7 mistakes to avoid when applying for that tech job

My eyes are blurry from reviewing over 40 résumés for a network administrator position, and for good reason. More than half of the résumés did not make it past my initial review. While I had to reject some candidates because of lack of experience (or, rather, lack of clearly demonstrated required experience), others had errors in their application packages that lowered their ranking -- errors that could have been easily corrected.

(And yes, I literally do rank résumés, based on years and type of experience but also on other nontechnical variables such as communications ability.)

Of course, the traditional job-seeking advice still applies. Always follow résumé best practices -- proper spelling, good organization, consistent font and so on. Realize, too, that if you simply do not meet the required minimum experience, it's very unlikely that you will win the job. Beyond that, if you avoid these all-too-common mistakes that I have seen over years of filling network administrator positions, you'll boost your chance of landing the job.

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Mistake 1: Your objective is unclear

When I review résumés for a network administrator position, if the applicant chooses to include a section about his objectives, I hope to see something related to networking. Likewise, managers filling spots for security, databases, Web development and other specialties are looking for specifics that show a candidate is a good fit for the job. However, I often see nonsensical statements such as, "I'm seeking an interesting and challenging career position." This conveys very little.

Instead, something directly related to the position you're seeking would be appropriate. Suppose, for example, that you applied for a network administrator job at a community college. "Utilizing my experience to expand and maintain the network to enhance the pedagogical mission of the college" says that you see this as a challenge and that you understand the business of the place you are applying to.

This leads to two subpoints. First, whenever possible, show you understand how technology affects the business. Second, decide if an objective section is really necessary. Some people opt to substitute a short description of their professional offerings, which, if done well, can effectively convey both your goals and understanding of the business as well as serve as a snapshot of your most desirable skills.

Mistake 2: You've listed old skills

I'd like to say it has been some time since I've received a résumé that listed in a skills section "Windows 3.11 for Workgroups," but unfortunately it hasn't. At least it's been a while since I've seen DOS 3.2 referenced.

I'm not trying to downplay achievements from over 10 years ago. Yes, I also remember loading Trumpet Winsock before Microsoft Corp. incorporated TCP/IP into Windows, and back in the day, I was a Novell 3.12 CNE. But how relevant are those skills today? They're really not, and including them in a résumé gives the impression of trying to fill the application with fluff.

If you do want to mention that you were proficient in tapping ThickNet, leave it for the job description section. When I look at a skills section, I am trying to directly correlate the candidate's skills with what I need. Of course, some network skills that don't change much over time can be listed. If, for example, the ad calls for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol administration experience and you managed DHCP 10 years ago, by all means put it in the skills section. It's the technology no longer in use that should be left behind.

Mistake 3: You've created an 'alphabet soup' explosion

What is one thing that unites all aspects of information technology? Acronyms. Sometimes I think there is a secret subcommittee of the IETF that follows some obscure RFC for creating network acronyms. It follows that network administrators are often guilty of AERs (acronym-enhanced résumés).

Like listing older skills, a seemingly endless stream of acronyms is like data padding in an ICMP packet; it adds only space. If you indicate experience configuring enterprise core LAN routers, I would expect that you understand TCP/IP, SNMP, TFTP, VLSM, VLAN, possibly NTP and VPN, and at least one routing protocol such as OSPF or RIP. There is no need to list them.

That's not to say that acronyms and protocols should not be mentioned at all. But if you do, be prepared to back it up. My favorite interview question is to have applicants describe the differences between TCP and UDP, and if you've put TCP/IP anywhere on the résumé, you'd better get the answer right. Actually, that's one of those questions a netadmin candidate should be able to answer correctly no matter what.

Mistake 4: You misuse industry jargon

One of my biggest pet peeves when reviewing candidates' documents is when I come across a term or statement that has the unintended effect of conveying lack of experience. It may be technically correct but is only seen in textbooks and study materials and not used in the real world.

My favorite example of this is "worked on networks with a star topology." I don't recall ever asking a vendor what star-topology products they offer. I know, and so do they, that a switch is a device that distributes connectivity physically and logically from a single location. Including such phrases tells me that you do not have actual, significant experience working on enterprise networks.

In addition, don't use buzzwords if you don't know what they mean. If you say you work with both single-mode and multimode fiber, you'd better be prepared to explain the differences and the uses of each.

Mistake 5: You're unclear what 'network administrator' means

Some IT professionals have a narrow definition of what a network administrator does: works on Layer 2 and up enterprise transport equipment -- in other words, switches and routers. Also included may be such ancillary duties such as DNS and DHCP administration or firewall configuration and support.

Others, however, define "network administrator" to include server and systems administration. This would include one who primarily works on the end points of a client/server network. In these cases, administration of the network may not be as important, perhaps because the company has a simple network.

Whatever the position, the point is to look beyond the title of the job you're interested in and really examine what the employer is looking for. In my case, I had several applicants who had significant experience configuring, administering to and maintaining Windows servers but zero experience configuring switches and routers even though positions they held had "network" in the job title. They were rejected because I needed a router jockey.

Mistake 6: You're vague about your experience, or you're just downright confusing

Statements such as "works closely with the network team," "assisted in network installation" or "supported networks" convey nothing about relevant network experience. I work closely with my tax adviser; does that make me an accountant? You need to clarify relevant experience.

Also, if applying for an enterprise position, be sure you meet the experience required. If a position requires experience with administering enterprise routers, don't assume that setting up Linksys routers qualifies. All that does is convey that you do not understand the difference between SOHO and enterprise networking.

Finally, and this may seem obvious, match the experience to each position, even if it means some repetition. Otherwise, it is difficult to determine the years of experience of, say, configuring routers. I reviewed one résumé in which the candidate described all of her skills first, then simply listed her position titles and dates of employment afterward. Since it was not possible to match duty with position, I could not the calculate number of years experience per duty. The résumé ended up in the reject stack because I was unable to accurately determine if the candidate met the minimum experience requirements.

Mistake 7: You lose sight of the goal

Remember, your résumé should be directed to a technology professional. Yes, human resources may review the application as well, but ultimately the position's supervisor (and most probably peers) will choose who to interview. Your résumé should talk to them.

Do not forget your goal. Get your foot in the door for a face-to-face interview. Craft an application strategy to do so. If you're applying to be a network administrator, have a fellow network administrator or two review your application, and ask them their impressions from a peer perspective. Does it convey that you know networking? If the answer is "yes," you're well on the way to landing that job.

Greg Schaffer is a freelance writer in Tennessee. He has over 20 years of experience in networking, primarily in higher education. He can be reached at newtnoise@comcast.net.

This story, "7 mistakes to avoid when applying for that tech job" was originally published by Computerworld.

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