A resume is an essential self-promotion tool that can make or break the success of your job search. I have seen hundreds of great candidates who don’t get any responses to their poorly written resumes and then bombarded with calls after a resume make-over. Of course it’s difficult to get back into the swing of things when you haven’t had to look for a job in 5+ years. Resume trends have changed and you are listening to conflicting expert opinions getting more and more confused.
Here are some guidelines that work for my clients. I work with hiring managers from variety of leading Chicago companies from most conservative Fortune 500 corporations to non-conventional start-ups.
Think of it is advertising
Think of your resume as a marketing ad for your services, and therefore it’s important that it clearly states what you do and highlights your selling points, yet stays concise enough to capture the attention of your potential buyer. In other words you have limited content and therefore every word matters.
Some of my candidates are determined to fit their resume in one page at all costs. They will use the tiniest font and mash everything together, making a reader get out their glasses. Today we no longer rely on fax machines, resumes are submitted via email or a web link and pages are not at any risk of getting lost. A mid-career IT candidate is expected to have a few-page resume (3 at most, don’t turn this into a memoir), where relevant content is easy to digest. Another thing to keep in mind is your audience, if you want to appeal to a wide range of employers, keep your resume traditional. At times trendy graphics, added color or your photograph with help you stand out, but a risk of turning off some of the more conservative employers. I recommend a clean, black and white document, organized into sections with proper spacing where focal points are highlighted in “bold” and “underlined” text. Keep in mind that some will read your resume on a go, using an Ipad or a smart phone, so select an easy to read font.
Well, let’s start building our ad!
Make yourself accessible
The whole point of advertising is to get a response, so make sure to list every good way of reaching you or learning more about your professional background. So right below your name, state your mobile phone number, email address and a link to your LinkedIn Profile. This is a good place for a link to your professional website, work samples or an online portfolio if you have those of course. Do list your home address, if you live in a relatively central location. However if you live in a remote area and don’t mind a commute, your potential employer might overlook you based on your location. In this case, I suggest skipping the address.
Lose the objective
“Objectives” are out of style like shoulder pads! For Senior Managers, Directors and VPs they have been replaced with “Executive summaries”. They use this section for their overview of recent big picture accomplishments, management methodology and focus. Mid-career IT Candidates should simply skip it to avoid convolution of their resume with fluff.
“Professional Experience” is the key section of your resume. Those IT Candidates that like to compile all of their skills by listing technology they worked with in so-called “Skills” section and then sum-up their job responsibilities in 3 bullet points, are not doing themselves any favors. Hiring managers pay no attentions to the “Skills” section, because they cannot tell when, where and in what capacity you actually used those technical tools. To make sure that your actual experience is presented well I recommend a 3-step-approach.
List the name of the most recent employer, dates of employment. If you were there in contractor capacity, state that in parentheses, it very important to indicate that short-term employment was a contract. If your employer is a sister company, affiliated with a better known organization list both names. Having worked for a well-established institution will automatically put a professional stamp of approval on your candidature.
Right below provide a quick summary about this employer. No more then a few sentences, describing the industry they are in, their size (Global or National presence or the size of the user group) and their technical environment, specific to what you do. This will allow for much better understanding of the responsibilities you will list below, ultimately showing the scale and magnitude what you’ve accomplished.
Now list (in 5-8 bullet points) a full description of your job responsibilities in complete sentences including all technology used in each task. Like “Used “abc” to generate “xyz” reports and distributed changes between our business units nation-wide”. I work with a hiring manager, who told me that lack of technical tools in this section makes him doubt the legitimacy of the entire resume. Another important point is to make sure that everything is spelled correctly (especially the tools you claim expertise with). If you are presently employed, your duties should be listed in present tense, while all former employment is described in past tense. It is amazing how these small details can affect the credibility of your content.
Repeat this for a previous job(s). Be careful employers are most interested in the last 3 years, so this is the job you want to be most detailed about. You want to list no more then 3 jobs or go back no further then 10 years, which-ever makes more sense for your particular situation. If you had 2 jobs in the last 10 years then just list those 2 jobs. However if you’ve done a lot of contracting then list 5 or 6 jobs. Use your best judgment. I had a candidate who listed his jobs back to 1978, because he felt showing 30+ years of experience was going to be advantages. I convinced him that in technical arena, what he did 30 or even 10 years ago doesn’t hold much relevance today, but giving away your age could be harmful. Even though age discrimination is illegal, unfortunately prejudice still exists.
Education… if any
The IT field is the least populated with education snobs; it’s more about what you bring to the table. However do show off your degrees and professional certifications in this section, if you have them. Again be careful with dates. If you specify when you achieved your undergraduate degree, you basically announcing your age, with certain certifications it may suggest they could be expired. It’s totally fine to skip dates if listing them will do more damage then good.
Now we have a comprehensive and crisp overview of your background, that tells the potential employer about how you can be useful. Don’t forget to update your LI profile to reflect this awesome CV and be sure to upload a copy as well. I always suggest to keep updating and polishing your resume even after you land your dream job, since no employment is ever permanent