Common IT Resume Writing Mistakes
By Jennifer Hay

Are you tired of the same old resume writing advice that could relate to just about any industry? Well, so am I so here are the primary reasons that IT resumes underperform.

Mistake #1: Too Much Technology

Why do job seekers flood their resumes with so many deep technical details, tools, and technologies that it’s difficult to distinguish their achievements separate from the technology they used? While it’s important to include your technical capabilities, you’ll want both technical hiring managers and nontechnical HR managers to understand what you’ve done.

A good practice is to select your top 5-6 tools that are most important in your career search and then integrate those tools into your resume. Your remaining tools and technologies can be added in a separate section on your resume titled “Technical Profile” or “Technology Skills.”

Here is an example of an achievement statement that actually mentions quite a bit of technology.

  • Developed a hybrid strategy to keep costs down; used data center hardware with SAN deployment for high-availability data, and cloud-based storage with Amazon S3 and Box.com for backup and archival.

Here is an example of an achievement statement that describes quite a few capabilities without focusing on the specific technology.

  • Applied analytical process, as Site Manager, to plan and design new components for complex, multi-tier application suite with $1.6 million annual budget. Enabled administrative staff to perform technical activities such as data manipulation, data management, and data exchange.

Mistake #2: Resume Length

When writing their resume, IT professionals will often rely on the advice they encounter for nontechnical resumes, advice that doesn’t necessarily relate to their circumstances. One case in point relates to the length of their resume. For hands-on IT professionals, it’s often not realistic to limit a resume to 2 pages. I commonly write resumes that are 2-3 pages long, with the 3rd page containing education, certifications, and a technical profile.

Technical Detail: Your resume needs to appeal to both HR managers and technical hiring managers. For HR you should include what you did and why you did it, but technical hiring managers aren’t satisfied with this minimal description. They want to know how you did it, and in some cases what technology you used. Providing this information takes up space.

Certifications and Professional Development: There are few industries where ongoing certifications and professional development are so crucial. Listing these items on your resume takes up even more space.

Technology Profile: Hiring managers want to know with which technologies you have current skills and recent experience. Even if you remove the old technologies, most IT professionals still have a long list of tools, processes, and methodologies to include. This can also take up a lot of space!

Mistake #3: Don’t Have an Updated Career Brand

All too often, I see technical resumes that still focus around the theme of saving time, money, and other resources. Although this might have been a persuasive way of branding yourself several years ago, that is no longer the case. IT is “expected” to save money, and lots of it, by streamlining processes, consolidating databases, and eliminating redundancies. So why would you want to make it the primary theme in your resume?

As we emerge from the recession, businesses want to be agile and responsive to rapid change. They want IT to be a partner in enabling them to identify new market opportunities, identify new innovations, and develop a competitive strategy. This means that an IT professional who can go beyond the standard value statements — improve business processes, fix hardware and software issues, and improve security to mitigate threats — differentiates themselves from the pack.

To stay at the forefront of the IT industry, job seekers need to continually reevaluate their career brand. Now, more than ever before, their resume needs to demonstrate how they provide the value that truly matters to a business. Hiring managers want specifics, not overly generalized statements about aligning with the business’ needs. Tell me how!

Mistake #4: Outdated Tools and Technologies

One of the most common mistakes I see is when IT professionals leave really old technology in their resume because they aren’t sure what to remove. The obvious answer is to remove anything that is no longer used. After that, it becomes less obvious.

There are 3 primary career paths for IT professionals:

  • those that focus on emerging or very current technologies
  • those that focus on high-legacy technologies, such as COBOL
  • those that are somewhere in between, bridging the gap between high legacy and emerging.

What technologies you include in your resume depends on your current path. Some older technologies are still widely used today. Where these technologies overlap with your experience and ability, you’ll need to give it some careful thought. There are employers who do care about your ability to program in COBOL. But do you want to be a COBOL programmer again? Most companies have legacy systems that someone has to operate, maintain, and enhance. If you decide to stop chasing technologies and step back from technology’s leading edge, that someone could be you. It’s a choice, but be clear about your motivations. It will impact your career.

Mistake #5: Use the Wrong Resume Format

There are two resume formats that can be used for technical resumes — chronological and hybrid. IT hiring managers want to know what you did, for whom, and during what time frame, and they’re typically focused on the last 7-8 years of employment. They want to understand the technical environment in which the person worked, including the size and complexity of the IT department. This means that functional resume formats that are designed to minimize job and skills gaps are not a good choice for technical positions.

