Your IT resume provides recruiters and hiring managers with a critical first impression of who you are and what you offer. Working in a field as competitive as IT means you have to do everything you can to ensure your resume get noticed. Making a bad first impression (or no impression at all) is a sure way to get your resume moved into the ‘No’ pile.
“They [resumes] get eliminated for all sorts of reasons just to get the pile down to something manageable,” says Rick Endres, president of the Washington Network and former CIO of the U.S. Congress, as well deputy assistant secretary for the Department of Commerce for Technology Policy. To help you build a better resume, CIO.com talked to Endres and other experts to identify common errors and some not-so-common ones.
IT Resume Mistake #1: Typos, Misspellings and Bad Grammar
Come on, folks, we shouldn’t even have to mention this one and yet, according to the experts, job candidates are disqualified all the time for making typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. “Most jobs put a premium on communication skills. Hiring managers and recruiters aren’t going to be interested if you can’t communicate well on your own behalf,” says Endres.
IT Resume Mistake #2: Too Much Technology Jargon
Job seekers commonly flood the experience section of their resumes with examples of tools and technologies, making it difficult to distinguish achievements from technology. You want both technical and nontechnical readers to understand what you’ve done.
Jennifer Hay, Credentialed IT Resume Writer with ITResumeService.com, offers this example of an achievement statement that blends technology with well-understood achievements.:
“Developed a hybrid strategy to keep costs down by using data center hardware with SAN deployment for high-availability data, and cloud-based storage with Amazon S3 and Box.com for backup and archival.
“Select those top tools that are most important to your career goals and integrate those into your resume. Your remaining tools and technologies can be added in a section on your resume titled “Technical Skills” or “Technology Profile,” says Hay.
IT Resume Mistake #3: Poor Resume File Name
“Almost every resume that I see says things like resume1 or resumeshort as opposed to the person’s name or perhaps the position they are applying for,” says Endres. If it’s being filed somewhere on a PC, you want to make it as easy as possible for your resume to be found. You certainly don’t want to rely on someone having to open it up in order to figure out what it is and who it’s from.
IT Resume Mistake #4: Making Your Resume the Wrong Length
IT professionals often rely on advice they encounter for nontechnical resumes. For example, the length of the resume, “For IT professionals, it’s often not realistic to limit it to two pages. I commonly write resumes that are 2.5 pages long, with another for education, certifications and a technical profile,” says Hay.
Endres says that IT professionals should aim to get their resumes down to two, at most three, pages. “If you got something important to say, I don’t think it hurts for you to add supplemental information in the email that would be evidence of your claims.”
Your resume has technical details, certifications, professional development information, along with your technology profile. This information takes up space. “Technical hiring managers aren’t satisfied with this minimal description. They want to know how you did it and what technology you used. They want to know with which technologies you have skills and recent experience. Most IT professionals still have a long list of tools, processes and methodologies to include,” says Hay.
IT Resume Mistake #5: Not Having an Updated Career Brand
All too often technical resumes focus on the theme of saving time, money and other resources. “Although this might have been a persuasive way of branding yourself several years ago, that is no longer the case. IT is ‘expected’ to save money–and lots of it–by streamlining processes, consolidating databases and eliminating redundancies. Why would you want to make it the primary theme in your resume?” asks Hay.
What’s special about you that differentiates you from your peers? This has to be clear in your resume if you want to be noticed by hiring managers.
To stay at the forefront of the IT industry, job seekers need to continually reevaluate their career brand. “As we emerge from the recession, businesses want to be agile and responsive to rapid change. They want IT to be a partner in enabling them to identify new market opportunities, create innovations and develop a competitive strategy.
Nowadays, branding plays a much bigger role in promoting a job seeker’s candidacy, and this is accomplished through a strategic combination of summary paragraphs, testimonials, achievement snapshots, pedigree proof and core competencies. All of these subsections add keywords to the resume, but more critically, they also add focus and insight into the job seekers unique experience, achievements, and capabilities,” says Cheryl Simpson, president of Executive Resume Rescue.
