IT Career JumpStart

Feb 25 2011   5:00PM GMT

Resume Tips from the Trenches

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As part of my “friendly services” to Microsoft Certified Career Conference attendees who bothered to drop in on my post-presentation Q&A sessions last week, I volunteered to provide feedback on about half-a-dozen different resumes during either or both of those sessions. Here are my collective observations on what I’ve seen (and missed) in those documents as I’ve labored through them to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.

The Good

  • Much to my delight and amazement, I saw only two typographical errors in the entire batch I looked at. This is a much better average result than resumes I used to review back when I was hiring people, as recently as four years ago. Maybe it’s a better spelling checker, or maybe it’s better attention to detail. Either way, kudos to one and all!
  • Every single resume was two pages in length, or shorter (no one pagers, though). I’m a firm believer in shorter is better when it comes to a resume. You can always get more details into a cover letter and/or the interview, if you simply must share them with others.
  • Most of the language was spare, concise, and very focused. This is another aspect of the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to resumes. You’re not writing a novel, you’re trying to cram as much useful, cogent information into two pages as you possibly can. Keep it short and tightly focused.

The Bad

  • I didn’t see enough short, concise summaries or professional objectives in those resumes, and several that had them didn’t put them at the head of the resume right below the contact information block. That’s an essential part of any good resume (keep it to one paragraph of no more than 5-6 lines, please) and it should come right at the top to give it some punch when a reader digs into that document.
  • The resumes I reviewed tended to list job functions very briefly in the job details/employment history section (for example “managed Windows Server 2003 and 2003 R2 servers” rather than “installed, configured, and maintained Windows Server 2003 and 2003 R2 servers, including applications and services such as DNS, IIS, and Symantec Endpoint Security”). Yeah, I know, this makes a resume longer, but employers want to know what kinds of things candidates have done, as much about systems and services they’ve worked with as possible, and what kinds of problems they have solved. Try to cover accomplishments in your resume, as well as a laundry list of technology checkboxes, please!
  • Several of the resumes went into plans for future certifications and degrees.  A resume is not the place to talk about your plans for the future: it’s where you talk about what you know, what you can do, what certifications you hold, what degrees you’ve earned, and so forth. Save that kind of stuff for your cover letter and/or the interview, too.

The Ugly

  • Lots of resumes are hard to read. Have somebody look at your resume from a layout and readability perspective, please! I probably spent more time changing headings to put borders around them to make them stand out, and centering heading copy to make it stand out more on the page than any other single activity in editing resumes submitted for my review than I spent doing anything else.
  • Set up your formatting so that tabs do what they’re supposed to: position copy  precisely. In every single one of the resumes I saw, candidates simply tabbed until they got close to where they wanted to put copy and left it at that. Right-click the tab entries in Word, and you can change tab style (left-aligned, right-aligned, center-aligned, or decimal). Use this functionality to put things exactly where they should go, and to use no more tabs than you need. Seriously! This shows attention to detail, and a good understanding of Word that most hiring managers and HR professionals will notice and appreciate. No, really!! I’m not joking about this…
  • Several IT professionals with Web design or graphics skills turned in completely textual, ho-hum layouts for their resumes. Come on, folks! If you do design or graphics, don’t you think some of that stuff should show in a resume? Don’t just talk about what you can do, show something! Even non-graphics types should drop a small photo of themselves into their title block/contact info, and consider the odd graphical element here or there. If you’re certified, for example, you’re entitled to use the cert logo on business cards or elsewhere. A resume is a good case for “elsewhere.” Do it!

 

A resume title with photo is easy to set up

A resume title with photo is easy to set up

I hope these observations will help others, and I encourage you to get as much feedback on your resumes as possible. More eyeballs and more input can’t help but result in a better-looking and better-reading resume. That’s what everybody wants, right?

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