The reasoning behind this is that there are few industries that have changed as radically as technology, so describing an achievement in 2013 has a completely different technical and business context than something that was achieved years earlier. For those of us who remember Y2K, it was about bit sizes for storing dates; nowadays, we’re taking about the real-time analysis of big data with the velocity and volume of unstructured data in the gigabits.

Mistake #6: Don’t Connect Achievements

I often see IT professionals listing each of their achievements as a single event, without trying to make a connection between projects. Since many IT departments follow technology blueprints designed to modernize the technical landscape over time, it’s a lost opportunity when they don’t connect with these overall strategic plans. Other plans that are more tactical can also offer a connection with the planning process.

As you can see, if each of the below achievements was listed individually they would not have the same impact as they do when showing this 30-60-90 day plan. When reading this resume, you can almost hear the sound of each achievement being checked off—Boom! Boom! Boom! Wouldn’t you want this professional on your team?

  • Selected to serve in an interim role as Associate Director to mitigate business risk and stabilize transition to an outsourced model for application development and infrastructure operations. Resolved stakeholder conflicts by quickly creating tangible targets for a 30-60-90 day plan that would produce immediate benefits.
  • 30 days out — Created a more realistic project-demand model to allocate sufficient resources for project work, eliminating missed commitments. Worked with IO Leads and business users to ensure sustainability.
  • 60 days out — Developed a transparent process for communicating information about project prioritization and resource allocation, eliminating the view of IT as a black box.
  • 90 days out — Implemented a cost-management model for managing program costs.

Mistake #7: Too Modest About Achievements

Many professionals in IT are quite modest about their achievements so they tend to include only the barest details on their resumes, which are typically just about the technical results. With so many projects being implemented by thousands of other IT professionals, this does not make them stand out from the crowd.

When an IT professional goes beyond just the end result and instead thinks in terms of how they were able to achieve the results within a challenging business and technical context, then they become unique. IT resumes that tell a straightforward story that connects with both the value to the business and the value to the technical environment, and to team efforts, are memorable. Oftentimes, this story begins with why the project was funded.

Mistake #8: Discount Important Business Knowledge

IT professionals tend to discount their business applications knowledge. They see their value in terms of expertise with tools and technologies, with only a brief mention of aligning the outcome of their project with business goals. It’s really done as an afterthought. Learning about business applications is often treated as preliminary work that must be done before getting on with the real work — the technology piece.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The prospective employer knows the value of business and applications knowledge. Knowledge of business applications is every bit as important as your technical knowledge. It should command space on your resume. Consider, for example, a healthcare employer who is seeking a database developer for their claims management systems. You have lots of Oracle experience, but the employer uses SQL Server. If you only mention technology, your resume will be lost in the crowd. However, when your resume also describes your claims processing experience, including the fact that you have worked extensively with Common Electronic Data Interchange (CEDI) for Medicare claims, you now stand out from the crowd. The wise employer knows that it is much faster, easier, and cheaper to teach an Oracle developer to work with SQL Server, than to teach a SQL developer about the healthcare industry.

Mistake #9: Don’t Age Achievements Gracefully

In addition to leaving too much old technology on the resume, I often see IT resumes with too many details about job experience that is no longer relevant. For the simple reason that the industry changes so rapidly, IT resumes require updates far more frequently than other industries. Even something done 3-4 years ago is “dated.” As a general rule, IT professionals should routinely review their resumes every 6 months.

Remember that older experience should set the foundation for understanding why the person is good at what they do now. As your achievement statements age, use the following steps:

  • first of all, remove the tools and technologies
  • secondly, remove the technical details
  • thirdly, remove the primary achievement
  • fourthly, remove the position

Mistake #10: Don’t Describe the Actual Job Role

IT departments have never done a very good job of using titles that actually relate to what a person does, and they certainly haven’t kept up with all the changes in technology. I frequently see IT professionals trying to “live” with the title they were given, despite the fact that it is a complete mismatch for their actual responsibilities.

As we all know, the title of IT director can cover a wide range of responsibilities depending on the size of the organization and their technical initiatives. One IT director might have a small 2-person shop and perform the role of a Systems Administrator and IT Project Manager, while the other person might manage 30+ staff members and work at the CIO level. This conflict needs to be resolved in the resume, without misrepresenting the facts.

Here are two examples of how this can be done:

Home Depot      April 2010 – Present

Data Modeler

Assume additional responsibilities of a Data Architect, overseeing the data governance and data quality programs.

Home Depot      April 2010 – Present

Data Modeler (actual job role: Data Architect)

Provide oversight for data quality programs to maintain data governance maturity and adherence to business rules.

About Jennifer Hay

IT Resume Writer, LI Profile Writer, and Data and Information Career Advisor
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