Whether you work in IT or any competitive field, a resume that doesn't quickly illustrate who you are, what you do and why an employer needs you will be summarily dismissed.
By Rich Hein
Ken Montgomery is the network operations lead with a technology company. He has worked in many different parts and aspects of IT for more than 26 years, but he has spent most of his time in networking. His most recent career goal, however, is to break into senior management and ultimately become a CIO.
His old resume wasn’t cutting it and Montgomery had some clues as to why. “My original resume was very technically oriented. It was good at ticking off success from a technical perspective, but it didn’t come across with any leadership aspect to it, and it was a tired and old format,” says Montgomery.
He was getting plenty of interviews with his original resume and he’s good at turning those interviews around, but the positions that he was being offered were more on the technical side.
He knew that he needed to change the resume from a more technical focus to a management one–and along the way he needed to bring the overall formatting into the present tense. To help him achieve his goal, CIO.com paired Montgomery with a returning veteran to the IT Resume Makeover series.
IT Career Strategist and Resume Writer Stephen Van Vreede
Stephen Van Vreede of ITTechExec.com has more than a decade of experience helping IT people with personal branding, resumes and career strategies. He also moderates a Twitter chat geared at helping IT people with common job search problems and questions.
With a quick look, Van Vreede could see there were some problems that could be potentially holding Montgomery back. He knew what needed to be done and agreed to again enter the fray and offer his assistance in this public forum.
IT Resume Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Too Many Bullet Points
At first glance, Van Vreede noticed that each item with Montgomery’s original resume was a bullet point. “In his resume everything had a bullet point. One of the myths out there is that people like to read bulleted statements. While that’s a true to a certain extent, a common mistake is that people list every thought with a bullet,” says Van Vreede. The purpose of a bullet point, according to Van Vreede, is to draw the readers to a few select spots on the page, so to list everything with a bullet point is kind of defeating their purpose.
The result: “There was no differentiation between his regular job duties, projects and major achievements. The first few people in the interview process who look at your resume will likely just scan it for a few moments,” says Van Vreede.
With that in mind, Van Vreede knew he needed to control where readers gravitate to when they are doing a quick review. “Initially you may have 30 seconds and we want to influence where their eyes go because we want them to learn about Ken’s achievements first, and then the regular job details they can read about later when getting ready for the interview. To secure the interview, it’s better that they read the meaty stuff first,” says Van Vreede.
Not Clear What Level of Job the Candidate Was Looking For
One of the other flaws in Montgomery’s resume is that it wasn’t stated clearly what type of job he was looking to secure. “There doesn’t need to be a formal objective statement–that is kind of passé in today’s resume world–but there still needs to be something to communicate to the reader the type of role that you want to be considered for. We had no idea whether he was looking for an IT manager position or something with voice and data network design,” says Van Vreede. It really wasn’t pulling off a senior management or C-level vibe.
To resolve this, Van Vreede created a header at the top of the summary section. This piece makes it clear to potential employers the level of work that Montgomery is looking for. “It frames the whole document so they understand what it is he is going for and how they should be considering him,” says Van Vreede.
No Branding Statement
The next item that Van Vreede tackled was that the brand message, or value proposition, was nowhere to be found. This short statement lets the reader know what differentiates you from all the other people who do the same job you do.
The purpose of the branding statement, says Van Vreede, is to get the resume-reader’s attention quickly. “In a five- or six-second period of time, it says, ‘here is why you should be interested in me.’ So not only did he not include what type of role he was going for, he also didn’t make a good business case for employers to call him.”
Van Vreede created a brand message that illustrated what Montgomery wanted to be known for doing. The message he created illustrates a solid business case for why employers want Montgomery on their team. He also tied the brand message statement to achievements that were relevant.
“The branding statement is a strong piece for him [Montgomery]. It helps him clarify his message. It will really help him in his verbal messaging as well,” says Van Vreede. A strong elevator pitch will usually include this information and is essential to job seekers who want to get ahead. Know what you do best and how to articulate that clearly.
