by Meridith Levinson

What I Learned Screening IT Resumes for’s Makeover

May 24, 20115 mins

Here are the six most common mistakes IT professionals make trying to sell themselves on their resumes.

About a month ago, I asked readers to submit their resumes for a chance to win a resume rewrite from job search website TheLadders.  I received a wave of submissions, and I read every resume that popped into my inbox. In the process, I learned why resume stories are so popular on Most IT professionals don’t know how to sum up their skills and work experiences in a way that sells them for a job.

As one IT professional who submitted her resume wrote in an e-mail to me, “I am still a lot better at technology than I am at marketing myself.” (Ironically, the woman who wrote that had a strong, well-written resume, as did a few other candidates.)

What struck me the most was the number of IT professionals who seem like exceptional candidates for jobs: They’re clearly qualified, possess a ton of useful experience and are skilled in sought-after technologies. The problem? Their resumes do them a disservice simply because these IT professionals don’t know how to articulate what makes them unique, the value they’d bring to hiring organizations, and their key skills and strengths.

In fairness to these IT professionals, zeroing in on what makes them unique and distilling the many accomplishments they’ve achieved and the responsibilities they’ve held is no easy task. I hope the resume rewrite will provide them with a concrete example of how to most effectively showcase their work experience on their resumes. 

The resume makeover is well underway. I expect the story to publish on within the next two weeks. In the meantime, here are six of the most common mistakes I observed in the 20 IT resumes that I screened for the makeover:

1. They don’t emphasize relevant work experience. Several resumes from manager- and director- level IT professionals who are seeking CIO-level positions failed to emphasize the responsibilities and accomplishments appropriate for a CIO role. Specifically, these resumes emphasized tactical, technical work (e.g. software implementations managed, servers consolidated), or they emphasized soft stuff, like their commitment to leadership development.

If they want to prove their mettle for a CIO role, IT managers need to demonstrate on their resumes that tangible, business outcomes have stemmed from their work (e.g. they’ve helped develop new products or services that have opened new markets and created new revenue streams). They also need to show that they’ve developed and implemented strategic plans and satisfied corporate boards, worked effectively with other business executives, and driven complex changes through their organizations.

If they haven’t done these things, they’re not ready to be CIOs.

2. They don’t appropriately prioritize their work. Related to not emphasizing relevant work experience is not listing their responsibilities and accomplishments in order of what would be most impressive to a hiring manager. If you have more than three bullet points under one position, make sure the first three bullets emphasize the responsibilities that are most important to the role for which you’re applying. (You’ll know what’s most important from either the job description or conversations you’ve had with people who know about the open position.) Hiring managers may not read all of your bullet points so you want to make sure the ones they do read address their needs.

3. They fail to explain the business benefits derived from their work.  It’s okay to list tactical, technical projects you’ve managed. But you better explain the impact that project had on the business.  For example, if you created a shared services IT infrastructure team, note how your employer benefitted from the creation of that team. Was money saved? Was internal customer service improved? By how much?

4. They’re repetitive. I came across one resume that included a “Professional Summary” that listed all of the positions one particular IT professional held at each of her employers and the dates she held these positions. This professional summary repeated all the information that was listed under the “Professional Experience” section of her resume, and it took up about a third of the first page of her otherwise strong resume. She could easily remove the “Professional Summary” and begin showcasing some of her impressive work experience on the first page of her resume.

Another IT professional devoted three out of 12 bullet points in the “Career Highlights” section of his resume to his project management experience. He could have condensed them into one bullet and thus saved precious real estate on his resume.

5. They’re not tailored. Some IT professionals struggle with the length of their resume simply because they’re trying to convey too much. Instead of communicating every detail of every project you’ve ever worked on, select the experiences that are most relevant to the job you want and leave everything else on the cutting room floor.

If you have a resume that’s chock full of detail at five or more pages, that’s ok. It’s good to have a document that lists everything you’ve ever done for your own reference. But you don’t want to submit that “resume” when you apply for a job. You want to customize a meta-resume for each job by removing responsibilities that aren’t relevant.  

6. Their work experience doesn’t back up their branding. Many IT professionals try to brand themselves as “leaders” and “strategic” and “visionary” and “innovative.”  They use a “Summary” or “Profile” section of their resume to communicate such qualities. The problem is that the rest of their resumes often don’t substantiate the claims they make about themselves, either because they simply aren’t the strategic, innovative leaders they claim to be, or because they haven’t selected, prioritized or articulated the work experiences that demonstrate those claims.