There comes a time in many IT consultants’ careers when they decide to exchange the trappings of their jet-set professional lives for a corporate IT job with more stability. For Sevin Straus, an IT consultant based in Chicago, that moment came at the height of the financial crisis in 2009.
At the time, the IT consulting company he co-founded in 2002 dissolved due to a lack of business. It had served the auto industry, which he says went into a tailspin just before the financial industry collapsed. Straus tried to strike out on his own, but consulting engagements were sparse. CIOs across the country were cancelling projects left and right.
Straus decided that after two decades of consulting, he was ready for a full-time job as an IT director. “I want to put together all these things I’ve learned [about IT management] over the past 20 years in that type of role,” he says.
Since the only résumé he had was a five-page document that his previous consulting company, 4Gen, used to showcase his experience when it was bidding on a project, Straus sought advice on how best to write his résumé. He quickly found that there was no single, definitive answer. The only advice that approximated a definitive answer was that each résumé should be tailored to the specific position the job seeker is applying for.
So Straus began customizing each résumé he sent. “I’d look at the job description in the ad and make sure some of that language appeared in my description or bullet point accomplishments,” he says.
He struggled with the length of his résumé and with capturing the scope of the responsibilities he held with various client projects in a few succinct bullet points.
“I spent so much time trying to tweak my résumé for any individual application that I finally gave up,” says Straus. “I could spend 80 hours a week tweaking my résumé to apply for 20 positions. I didn’t have any better response from employers than I did with my original résumé. I thought, ‘Why am I putting all this effort into each résumé when it doesn’t do any good?'”
Straus needed a résumé makeover.
Enter Regal Resumes
Caitlin Sampson, a certified professional résumé writer and career consultant with Boston-based Regal Resumes, agreed to update Straus’s résumé. Sampson has worked as a professional résumé writer for five years. Previously, she was an IT recruiter with a human resources consulting company, where she spent time screening candidates’ résumés for jobs. She says the experience prepared her to better understand IT job descriptions and the work experiences candidates include on their résumés. She also knows first-hand what employers and recruiters want to see in a candidate’s résumé.
Sampson also holds a certification in preparing job seekers for job interviews, and she says the Certified Employment Interview Professional (CEIP) credential has helped her draw information out of her clients that results in a clearer, more comprehensive résumé.
CIO.com chose Staus’s résumé because he’s been out of work for such a long time and because his résumé writing challenges and career goals are representative of many IT consultants who wish to move into corporate IT management roles.
The Problems with Straus’s Résumé
Sampson identified four over-arching problems with Straus’s résumé. (See Straus’s résumé before the makeover.)
1. It didn’t define his career objective. While professional résumé writers agree that job seekers shouldn’t include an objective statement on their résumés because they’re outdated and don’t speak to the needs of the employer, a résumé should clearly communicate the type of position the job seeker wants through the executive summary and work experience. Sampson says when she first looked at Straus’s résumé, she didn’t know if he was looking for another consulting job or a position in corporate IT management.
“Studies show you have about 15 seconds to capture the attention of a recruiter or employer [with your résumé],” says Sampson. “You immediately want to show why you think you’d be a perfect fit for their job. You don’t want them to think, ‘I don’t understand why this person is applying.’ I think that was holding him back.”
2. It was too long. Straus’s five page résumé listed 26 consulting engagements he held over the course of his career. His résumé was long, but it was short on detail and context.
3. His skills and qualifications were unclear. Sampson says Straus’s résumé didn’t clearly articulate his areas of expertise and technology skills.
4. It contained a red flag. Sampson noticed that Straus’s résumé listed one of his employers twice, Knowledge Fusion, the IT consulting firm he started and operated on his own. That confused and concerned her. Specifically, she worried it would raise questions in employers’ minds about his employment history.
The Résumé Makeover
Sampson had to transform a résumé for an IT consultant into a résumé for an IT leader. The new résumé had to demonstrate Straus’s ability to be a corporate IT director by showing how he had fulfilled similar roles in the past. Sampson made the following major changes to Straus’s résumé.
1. She created a tagline for his résumé. A tagline, branding or positioning statement at the top of a résumé helps define the job seeker’s professional identity, core strengths, and the kinds of roles he or she match. Sampson says a tagline is key because it’s one of the first elements of a résumé that an employer will read. Thus, it helps to shape the image of the job seeker in the employer’s mind. Given that Straus is trying to get an IT management position, his tagline needed to communicate leadership qualities.