Van Vreede also created two strong summary statements, one that highlighted Montgomery’s technical integration highlights and another that spoke to his leadership ability and style. “This gives readers some insight into the approach he takes leading IT teams and so forth,” says Van Vreede.
His Resume Was Too Long
Montgomery had a three-page document, but page 1 was all kinds of profiles and summaries. For example, there were five bullets talking about general stuff and personal attributes. There were a few achievements, which was good, but then there was all this career history, certifications, education and hobbies.
“What that tells most people who are doing a quick review of the resume is that this is the information you are basing your candidacy on. That you are holding your education, your hobbies and some of those things in higher esteem than the real meat of your work history,” says Van Vreede.
According to Van Vreede’s method, you need to begin your work history on page 1. Whether it’s recruiters or hiring managers, what they will do, according to Van Vreede, is spend a brief amount of time on your profile, but then they want to know what you are currently doing and involved with and what you have done. If they can’t find it on page 1, many will likely just move on to the next resume. “It’s that simple for them to pass you by,” says Van Vreede.
To resolve this issue, Van Vreede laid out the new resume in a different format putting the information that employers, recruiters and hiring managers are most after right on page 1. These included the header, the brand statement and his most recent professional experiences.
“Often times the achievements weren’t fully developed,” says Van Vreede. Whether it’s cost savings or some other benefit to the organization, the original resume didn’t tell the full story of Montgomery’s achievements. For example, if he was writing about a technical project, he may have talked about the benefits from a technical standpoint, but he didn’t take it one step further and explain how that helped the business.
“This is a common problem with tech professionals. They think in terms of ‘here is the good part for the tech organization,’ but they don’t ask themselves, ‘Why is IT or the technology group really here?’ It’s to better support the business operation as a whole. You always want to tie back what the benefit of the project was to the organization or the business not just the technical benefit,” says Van Vreede.
It Was Too Technical Oriented for Management Roles
This illustrates another problem created when approaching IT achievements and resumes. “CIO’s and hiring execs struggle when candidates are too hands-on or too technical. They worry because they need someone who is able to step back and approach things at a strategic level and not get caught up in all the day-to-day fires. If you are always putting out fires, you can’t think strategically,” says Van Vreede.
To better frame the resume for management positions, Van Vreede took the basic overview of Montgomery’s jobs and framed them in paragraph style and reserved the bullet points for communicating specific achievements. “We tried to add a quantifiable benefit to each initiative where possible,” says Van Vreede.
He then took the top two-three achievements and laid them out in the text boxes. Montgomery and Van Vreede both agreed that the text box callouts were a nice touch. “In that initial review, we wanted to enhance the visual appeal. Even if we only get five seconds extra [from a reader] to read some of these highlights, that can make a huge impact,” says Van Vreede.
Ken was thrilled with the final result and he now has a laser focus on what he is looking for. “I think we did a great job putting something together that’s very visible and highlighted my best successes,” says Montgomery.
However, he notes, there are some lingering doubts when you go from a three-page document that had all your skills down to a two-page document. “You think, wait a minute maybe there’s stuff missing in here, but this one [new resume] focuses on my leadership successes. It gets a way from this techie-network-guy resume to a guy who can align his skills with the business needs to be a success,” says Montgomery.
Overall it was a positive experience for all involved. “Ken was great to work with and was open to any changes in terms of taking a new approach with his resume,” says Van Vreede.
*Van Vreede does caution users about using this style or format when applicant-tracking systems are involved. “You have to be careful about how your data gets parsed. For example, some systems will remove text boxes completely. This could potentially strip out keywords or achievements. His solution is to also have a text-only version of the resume to use when applying through an applicant-tracking systems or websites.
If you’d like to participate in the resume makeover please drop us an email with Resume Makeover 2013 in the subject and your resume attached. While many people will email us, only a few will be chosen.