IT Resume Mistake #6: Unclear Positioning
If a hiring manager can’t look at your resume and quickly know what level of position you are seeking then you’ better think again, says Simpson. “When a recruiter reads an IT resume, she or he should be able to tell in one-two seconds what type and level of position the job seeker is targeting. By including a title, a tagline and industry keywords, IT executives can quickly demonstrate how their career goals align with the company’s hiring needs,” says Simpson.
IT Resume Mistake #7: Too Little Emphasis on Strategy
When you get into the senior ranks of IT, providing evidence of the ability to craft technology strategy, win buy-in from stakeholders and champion the vision is critical, yet most IT resumes fail in this department.
“Senior IT managers must showcase their ability to align technology planning with business needs and goals through specific achievement stories. Through the resume’s summary, position descriptors and achievement statements, the executive job seeker can deepen recruiter insight into their ability to leverage technology as a key contributor to business success — which is exactly what most companies are seeking,” says Hay.
IT Resume Mistake #8: Using the Wrong Resume Format
You can use two formats for technical resumes, says Hay: chronological and hybrid. IT hiring managers want to know what you did, for whom and during what time frame. They’re typically focused on the last seven-eight years of employment. They want to understand the technical environment in which the person worked, including the size and complexity of the IT department.
There are few industries that have changed as radically as technology, so describing an achievement in 2013 has a completely different technical and business context than something that was achieved years earlier. “Functional resume formats that are designed to minimize job and skills gaps are not a good choice for technical positions,” says Hay.
IT Resume Mistake #9: Not Telling the Full Story of Your Achievements
IT resumes are often project-driven, according to Simpson. “Job seekers need to provide project context details in order to help their readers understand the value of the initiative they’re describing,” says Simpson. Does your resume answer these questions?
- Why was the project needed?
- What result was it intended to create?
- What was the project’s investment, size and timeline?
- What problems arose throughout implementation?
- How were these resolved?
- Was the project delivered on time and on budget and what impact did it have on operations?
IT professionals often list each of their achievements as a single event, without trying to make a correlation between projects. “Since many IT departments follow technology blueprints designed to modernize the technical landscape over time, it’s a lost opportunity when they don’t connect with these overall strategic plans. Other plans that are more tactical can also offer a connection with the planning process,” says Hay, who offers an example below.
Look and you’ll notice that if the achievements below were listed individually they would not have the same impact as they do when showing a 30-60-90 day plan.
Selected to serve in an interim role as Associate Director to mitigate business risk and stabilize transition to an outsourced model for application development and infrastructure operations. Resolved stakeholder conflicts by quickly creating tangible targets for a 30-60-90 day plan that would produce immediate benefits.
30 days out: Created a more realistic project-demand model to allocate sufficient resources for project work, eliminating missed commitments. Worked with IO Leads and business users to ensure sustainability.
60 days out: Developed a transparent process for communicating information about project prioritization and resource allocation, eliminating the view of IT as a black box.
90 days out: Implemented a cost-management model for managing program costs.
“When reading this resume, you can almost hear the sound of each achievement being checked off: Boom! Boom! Boom! Wouldn’t you want this professional on your team?,” asks Hay.
While not all of this information can be included for every project in the resume, it is imperative that you capture the relevant big picture details that will best enable hiring managers to “perceive the golden thread of success woven throughout the fabric of their work experience,” says Simpson.
IT Resume Mistake #10: Being Too Modest About Achievements
IT professionals are typically modest about their achievements, so they tend to include only the barest details on their resumes, which are typically just about the technical results, Hay says. With so many projects being implemented by thousands of other IT professionals, this isn’t helping them stand apart from the pack.
“When an IT professional goes beyond just the end result and thinks in terms of how they were able to achieve the results within a challenging business and technical context, then they become unique,” says Hay. IT resumes are memorable if they tell a straightforward story that connects the value to the business to the technical environment and to the team efforts. Oftentimes, this story begins with why the project was funded.
IT Resume Mistake #11: Not Aging Achievements and Skills Gracefully
Two of the most common mistakes IT professionals make, according to experts, are leaving outdated technology in their resume because they aren’t sure what to remove and offering details about job experience that is no longer relevant.
According to Hay, there are three primary career paths for IT professionals:
- Those that focus on emerging or current technologies
- Those that focus on high-legacy technologies, such as COBOL
- Those that are somewhere in between, bridging the gap between high legacy and emerging.
