Top 10 IT resume tips of 2013

By Sharon Florentine, CIO |  IT Management, resume

It's been another productive year for CIO's Resume Makeover series. You learned how to target your resume to better highlight your skills, cut out unnecessary descriptions, and list your work history and technical prowess in fewer than three pages.

If you weren't selected to participate this year, don't worry. We've compiled a list of the top 10 best pieces of advice from our 2013 series here. (And 2014 is just around the corner, and if you'd like to participate in the resume makeover series please drop us an email with Resume Makeover 2014 in the subject and your resume attached.)

1. Take a Cue From Advertising

Take a cue from advertising -- make your resume read like a fast, catchy, hard-hitting advertisement of your skills and experience.

Resume writer Donald Burns says that it's important to make your resume function like an ad, because in a world full of noise, competition and distraction, you need to say a lot quickly.

Burns says a resume needs to read fast with key items highlighted. All items should be short -- one to three sentences at the most. The goal is to make it easy to read or scan in five or 10 seconds. Once it gets beyond three to five lines, it'll be much more difficult for readers to digest, according to Burns.

2. Don't Forget LinkedIn

Use LinkedIn to your advantage. The social network is a crucial tool in any job search. Don't neglect it, because recruiters, hiring manager and other job-seekers certainly aren't.

Sure, you want to keep up with friends and family on Facebook, and have pins of holiday crafts for your kids on Pinterest. But don't ignore LinkedIn when it comes to your career.

Keep your profile updated as you finish projects, add new skills or take new classes. Recommend your colleagues and peers for their talents and skills, and ask that they do the same for you. And check out security solutions provider Rapid7s senior director of talent acquisition Ed Nathanson's take on how organizations are using LinkedIn to search for talent; you might pick up a few more tips on how to use keywords and Boolean searches to your advantage.

3. Highlight What Makes You Different

Highlight what makes you different, but resume writer Jennifer Hay says to also simplify your messaging and remove excessive buzzwords.

Hay, working on tech pro Brad Kirk's extensive resume, says she identified repetitive messaging and categorized those to streamline Kirk's resume.

"I had to break them down into categories to make it easier to organize the information and collect it under a simple message," says Hay.

She says he noticed throughout the resume that Kirk had described some of the same skills more than once. "He had multiple bullet items that were sending the same message. You have such little space in a resume, so why repeat the message?" says Hay.

Finally, though Kirk refers to himself as a cloud industry thought-leader, no mention of these skills appeared on the first page of his resume, Hay says.

"He called himself a cloud industry thought-leader and a cloud strategist and there was no connection between that statement and his old resume," says Hay. The information was in there, but it was almost impossible to pull it out, she says.

"There are plenty of cloud consultants who work on the front-end and deployment. There are much fewer who are involved in the full product lifecycle. This is what distinguishes him from all the other people," says Hay. Bearing that in mind, she created a more focused and targeted resume opening that highlighted what separates Kirk from the pack.

4. Always Be Prepared

Always be prepared -- keep your resume up-to-date and in constant circulation.

Though Doug Koch has a job he's happy with and a solid relationship with the management team at his current company, he's been around the proverbial block enough times to understand that he can't become complacent. Though he's not looking for a job, he says his experience working with CIO.com's resume makeover team is still valuable.

Caitlin Sampson, co-founder of Regal Resumes, who worked with Koch on his resume, says, in general, you should update your resume every six months.

It may seem like extra work, but in today's world you have to be prepared. If the day comes when you need it, you will be happy that you don't have to dig through old notes or spend hours detailing the previous year's projects, accomplishments and successes. Sampson suggests updating your resume right after your yearly performance review so everything's fresh in your mind.

5. Make Your Messaging Clear

Keep your message clear and on target; you should know exactly the type and scope of the role you want and communicate that through your resume.

Ken Montgomery knew that he needed to change the focus of his resume from technical to management, but he says he struggled to do so. Enter Stephen Van Vreede of ITTechExec.com. Van Vreede immediately pinpointed the problem with Montgomery's resume, a flaw that's very common, he says.

"There doesn't need to be a formal objective statement -- that is kind of passé in today's resume world -- but there still needs to be something to communicate to the reader the type of role that you want to be considered for. At first, we had no idea whether [Montgomery] was looking for an IT manager position or something with voice and data network design," says Van Vreede. It really wasn't putting off a 'senior management' or 'C-level' vibe," he says.

