Technology resume gaffes to avoid

By Nimish Thakkar, Computerworld |  Career, resume

The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported an astonishingly high unemployment rate of 6.1%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1.5 million people filed for unemployment claims from January through September 2008, the highest number since 2002. The technology sector has been no exception to this downward spiral, and it almost seems as though every other person we know is looking for work or at least "keeping their options open."

The availability of such a large pool of qualified applicants -- and an even greater reduction in the number of available jobs -- has caused an unprecedented shift in demand/supply dynamics in the employment market.

As understaffed HR gatekeepers struggle to handle the overflow of resumes from interested candidates, I wouldn't be surprised if most resumes get 10 to 15 seconds of attention, or even less. Antiquated resume-writing strategies will not work in current market conditions -- period.

As a career coach and professional resume writer, I review resumes written by thousands of professionals. Of the common (but devastating) resume gaffes, technology professionals are prone to make one or more of the following mistakes:

One-page resume myopia
From tech-support professionals to CIOs, almost everyone is consumed by the perception that the effectiveness of the resume is somehow linked to the length of the document. A one-page resume is not going to improve your chances, nor is a 10-page document indicative of super-employee status.

Candidates, even senior-level IT executives, often use microscopic fonts, leave off important information, use 0.1-inch margins, and resort to myriad ill-advised practices -- all in an attempt to curtail resume length. Many well-meaning college counselors advise their students to be concise and limit their resume to one page. That may be important for students with little or no experience, but why subscribe to the same wisdom after rising to higher ranks?

There is an opposing viewpoint. Some job seekers mistakenly believe that if they can somehow balloon their resumes to four or five pages, they will be considered for higher-paying positions.

The fact is, content rules. Your resume must be as long as your career history demands. If you have held only one job, don't try to create a five-page resume. But if your background merits a lengthier resume, then don't use microscopic fonts in a desperate attempt to fit everything onto one page.

If you're still concerned about the length of your resume, consider creating a one- or two-page resume with additional pages serving as an appendix or addendum. I have done that for many researchers and academicians. The first few pages focused on their backgrounds, while their publications and presentations were presented as an appendix.

Not providing accomplishments
A vast majority of technology resumes focus about 80% on duties and only 20% (if at all) on accomplishments. With so many technology professionals claiming proficiency and experience in similar technologies, how is the employer to differentiate between two qualified candidates? Powerful resumes are accomplishment-driven. Let me clarify this concept with the help of an example:

-- Description of duties: Responsible for writing inventory management programs in C++.

-- Description of accomplishments: Utilized C++ to create cost-effective inventory management application that allowed inventory managers to track (in near real time) about 40 million units across 12 warehouses, accelerated inventory audit accuracy 20%, and cut costs by $1.5 million. Wrote program within half the expected time.

Using generic objectives
"Seeking a CIO position with an organization that provides mutually beneficial opportunities." If that's your idea of an objective, don't bother using one. Of the 5,000-plus resumes I've written, I may have used an objective for maybe a handful of candidates. In place of objectives, I often use what many experts call "branding statements" or "headers."

In the case of a project manager, for example, I would create a statement like the following:

Award-winning project manager who has led 30+ multimillion-dollar projects from start to finish.

19+ years' extensive experience in project management. Worked on complex projects while managing cross-functional international teams of 300 individuals. Drove projects to completion an average 10% under budget and 30 days ahead of schedule.

The branding statement brings out several strengths associated with project management and builds the foundation for a powerful value proposition.

Not speaking the employer's language
An advertised opening is essentially a request for solutions to existing gaps and deficiencies within the corporate unit. An effective resume will always attempt to address this need and demonstrate how the candidate provides the perfect (or near-perfect) solution.

For example, say an e-commerce giant advertises the position of a Web designer, and your initial research indicates that the company wants someone who can create attractive Web pages that are user-friendly.

Here's a statement that attempts to address these two needs: Experienced Web designer with a track record of designing eye-catching Web sites that have improved usability, optimized navigation paths, increased usability scores 100% and conversions 140%. Created powerful sites for Fortune 100 companies.

I always liken resume space to prime real estate or an expensive billboard where every eyeball, every impression matters. Every word that appears on your resume must position you as the perfect solution for the employer's needs.

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