Recruiters, professional resume writers and other career experts give out tons of advice on how best to write a resume that will stand out from the competition. Their intentions are noble—they want to help people land jobs—but the problem with their advice is that it doesn't always apply to IT professionals and the nature of the work they do, says Shana Westerman, a recruiting manager with IT staffing firm Sapphire Technologies.
"People go to the unemployment office or they go to outplacement resume writers who don't give advice that is applicable to the IT field," she says.
Westerman notes that IT resumes are different from resumes for professionals in other fields because IT workers have to capture a range of skills—both technical and functional—on their resumes. Because technology changes so rapidly and because so much IT work is project-based and involves "so many moving parts," generic resume writing advice can do a great disservice to IT professionals, says Westerman.
Westerman sees first-hand how generic resume writing tips play out on IT professionals' resumes. She screens, on average, 300 resumes per day searching for IT workers to place with her clients, who are IT line managers and executives at large and midsize companies looking for contract and permanent employees. Westerman says many of the IT resumes she gets from job seekers are too short on specifics for her and her clients' needs. When she finds a candidate whom she thinks would be a good match for a client, she says she often has to ask the candidate to beef up his resume with more information about his skills and experience.
"You're not going to meet with a [hiring] manager if your resume doesn't get you the meeting. Your resume is the one and only tool that gets you an interview," says Westerman.
She adds that even when she advocates for a particular candidate, the client still wants to see on the candidate's resume all of the capabilities she's mentioned. "If they don't see what I say on the candidate's resume, their interest will wane," Westerman notes.
Here, she shares the generic resume advice IT professionals should run from.
1. Your resume should not exceed two pages.
Westerman's views on IT resumes are as much influenced by the complex nature of IT jobs as they are by the competitive labor market. She believes that the recession and the multitudes vying for tech jobs has changed the nature of IT resumes. The IT hiring managers Westerman serves aren't interested in short summary documents, she says. They want details, details, details, and often that means a three- or more page resume.
With so many people applying for IT jobs, Westerman says her clients want to be able to make informed decisions about which candidates are worth interviewing based on a resume that communicates the technologies with which an IT professional has worked, the depth of experience they have with each technology, the size and scope of the projects on which they've worked, and how they achieved various accomplishments, she says.
"They look for details so they don't have to make assumptions about what people did," Westerman says of her clients. "They want to see in black and white that certain skill sets are definitely held by this person. They want to be crystal clear on what this person is capable of doing and what they've done in the past."
Another reason why the one- or two-page resume doesn't always work for the IT professionals is because their roles are so complex and because they often wear multiple hats. It's hard for them to encapsulate everything they've done into just a few bullet points per position. Condensing their capabilities into four or five bullets, as standard resume formats dictate, doesn't do justice to IT professionals' capabilities or to what they might bring to a new role, says Westerman.
"In IT, you can never give too much information (unless you're getting to a 12-page resume)," she says. "If you have five or more years in IT, especially if you're a technical person, it's perfectly okay to have a three-, four-, or five-page resume."
The bottom line, adds Westerman, is that if the hiring manager likes what she sees, she'll keep reading. "If you have a six page resume and the [hiring] manager never looks at page six, who cares?," she says. "But if they're looking for something and they can't find it [on your resume], you're not going to get an interview."
(That said, some IT executives discussing the ideal IT resume in a LinkedIn CIO Forum discussion noted that resumes shouldn't be more than two pages.)
One final reason to load your resume with details: The hiring manager may have another project coming up and may realize looking at your resume that you might be an excellent candidate for that other initiative.
2. Avoid repetition.
Outplacement firms will sometimes tell job seekers to avoid repeating responsibilities they've held to save space on their resumes, says Westerman. This is a bad idea, she says, because hiring managers want to see patterns on a job seeker's resume. Repetition helps to communicate a job seeker's depth of experience with a particular technology or subject, which is something Westerman's clients want to see on IT professionals' resumes.
"It's okay to repeat something you've done in multiple roles multiple times," says Westerman. "A lot of hiring managers do Control-F: They're looking for something specific, like budgeting. They want to see how many times budgeting comes up on your resume. If you only have that listed once in your resume, you risk going into the no pile because it looks like your budgeting experience isn't extensive enough."
3. Use your exact titles.
Outplacement firms have recommended to IT job seekers with whom Westerman has worked that they use their exact titles on their resumes. She disagrees with this advice. Sometimes IT job seekers have to tweak their titles so that their titles more clearly communicate what they did in a given role, she says.
For example, she says some banking institutions give employees VP titles even though their role is more of a project or program manager rather than a standard executive position. "If you have a VP title on your resume and you're applying for a project management position, the hiring manager might automatically put you in the no pile, thinking you're too senior for the position," she says.
The trick to modifying a title is, of course, to maintain its accuracy, adds Westerman. You want to make sure any title you tweak can still be confirmed during a reference check.
4. Make your resume stand out with images, graphics, tables or charts.
Some job search experts recommend including colorful, graphic elements, such as corporate logos or charts, on your resume to make it pop amidst all the text-laden, black and white pages in the hiring managers' slush pile.
Westerman says to avoid flash and notes that she removes all fancy formatting from candidates' resumes. "Managers just want your resume to be an easy read," she says.
With all resume writing advice, keep in mind that it changes with the job market, notes Westerman. "A year from now, my advice could be different," she says. "What worked five years ago for a resume probably doesn't matter now."
Follow Meridith Levinson on Twitter at @meridith.