To resolve this, Van Vreede created a header at the top of the summary section. This piece makes it clear to potential employers the level of work that Montgomery is looking for. "It frames the whole document so they understand what it is he is going for and how they should be considering him," says Van Vreede.

6. Don't Try to 'Teach Them All'

Career specialist Roy J. West was impressed with the breadth and depth of Bobby Saxon's experience, but condensing a 25-year military and IT career into a reasonable format was tough, West says.

"We reduced it from 'the course of his life' to a summary. I personally have never been a big proponent of cutting a resume short unnecessarily," West says, but in this case it was necessary.

"[Saxon's] first response was dismay because I had taken so many of his extraordinary credentials off the page," West says. "I had reduced the details that, in his mind, demonstrated the sheer complexity of what he had to navigate in order to create the amazing results he had delivered," but sometimes that's crucial, West says.

West felt that many in the civilian world would respect Saxon's military service but wouldn't necessarily understand the magnitude of his accomplishments. "Trying to provide a resume in such detail that you teach them all, that is not the solution. Your best chance, your only chance, is in the job interview not on your resume," says West.

7. Ace the 20 Second Test

Can your resume pass the "20 second test"? Most recruiters scanning your resume give it approximately 20 seconds. If you don't grab them within that time frame, you're history.

Pamela Rucker, president of The Rucker Group, a C-Suite advisory organization, and co-chair of the CIO Council's Executive Women in IT, was tasked with helping Michele Franchi determine why her resume wasn't getting the attention it deserved.

First impressions are usually all you get and Rucker could tell there was room for improvement with Franchi's resume. "For me, it didn't pass the 20-second test. Michele has 20 years of experience, and probably only 20 seconds to get past a recruiter's review. Moreover, even if the recruiter was sitting right beside me, I'd have a stack of resumes to review in our meeting. I probably wouldn't give her resume more than two minutes and that's if I was interested in it," says Rucker.

8. Don't Be Wordy

Make sure you're using clear, succinct language and highlighting the skills relevant to the positions to which you're applying.

Resume writer and career coach Laura Smith-Proulx found Michael Smith's wordy resume too dense. She first made a few changes, adding what she likes to refer to as the "technology career milestones," or summary section. This, Smith-Proulx says, really gives the hiring manager a quick snapshot of what the candidate is all about.

"If there is something critical in your background it needs to land on your first page and preferably in the top half or it just won't be obvious," says Smith-Proulx.

Smith-Proulx next took Smith's career highlights and worded them in a more easy-to-digest way and moved them to the first page of his resume. This ensured hiring managers could quickly get a feeling for the major impact Smith had with his previous employer.

The most important skills to highlight are the ones employers are looking for, so Smith-Proulx brought to the forefront what was notable about each previous position Smith held.

"This was a way to pull out some strong career highlights" that had been buried in the word-heavy original resume, says Smith-Proulx.

9. Keep It Short

This is no time for five- or six-page expositions. You want to keep hiring managers hungry for more information, which they can get in the interview.

Sampson and her team at Regal Resumes could see immediately that Rob Sorenson had a depth and breadth of both corporate and client consulting experience. However, the major sticking point was the length of Sorenson's resume, Sampson says. Though he had a lot of value-added content, the length was distracting, and could be problematic for anyone reviewing it, she says.

"Because hiring managers and recruiters are inundated with resumes, they tend to lose focus after one to two pages for entry-level candidates or management applicants and three pages for senior or executive-level applicants," she says. Sampson's first task was to edit Sorenson's resume down to a manageable length.

A significant portion of Sorenson's resume outlined his extensive consulting experience, but it wasn't necessary to outline every client engagement, Sampson says. By eliminating much of the unnecessary details of each consulting assignment, Sampson and Sorenson were able to clarify and accentuate Sorenson's successes and focus his resume on the next step in his career, she says.

"We redirected the focus of his resume from technical consulting to that of an IT manager or director role," Sampson says. "He has a wealth of relevant managerial experience, but it was difficult for potential employers to find, because it was buried beneath the technical consulting language."

10. Consider Getting Professional Help

Working with a resume specialist or career coach can give you a huge advantage. If you're not getting the response you want, or are being offered positions that aren't suitable, get professional career help.

A professional resume writer can often see problems or issues that you can't, and can be an objective voice when you're trying to land that dream job. For more insider tips, tricks, and resume advice, check out all the CIO IT Resume Makeover stories here: http://www.cio.com/article/737953/IT_Resume_Makeover_Homepage

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at sflorentine@cio.com. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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