2. She beefed up his executive summary. Sampson didn’t think the executive summary on Straus’s résumé did him justice after speaking with him on the phone. “It described what he had done in the past, but it didn’t encompass all of his core competencies,” she says.
Sampson wanted Straus’s executive summary to scream leader so she added keywords and phrases associated with leadership and management. She had asked Straus to send to her examples of job ads for IT management positions that interested him so she could work language from those adds into the executive summary. That’s key, she says, because recruiters and HR managers only select résumés that closely match the job description.
3. She added areas of expertise. Because Sampson didn’t get a clear sense of Straus’s expertise from his original résumé, she added a section to his new résumé that would spell it out. This “Areas of Expertise” section also helps define him as an IT leader. Sampson says she and Straus added activities appropriate for an IT management role that Straus had held in the past, such as portfolio management, global IT services, and mergers and acquisitions, to that list of areas of expertise.
4. She focused his work experience and drew attention to his IT leadership and management experience. Based on the job ads Straus sent to Sampson, they picked the IT projects Straus had worked on that best matched IT management roles. Editing the portfolio of projects Straus included on his résumé (from 26 to 6) got it down to two-and-a-half pages and better tailored it to IT management positions.
Sampson also explicitly stated where Straus had served as a CIO, director of technology, or manager for his various consulting clients. In addition, she included more context around each project, such as challenges he needed to surmount, and more detail on the scope of his responsibilities and accomplishments. She was not able to include any financial metrics, such as cost savings or other efficiencies derived from Straus’s work, because as a consultant he’s not privy to or at liberty to share such information.
5. She added a “Consulting Portfolio” section. This served as a succinct way to show prospective employers that Straus has a lot more experience than the projects listed on his résumé. It also draws attention to the big name companies that have trusted Straus with their IT operations and to the many industries in which he has experience.
6. She included his technical skills. Sampson added a table to the end of his résumé that outlined the IT systems in which he’s proficient. The table clearly establishes his technical expertise.
7. She included Knowledge Fusion once. Straus included Knowledge Fusion, the IT consulting company he operated, twice on his original résumé—once from 1992 to 2002 and the second time from 2009 to the present, after his work experience with 4Gen Consulting. Sampson worried that employers would see Knowledge Fusion listed twice and wonder why Straus went from working for himself to working for 4Gen, a consulting company with 27 employees and seven partners (one of which was Straus), to working for himself again.
The reason Straus went from 4Gen to working for himself was perfectly legitimate: because the recession killed 4Gen’s business and the company dissolved. However, explaining such a story is not easy—or necessarily appropriate—on a résumé, and Sampson didn’t want anything on Straus’s résumé that would raise red flags.
“You should be able to explain these questions in an interview, rather than be judged in preliminary screenings,” she says.
To address this red flag, Sampson ended Straus’s work experience with the projects he did for 4Gen, which allowed her to remove that first reference to Knowledge Fusion.
8. They chose a modern layout. Sampson wanted a layout that would catch readers’ eyes and distinguish Straus’s résumé from others. She says she asked a graphic designer for advice on where a person’s eye is drawn on a résumé, using contrasting colors, and the importance of white space. Together they came up with a clean, easy-to-read, modern design. “With a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, you need to do things that make you stand out,” she says.
See Straus’s new résumé.
New Résumé Revitalizes Straus’s Job Search
Straus says he was shocked when he saw the first draft of his new résumé. “It looked like a different person’s résumé,” he says. “It’s amazing, the difference. I read it and I say, ‘Wow! That’s me!'”
Straus is eager to circulate his revamped résumé, and he’s confident that it will make a difference in his job search. He plans to upload it to all the job boards and employer Websites where his résumé is currently on file. “I want to make sure if people are getting looked at and hired that way that they have my new résumé,” he says.
In addition, Straus plans to send his “snazzy [new] résumé” to his Chicago-area networking contacts. He says the new résumé gives him an excuse to get back in touch with his contacts and let them know that he’s still looking. “Hopefully it’s a tickler in their minds,” he says.
Straus also thinks employers will be more responsive to his new résumé. “It’s a better read. It’s more concise. The word choice and sentence structure is better,” he says. “I can see where someone would look at my old résumé, read through the top paragraph, and throw it in the trash. With this one, I can see people reading through that first paragraph and at least through the first chunk of work experience. They’d see more of my experience and what I’m capable of.”
Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at firstname.lastname@example.org.