Debunking IT Resume Myths

By Jennifer Hay

The typical job searcher is deluged with suggestions as to how they can improve their resume. Avoiding the bad advice is particularly difficult when you don’t know who to believe. The large job sites are compelled to produce reams of articles about how to write resumes. Much of it isn’t original thought, but regurgitated material used from one article to the next. Most often, the person who writes these articles is not an actual resume writer, but is someone who is obligated day in and day out to create articles about resume writing.

Here are some examples I have come across in various articles. The author(s) recommended removing each of the items in the list below. I have provided explanations for each as to why this is not necessarily a clear cut case or a best practice.

1)     Use a PDF formatted version of your resume so it always retains its consistent look and for security reasons.

Many Applicant Tracking Systems do not adequately parse from a PDF formatted resume so this means that your resume may appear garbled. Do you really want to take that chance?  Also, unless you’ve had your head your head under a rock you know that freeware to break the password of a PDF document is just a click away.

2)     Avoid ‘Responsible for…’ because each bullet item should start with an active verb to show the people in action.

Sometimes, you have a list of tasks that are really important to include in your resume but you don’t want to take up a lot of valuable space. The following bullet items are good examples of how this can be done effectively.

  • Responsibilities include feature design, product development, testing, and documentation, for high speed utilities used to manage DB2 databases that run on the z/OS platform.
  • P&L responsibility for launch and support of SaaS product into a private, cloud environment.
  • Directly accountable for manufacturing, laboratory, engineering, product development, and production control.

3)     Avoid ‘Problem Solver’ because it’s very generic and overused.

I agree that it’s generally not a good idea to utilize generic and overused phrases, but the fact is that many people choose IT because they have great problem solving skills. I resolve this particular dilemma by using the phrase and following it with a specific example of a problem the person solved.

  • Tenacious problem solver, took over a failing project and resolved issues with inaccurate discrepancy reporting. Rewrote physical inventory process to easily input data, locate discrepancies, and identify recounts.

4)     Avoid spelling/grammar/punctuation mistakes

If I read one more article that advises people to avoid spelling mistakes in a resume, I am going to scream! Everyone already knows that. In an unofficial survey, searching on “resume writing mistakes” I found that 60% of these articles mention spelling and grammar errors. Yes, it’s still important, but most of the time it just doesn’t  have the relevance it did in the past. Think about it — people are more likely to misuse a word than misspell it, due to the widespread use of spell check. These misuses are difficult to find.

And seriously, if I were to quiz most people about grammar and punctuation they would fail miserably.

If kept to a very minimum, I just don’t believe these issues are deal breakers for many hiring managers. Yes, you may irritate some of them who are sticklers for spelling and punctuation, but not as many as you might think.

However, if you are at higher management levels — CIO/CTO, IT Director, or IT Manager, then you should make a distinct effort to get everything correct.

5)     Avoid ‘results driven’ because everyone is expected to deliver results.

Well, there are results and then there are RESULTS. As an IT professional, you know that it’s often difficult to define the quantitative business value that you’ve delivered, unless there happens to be a cost savings involved. When you expand your focus to include the technical value you’ve provided, then it opens up a lot of possibilities. For one of my clients, I used a Before and After table to show their great technical achievements. In the actual resume, this list contained 6 items.

Results-driven DBA, for one of the largest credit card processors in the world.

Before

After

3 unscheduled database outages that each lasted over 24 hours Zero unscheduled outages from 2007 to present
11TB database took 20 hours to backup and over 24 hours to restore 11TB database takes one minute to backup and 15-30 minutes to restore

6)     Never write a resume that is longer than one page. Never write a resume that is longer than two pages.

Recent research by the highly respected Career Directors International Professional Association discovered that a resume longer than 2 pages is fine, as long as the content is relevant. People scan the first page and if they like what they see, they’ll move on to page two. If they like what they see on page two, they’ll move on to page three. Just make sure your most important information is located within the first two pages.

When researching resume tips, you’ll find postings from people who are adamant that they would never consider hiring someone with a resume longer than 2 pages. Does that sound like a logical approach to you? Thankfully, these people are definitely in the minority.

Furthermore, imagine trying to reduce a resume for an IT professional, with 8-10 years of experience, to a mere 2 pages. Where would you put their certifications, professional development, technology profile, and technical details? In any case, Applicant Tracking Systems don’t care about the length of your resume.

7)     Avoid non-dynamic words, such as managed and coordinated.

Some articles will tell you to avoid these types of words because they sound passive and don’t demonstrate how a person is actively engaged in an activity. Speaking for all of my IT project managers out there, my response is “really?” “REALLY! That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Project managers “manage” and “coordinate” and it’s a valuable contribution.

8)     Avoid ‘hardworking’ because everyone is supposed to work hard.

Until recently, I had never used this particular word in a resume. I had a client who was a software developer, and had received her degree in Computer Science from a distinguished university. She went to school full-time, while also working full-time in a position that required a high level of competency to resolve problems. She succeeded by being diligent, hardworking, and conscientious. She chose “hardworking” as one of her three core strengths. I would have been remiss not to include it in her resume.

9)     Avoid ‘detail oriented’ because it sounds very common

Not everyone is detail oriented and in IT this is a great characteristic to have.

For project managers, I typically don’t use this phrase because some people get so involved in a task they are not able to step back and see the overall picture. If my client has the combined ability to work at a detailed level while also being able to see the “big” picture, then I include it along with an explanation about how the company benefits.

To be successful, testers and programmers need to be detailed oriented. If this phrase does a great job of describing my client, then I’ll include it in the resume along with supporting information about how they utilize this particular quality.

The point of this article is to let you know there are few hard and fast rules in resume writing. Hiring managers aren’t “certified” in candidate selection. They are individuals who each have different perspectives and they can’t be easily categorized. Just use your common sense when writing your resume.

About Jennifer Hay

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