What technologies you include in your resume depends on your current path. Some older technologies are still widely used today. Where these technologies overlap with your experience and ability, you’ll need to give it some careful thought about whether to include them.
“There are employers who do care about your ability to program in COBOL, but do you want to be a COBOL programmer again? Most companies have legacy systems that someone has to operate, maintain and enhance. If you decide to stop chasing technologies and step back from technology’s leading edge, that someone could be you. It’s a choice, but be clear about your motivations. It will impact your career,” says Hay.
When it comes to job experience details, the world of IT changes so rapidly and IT resumes require updates far more frequently than other industries. “Even something done three or four years ago is dated. As a general rule, IT professionals should routinely review their resumes every six months. Remember that older experience should set the foundation for understanding why the person is good at what they do now,” says Hay.
As your achievement statements age, use the following steps:
- Remove the tools and technologies
- Remove the technical details
- Remove the primary achievement
- Remove the position
IT Resume Mistake #12: Discounting Important Business Knowledge
Companies want it all– technical skills, soft skills and knowledge of the business side. “IT professionals tend to see their value in terms of tools and technologies, with only a brief mention of aligning projects with business goals. Knowledge of business applications is every bit as important as your technical knowledge. It should command space on your resume,” says Hay.
Hay says learning about business applications is done more as an afterthought and is often treated as preliminary work that must be done before getting on with the real work–the technology piece.
Consider, for example, a healthcare employer who is seeking a database developer for its claims management systems. You have lots of Oracle experience, but the employer uses SQL Server. If you only mention technology, your resume will be lost in the crowd. However, when your resume also describes your claims processing experience, including the fact that you have worked extensively with Common Electronic Data Interchange (CEDI) for Medicare claims, you now stand out from the crowd.
“The wise employer knows that it is much faster, easier and cheaper to teach an Oracle developer to work with SQL Server than to teach a SQL developer about the healthcare industry,” says Hay.
IT Resume Mistake #13: Using a Job Title Instead of Describing the Actual Role
“IT departments have never done a good job of using titles that actually relate to what a person does, and they certainly haven’t kept up with all the changes in technology,” says Hay, who frequently sees IT professionals trying to “live” with the title they were given, despite the fact that it is a complete mismatch for their actual responsibilities.
The title of IT director covers a wide range of responsibilities depending on the size of the organization and their technical initiatives. One IT director might have a small two-person shop and perform the role of a Systems Administrator and IT Project Manager, while another IT director might manage 30 staff members and work at the CIO level. This conflict needs to be resolved in the resume, without misrepresenting the facts.
Here are two examples Hay has provided of how this can be done:
Home Depot April 2010 – Present
Assume additional responsibilities of a Data Architect, overseeing the data governance and data quality programs. Home Depot April 2010 – Present
Data Modeler (actual job role: Data Architect)
Provide oversight for data quality programs to maintain data governance maturity and adherence to business rules.
IT Resume Mistake #14: Not Having Your Resume in PDF Format
For your own security, convert your resume to a PDF document so it can’t be compromised or altered. There are a lot of free options out there, just use Google to search for ‘free PDF editor‘, and if you’re a Word user you can also save your Doc as a PDF. “Your reputation is being emailed around. You need to lock it down,” says Endres.
IT Resume Mistake #15: Long Difficult-to-Scan Paragraphs
The first people looking at most IT resumes are only scanning them. There will be plenty of time to tell your story once you get called but writing a dense paragraph from margin to margin isn’t good,” says Endres. Keep it short and as succinct as possible.
IT Resume Mistake #16: Not Enough Crisp Action Verbs
When recruiters review a technology resume, according to Simpson, one of the things they often do is read through the work history section by quickly by glancing down the left-hand side of the page. They read the first few words of each bullet, then move on to the next one. This snapshot helps them decide whether they should take the time to read the resume more deeply.
The problem is says Simpson, “that in most cases the IT resume has been written with weak language, repetitive verbs, and an overwhelming focus on tactical execution. The solution is crisp language, action verbs, a focus on the results of the execution and how this impacted the company’s top- or bottom-line,” says Simpson.
Rich Hein is a senior writer for CIO.com. He covers IT careers. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.