by Rich Hein

IT Resume Makeover: Advice for the Tech Pro Who’s Done It All

Jan 24, 20136 mins
CareersCIOIT Jobs

In's latest Resume Makeover, executive career coach Donald Burns works with an IT professional who's won awards, worked for Fortune 500 companies, pharmaceutical businesses and in the government sector. The challenge: His resume was just a running list of the jobs he's held. The goal: make his most impressive skills stand out.

In a world full of noise, competition and short attention spans, your resume has to say a lot quickly.

Your resume is a marketing tool for your personal brand and the first impression that hiring managers, recruiters and HR reps see of you. Suffice it to say, you need to get it right to successfully compete against the horde of IT professionals out there.

IT Resume makeover Image

Misspellings, unexplained employment gaps, or a simple list of past positions and responsibilities are all potential red flags that can make the decision-makers push your resume into the “no” pile or make it go unnoticed completely.

Enter Arnold Stern

Meet Arnold Stern (not his real name). Stern has a long and successful career as an IT professional, an innovator and a problem-solver. He’s won awards, worked for Fortune 500 companies and pharmaceutical companies. Most recently, he was recruited into a government IT role where was asked to untangle some particularly complex issues. Stern was feeling the itch to again find a new challenge in the private sector and decided it was time to update his resume.

Link to Stern’s old IT resume. heard the call and paired Stern with veteran and award-winning executive career coach Donald Burns, who’s also a returning guest to the makeover series. Burns initial thoughts: “I could tell this was something he did years ago and he had just kept adding to it,” says Burns, who added that is a common occurrence in his experience.

People build a resume and then continue to add new positions to it. “It looked very bland and nothing stood out. I hoped there was something good in here and there was,” says Burns.

Interview Process

The next step was to get Burns and Stern together for a conversation to nail down some important details. Burns notes that the interview is one of the most important parts of the process for him. Uncovering the story behind Stern’s past positions, the reasons why an employer would want to hire him and where he wanted to go was what Burns was looking for. “Sometimes the most unsuspecting people have the best stories,” says Burns, and that was the case with Stern.

Burns’ IT Resume Strategy

Make your resume function like an ad. It needs to read fast with key items highlighted. All items should be short–one to three sentences at the most. The goal is to make it easy to read or scan. Five or 10 seconds is all it should take. Once it gets beyond three to five lines people may try to digest it, but will be more difficult, according to Burns.

Obstacles and Solutions

The first problem Burns found once he spoke with Stern, “He had all kinds of information that wasn’t on here [old resume],” says Burns. This is why the live conversation is critical to the process. “I do it as a simulation of an interview,” says Burns. Speaking to Stern, he was able to unearth some impressive achievements in his career, some of which weren’t included on his old resume at all and others that were buried in the text. “Sometimes the best people somehow package themselves in a bad way and they fall through the cracks,” says Burns.

Next issue: The wrong items were highlighted. “Sometimes people latch onto credentials. It’s bad to bury your best material,” says Burns. Knowing that there is a limited amount of space, Burns began the transformation by creating a menu of items he would include in the new resume. Then he began the work of packaging those items in a way that was concise.

Tip: Once you have the content you want, you can start thinking about how to format it. Keep it short and concise. That is, only 1-3 sentences when possible.

Next, Burns took a closer look at Sterns resume and noted that it was text-heavy and that nothing really stood out. “He had a lot of text on the old resume, but it wasn’t saying a lot… If you have something that looks like the small print on a phone bill, no one is going to read it,” says Burns.

Your resume needs to be compelling because it’s a single document that represents you to potential employers. The most important part of the resume, according to Burns, is the headline and the text right under it. “If the reader isn’t sold, there won’t be a connection.” That said, Burns took a more aggressive approach on the new resume by adding four bullets near the top.

Using information gleaned from the interview process, Burns highlighted Stern’s most impressive achievements and brought them to the forefront. These were items Burns thought a potential employer would take notice of. “You have to capture something memorable,” says Burns. You’re going up against a slew of other qualified people and you have to make a statement that will help you stand apart.

Another issue that needed resolution was that there were items that were too old on his resume. Stern has had a long career in IT and was including items that were no longer relevant. Burns decided to limit Stern’s positions and achievements to the last 15 years.

Tip: If anything on your resume is older than 10 years, you may need to analyze if it speaks to the role you are shooting for. If you feel an older position is important and would like to include it, do so in the summary.

Link to Stern’s New IT resume.

With the heavy lifting done, Burns turned over the updated to resume to Stern, who was most appreciative. Stern’s reaction: “It’s the same information delivered differently. Mine [old resume] was just an accumulation of experiences over time. This one brings my best experiences to the front,” says Stern.

Final IT Resume Tip

A resume is designed to do one thing–get your foot in the door. “It’s important that somebody can eyeball it in five seconds, that the headlines stand out and [employers] can make a determination that this is good candidate. That will lead to an interview, which is the real job of the resume. If you look at Stern’s new resume for five seconds, you’ll see a lot of accomplishments there. An employer would be eager to interview him,” says Burns.

Are you a senior IT professional who’d like to participate in the resume makeover series? If yes, please drop the author an email with resume makeover 2013 in the subject line.

Rich Hein is a senior writer for He covers IT careers. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.