When Bad Resumes Happen to Good IT People

Even one error can keep you from getting your foot in the door, but stupid mistakes find their way onto the smartest resumes.

If you're like a lot of workers out there, the top of a new year seems as ideal a time as any to launch the hunt for a new job—if you're lucky, you've just received your year-end bonus and your next one is far away. If you haven't, you're likely hoping to get one next year, even if you have to go elsewhere to get it.

Yet even where bonuses are not a concern, once the mood for new year's resolutions strikes a less-than-perfect employment situation is ripe for the picking, or picking on.

But before even finding a job worth applying for, one needs a resume that is worth a recruiter looking at twice, and for most people, this hasn't been updated in the two, four or eight years. And those that work with lines of code and computers all day have not likely tuned up their writing skills in years.

"Recruiters often have hundreds of resumes to review and will make split second judgments about you based on your resume. Think of it as the sales brochure for you—it has to demonstrate a successful track record that makes them want to talk to you. Attention to detail is critical," said Lynee Sarikas, director of the MBA career center at the College of Business Administration at Northeastern University.

Below are five of the easiest mistakes to make, and ones that could lead to a painful missed opportunity.

1. Typos

The first mistake may seem the most obvious, and therefore easiest to avoid, but typos happen to everyone—especially people whose jobs do not involve writing.

"Your resume needs to be grammatically perfect. If it isn't, employers will read between the lines and draw not-so-flattering conclusions about you, like: 'This person can't write,' or 'This person obviously doesn't care,'" says Monster.com career coach Peter Vogt.


It's not likely you'll catch a small gaffe on a resume you've been poring over for hours or days, but a fresh set of eyes will catch it. It never hurts to have any another person look over your resume before you send it off to your dream job. Even better, call upon several sets of eyes.

2. Eyesores

You may not be a graphic designer or expert typesetter, but the overall readability of your resume is the very first thing a recruiter or potential employers will see—before they read a single word.

"Resumes that are hard to read will not be read," said Sarikas. "Avoid having so much information crammed on the resume that it is difficult for the reader to get through it or to find the relevant sections. An appropriate amount of white space makes it easier to read and good formatting makes it easy for the interviewer to find the relevant sections."

3. Dull Language

Action phrases and "power verbs" are defined by Monster.com as language which aims to help job seekers describe their work more expressively. When writing your resume, begin all job descriptions with the most active language possible.

"Avoid using phrases like 'responsible for.' Instead, use action verbs to say that you 'Resolved user questions as part of an IT help desk serving 4,000 students and staff,'" said Vogt.

These language acrobatics—using words like capitalized, accelerated, earned and tailored versus helped, made and fixed—make a resume a juicer read, and when a recruiter has dozens to wade through, you'll want yours to stand out.

4. Blurred Information

It is not uncommon for IT survivors of rounds of outsourcing or the 2001 dot-com bust to have a gap in their employment, but it is essential not to turn it into a white lie.

"Don't try to mask a gap in employment or an unfortunate job situation by leaving off dates or doing other funky things with the resume," said Sarikas. "Recruiters will immediately raise a red flag and you will not advance further in the process."


Click here to read about how to keep IT staff happy.

You may have also taken jobs to earn extra money or to make ends meet when your expenses mounted, and be temped to leave them off your resume. Recruiters argue against this.

"Typically, the soft skills you've gained from these experiences [e.g., work ethic, time management] are more important to employers than you might think," said Vogt.

5. Technical Errors

Even the savviest of tech workers can slip up on the technicalities of applying for a job. Most large employers and nearly all recruiters these days use ATS (application tracking systems), which use scanning software to capture resumes into a database that they search against for the skills they are looking for.

"An often overlooked error is having a resume with built-in formatting that doesn't scan … If your resume does not scan, they never tell you, you just don't get considered. Avoid lines and special characters which will not scan successfully," said Sarikas.

Quite often, people apply for jobs the wrong way. Most companies are very specific about what they want to receive and where it should be sent—via snail mail, e-mail or posted into their online application system. Just like with the ATS, if your information doesn't get through correctly, nobody will let you know—you'll simply never get the call.

"Always be sure to read the requirements in the posting or advertisement. You could have a great resume but if you don't follow the instructions you can be eliminated," said Sarikas.


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