have, you may start to forget some of your accomplishments if you don't write them down.

Whatever you do, make sure your resume is well written. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised what passes for a professional resume. Here are five tips that will help you effectively present your accomplishments.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our IT Consultant blog.

1: Keep your audience in mind

Before anything else can happen, you must connect with your reader. Visualize the people who will read your resume and think about what they're looking for in an IT consultant. You should have different versions of your resume. A lengthy, complete narrative will help you keep track of all your accomplishments. Then, you can choose from that version to create a resume that is targeted for each prospect. Yes, I think you should rewrite your resume for each prospect and emphasize the points that are meaningful to the specific audience. For instance, if I'm seeking a client who needs help with Synergy/DE, I'll put my lengthy experience with that technology front and center. When I'm going after a Ruby project, Synergy/DE becomes a bullet point somewhere down the list.

2: Focus on your results

You're trying to communicate, "Hire me!" so how do you make that case? You need to demonstrate that you're the best choice among the client's list of candidates. You not only need to decrease the perceived risk:benefit ratio, but you must also increase the perceived bang:buck ratio. When considering cost, your prospect should take into account both your fee and the opportunity cost of not hiring someone else. The client will probably have a checklist of specific required skills; if you know the requirements, feature your relevant experience.

Remember to focus on how you helped previous clients succeed rather than on how much you know. Besides being more tuned in to what the prospect really wants, it allows you to broaden the range of what's acceptable. "Eight years' experience in the .NET Framework" can easily be trumped by "Converted application X to the .NET Framework and released three months ahead of schedule," even if the latter applicant has only one year of experience with the .NET Framework. Don't offer clients potential -- give them results.

3: Be brief

Before I went into consulting, I worked in an upper management position in which I was constantly looking for new people. I always had a hundred resumes on my desk for every position I needed to fill. If one of those resumes was six pages long, I'd scan the front page for what I was looking for and then toss it if those words didn't reach out from the page and grab my eyeballs. A two-page resume would get both pages scanned. A one-page resume would actually get read.

It's much more effective to be brief -- but be sure to pack a lot of meat into those few words. Don't repeat yourself. Some resumes include separate sections for skills, experience, languages, frameworks, and platforms; these sections include the same information reheated and served on different kinds of toast.

4: Include concrete details

One secret to making every word count is to be specific. Avoid generalities like "insured the success of Project Ingolstadt throughout its lifecycle." What did you do while you were "insuring success" -- underwriting? If you were the PM, say "managed a project of five developers, two testers, and a documentation specialist." If you were a developer, say what parts you were responsible for designing and coding. And for goodness sake, tell them what Project Ingolstadt actually accomplished -- and whether it was on schedule, under budget, and met with a reaction from users that was at least friendlier than torches and pitchforks. The more you can quantify the benefit, the better: "saved the company $40,000 a year" ... "was instrumental in attracting at least 12 new customers," etc. Be sure you can back up the numbers you quote.

5: Be honest

Erik Eckel references a study of background checks by ADP Payroll in which it found that 44 percent of job applications contained fabricated work experience, 41 percent padded their education, and 23 percent lied about licenses or other credentials. While many candidates may get away with it, the cost of exposure is high: You could lose the engagement and be sued.

Furthermore, even if you aren't found out, you never want to oversell yourself. You'll end up in a project you can't handle, paranoid about being discovered, and making decisions that are designed to make you look smart instead of contributing to the project's success. Sure, you should embrace challenges, but only if your client knows how much you're being challenged and embraces that as well.

Writing a resume that lands you an interview

Many resume authors seem to forget that any form of writing has one overarching goal: communication. By giving ample consideration to who might be asking the questions, what you're trying to tell them, and how to get the message across, you can build a resume that grabs your prospect's attention and gets you to the next step: the interview.

Additional resources

Much has been written over the years on crafting resumes. You can find some excellent resources right here on TechRepublic: