The ten commandments of resume writing for IT professionals
In this blog, I hope to help the Toronto IT Professionals to improve the effectiveness of their resumes. Whether you are in management roles such as a Project Manager or technical roles such as a Java developer, these common rules should apply to you equally. I will also point out exceptions where the rules may vary slightly from a PM to a DBA or a creative graphic design artist.
Resume writing is more difficult than it seems, especially for hands-on technical professionals, such as an Azure Cloud DevOps developer. We, technical folks, are used to doing things intrinsically and therefore may not value the details of our work in a way that they need to be detailed in our resume, especially for those readers who are not technical but could be evaluating our resume.
Note that I said, us, technical folks. Yes, I may be a businessman now, but I started as a developer and at heart, I am still a techie in a suit. Well, no more suits since COVID, but you get my point.
(1) Know who you are
What is a resume for? Is it to get you a job or an IT Contract Job? Yes, but before that, it needs to grab the attention of the reader. Most readers, especially in the online world, do not want to spend too much time reading a resume. Imagine a manager who receives twenty resumes of four pages each. What would you do in their shoes if you have urgent matters to attend to? They will have to filter quickly. Therefore, they will look for something that jumps at them right away or they will file (park) your resume.
To grab the reader’s attention right away, you need to know who you are or in other words, know exactly what services or skills you can provide for them. If you are listing more than three, then we have a challenge. A project manager, for example, will list their certification (ex: PMP®) and Agile, Scrum Master if they have such related expertise and then the industry or category of their projects such as Infrastructure, System Integration, Cloud Migration, or else. Once that is established, the PM can detail the most recent projects delivered. Therefore, I am a senior Agile project manager with ten years of experience with infrastructure projects within the financial industry, which would be a good start. This one line says enough to clearly define who you are.
(2) Be honest with yourself
You are honest of course because most people are in the right situation. However, people tend to doubt themselves often. That is more so in tough economic conditions. Also, lack of knowledge of the market, or fear of rejection, or disappointment for not being appreciated, or lack of experience, and our past experiences, tend to give us an overdose of assumptions. Therefore, be honest with what you know and what you do not. That will save you time and a lot of disappointment.
Hiring managers value when you confidently tell them NO. If they ask you about AngularJS and you don’t have it, say NO – I do not have experience coding in Angular, but I am well-read on it and I can pick it up quickly if you think, etc.… If they ask you if you are a backend developer and you are not, then calmly say, “I regret to say no. I am a front-end developer with UI-UX experience. I have worked with back-end developers on projects, etc.” something like that. Sometimes, the question may be a test. At other times, they may like your direct and honest attitude and refer you to someone in need of your skills. Do the same when writing resumes. Do not add keywords related to your field but focus on your actual knowledge and expertise. The more the number of keywords the less the focus. You need focus. If you like to add keywords for search engines, that is keywords that are part of your work environment, then have a separate section for technical knowledge and bundle those at the bottom of the resume.
Do not add nontangible items to your resume. These are contents such as, “the management was very impressed with my work”. It is non-tangible because you cannot show it in your resume. However, if you talk about what you have delivered as a result, then that is a fact. For example, I have migrated five thousand exchange users from on-premise to O365. You should not say “I am a great communicator” because your writing, the clarity, and the format of your resume should say that without words.
(3) Know your key expertise
Here I intend to talk about the professional summary or brief section (the pitch) of your resume. Of course, you know your expertise but perhaps not off the top of your head. Let us say you are a CRM consultant. Then, are you a functional consultant or a technical consultant? What CRM products have you worked with? Let us say it is Microsoft Dynamics that you have extensive experience configuring and customizing for the retail industry. The next question is which versions of MS Dynamics you have experience with? Would it be Cloud Dynamics 365 or on-premise Dynamics? Perhaps you have worked with both and have gone through upgrades or Migration from on-premises to Cloud version of Dynamics. That is great then. Your job is very simple. Only talk about Dynamics CRM and do not put a lot of intangible bullets in your resume that add noise to it.
Say you have over twenty years of experience with over a dozen IT tools. Let me simplify this for you and perhaps you can pick three key expertise to focus on. Why three? Because when you have thirty seconds or half a page to attract attention, you need to be focused. First, pick your job function. Are you a Java Architect or a Developer? Do not be both. You can say Architect but down in project details, you can demonstrate that you have a development background.
What have you done in the last five years? Then that is your key skill. What we did twenty years ago, does not have too much relevance. I programmed in Cobol thirty years ago, but I cannot write a single line, nor do I want to, today. I also delivered pizza as a student forty years ago. Focus on recent more than not so recent experience.
If you are an architect, are you a Java architect, or are you a completely different kind such as a solution architect or a security architect, or an infrastructure architect? Be specific, be focused, and be confident.
(4) Know your audience
This is a tough one. When you have a generic resume for online postings (ex: Indeed, Linked-In, Monster, etc.) then that resume must be more generic. That resume must focus on high-level experiences and not be too detailed. Because too much detail can eliminate you from an interview request. It is impossible to represent your ten or more years of experience completely and accurately on a few pages. Therefore, you want your resume to be your Marketing Pitch, a teaser, enough to grab their attention and get you the interview.
When you are sending a resume to someone specific, then you need to customize the resume to that person’s knowledge. Also, you should customize to some extent the content of the resume to the job if you know what that is. Let us say you are a project manager applying to a job specifically requesting experience with Banking. Then you would want to expand on your banking experience, assuming you have it.
(5) Know your competition
Marketing yourself is no different than marketing anything else. It is always good to be aware of your competitive landscape. This is especially true with independent consultants trying to market themselves at a fair rate. A little research on the market searching for open jobs can give you a sense of how readily available your skills are on the local market. COVID and the adoption of digital computing have created a sudden demand for certain technical skills such as full-stack developers, Angular developers, UI and UX (User Interface and User Experience) designers and developers, and many others. Hence, if you have such expertise, you need to detail and focus them on your resume and learn to market yourself to better clients at a better rate.
(6) Keep the format simple
Resume format and clarity of content tell a lot about the person of the resume. The objective of the format should be to highlight your “key skills” clearly and quickly be it soft or hard skills. Unless you are in a creative role, such as a graphic designer or perhaps a UX designer, the format should be all about clarity. The font should be legible to the average eye, the white space should be generous, and the job and company headings should be evident. The format tells a story about the person, for example, whether he or she is structured and orderly.
(7) Balance marketing pitch vs technical facts
You are a technical IT professional. Your job is to deal with logic and facts. Therefore, make certain your resume is factual and accurate. There must be a good balance between marketing (ex: I am a team worker; I am an excellent communicator) and facts (ex: I was responsible for building the user interface “UI” or I have designed the Database for the Artificial Intelligence “AI” engine). The less marketing pitch there is, the quicker the reader can get to the meat or the facts about your skills. Of course, a Project Manager may need a different balance of marketing (ex: I was able to work through multiple conflicting stakeholder interests. This may also be a fact but can only be verified during an interview).
(8) Thou shall not commit spelling sins
We all sin occasionally, but confession cannot help your resume. Some readers may be more lenient towards a developer for spelling errors; however, the same person may be very harsh on a business analyst for the same spelling error (ex: design vs. design – even though it is an obvious typo). If you can, find a friend or a professional who is a writer to review your resume for grammatical and spelling correctness. I cannot possibly emphasize enough the importance of spelling correctness.
(9) Be accurate (names, company, etc.)
When stating your name, job role, and employer names, please be very accurate. Some professionals can magnify the most innocent inaccuracy. If you have a common name, include your middle name in parenthesis on top. If you have a nickname, include your given name in parenthesis or vice versa. For example, write Bill (Huang) Chan instead of Bill Chan or state William (Matthew) Johnson instead of Bill Johnson. The legal name on your government ID should be stated in your resume. Regarding company names, consider that Rogers Cable, Rogers Sports & Media, and Rogers Wireless are all part of Rogers Communications. However, it never hurts to be accurate about the actual company division or branch that hired you.
(10) Get someone honest to review your resume
You read your resumes very differently than others because you know the details and the context of your work. However, when an HR person or a technical manager reads your resume, he or she will not have the full appreciation of the depth of experience or the subject matter context of your experience. Therefore, get someone removed from your network to read your resume. That is someone in a different profession or an HR professional if you know one. Perhaps an experienced recruiter can take the time to read your resume. If they do and provide you with feedback, make certain to thank them. You never know when you need them. Most recruiters do not charge to review good resumes, so you can ask more than one for their input and compare notes.
About The author
Bud Derakhshani is an IT professional with over thirty years of experience working in Canada and the rest of the Americas. He is the founder and managing director at Yoush Consulting. Soon after graduating from York University with an Honours in Computer Science, he started his career as an independent consultant. He was indeed a pioneer at a time where the average employee spent fourteen years or more with a company. linkedin.com/in/budderakhshani