A study released May 31 by Spherion Pacific Enterprises, a recruiting and staffing firm based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., found that nearly half of the U.S. IT work force plans to change jobs in the next year.
While this means great things for techies—the same study found that IT workers beat the overall work force in job-seeking confidence—it also means that thousands now have résumés to polish and tighten.
If members of the IT work force are like most Americans, the thought of trying to get their résumés into such a form that their desired jobs will simply flutter into their laps sends them into a spiral of panic. How can I fit all this on a page? How do I know what they really want to see? Why do I never get callbacks?
As it turns out, most résumé writers are committing the same types of blunders: fussing over outdated rules, spending hours on a cover letter that might never be seen by human eyes, and leaving out essential keywords and supporting evidence.
eWEEK spoke to experts from recruitment firms and job boards and picked their brains for as much résumé-writing advice as they would dish out, rounding it up below. The best thing we learned: With the right advice, writing a top-notch resume can be a breeze.
ATS: The most important letters you need to know
“IT recruiters almost all use ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to review résumés. They parse what they receive and throw it into a database and search against it via keywords, such as MS Exchange or Java. They dont always instantaneously look at your résumé,” Michael Turner, vice president of marketing at Atlanta-based ComputerJobs.com, told eWEEK.
The most important thing to understand about ATS, Turner said, is that the only time most recruiters will see your résumé in full is when they pull it up in a search.
To ensure that your résumé will get pulled up in as many relevant searches as possible, its important that job seekers use skills keywords.
Skills section keywords
So, what are skills keywords? They can be anything from industry buzzwords to specific skills. Turner summarized the importance in language techies understand well: “Its a lot like trying to get your site listed on Google. Keywords are just as important when trying to get your résumé picked up by third-party recruiters on ATS systems. Even when you apply for a job, a lot of times your résumé goes right into their system,” he said.
The best type of skills summary is thorough and maximizes the number of applicable keywords.
“You should have a skill summary with the number of years of experience you have with each. A lot of people use a three-column table. Again, keywords count,” Turner said.
Kate Lorenz, advice editor at CareerBuilder.com, of Chicago, told eWEEK that you should put as much as you can in writing.
“List your specific IT certifications accurately and clearly to communicate what expertise it has given you, including technology focus, specific skills and unique abilities,” Lorenz said.
Monster.com offers even more specific advice on choosing keywords.
“A good way to determine keywords is to read job descriptions for positions that interest you. If you see industry buzzwords, incorporate them into your résumé,” wrote Monster.com résumé expert Kim Isaacs.
Dont use a template
Still using Microsoft Words “Elegant” or “Professional” résumé template? Dont, said Turner.
The reason for this is twofold: one, these templates are overused and inspire ennui when you want to grab attention, and two, many templates leave out one of the most important elements, the aforementioned skills summary.
“Theyre too traditional. IT résumés need to highlight objective first, skills second (a summary of skills and years of experience for each), then experience, and education last. The Word templates Ive seen almost always start out with education or work experience, but with no place for a skills summary. The first thing a recruiter or hiring manager wants to know when reviewing a résumé is, Does this candidate have the skills we need to get the job done?” Turner said.
A good objectives section counts
Now that you have written the information in such a way that someone typing your skill set into an ATS will pull up your résumé, your next focus should be on creating a sharp profile or objectives section, leaving out the tired jargon.
“Objectives should be at the top of a résumé: It is the first thing that theyll see. You should customize your objectives section as best as you can, targeting it to the job you want. Nobody wants to read, I want a career that will utilize my skills,” Turner said.
Lose the one-page-only rule
What happens when your skills and experience are extensive enough that they spill onto a second page? Dont be distressed, Turner said.
“Theres a myth out there that you need to keep your résumé down to one page, and its just not true … I wouldnt mind seeing two pages of really solid work history [that] will add more words to the ATS system. You dont need to tell us everything you did at every job, but its good to have a solid history. Tell us more than Used C++ to create applications—tell us how you put it to work.”
Put Common Sense to
Avoid the personal
A lot of people were once told to add some personal information to a résumé to humanize it. This is no longer considered advisable.
“Dont put anything personal on your résumé. Nobody cares that you like to play football on the weekend. It makes it look too amateurish and has nothing to do with your career. Nobody needs to know you are a member of the Elks Club unless it has to do with your career. If it does, list it under Network Associations at the bottom of your résumé, which will also throw in words for keyword searching,” Turner said.
Another aspect of the personal that should be avoided on résumés is the use of personal pronouns.
“A résumé is a form of business communication, which should be concise and written in a telegraphic style. There should not be any mention of I or me and only minimal use of articles,” Isaacs wrote.
An easy way to edit a sentence that includes a personal pronoun is to simply drop the pronoun, changing “I used Java to implement a redesign” to “Used Java to implement a redesign.”
Cover letters are not critical
Some people dash off cover letters at the last minute, customizing them for each potential place of employment, while others keep a standard letter on file and use it with each application. But, whichever approach one takes, the open format is what causes the majority of techies the greatest anxiety, so its good news that cover letters are no longer essential.
“Cover letters are important, but not critical. Theyre important if youre applying directly to a company, in which case you should customize it for that company by studying their site and getting all the information you can. But cover letters for third-party recruiters arent critical. The ATS system even strips them out,” Turner said.
Dont spend 100 hours on it
The stress many feel when looking for a new job often causes them to put too much emphasis on getting a résumé perfect—and to sink dozens of hours into what ought to be just a one- to two-page summary of their employment history.
Turner suggests to IT workers a three-step process for getting their résumés in shape with a minimum of time spent and self-imposed frenzy.
“The best way to write an IT résumé is to take a blank piece of paper and write down everything you know. Come back an hour later refreshed, and write it quickly. Take a break, eat some lunch, come back and reread it as if you were a recruiter. Put yourself in the recruiters shoes,” Turner said.
Turner said he knows its hard not to be biased when reading your own résumé, but that taking that break will help you come back with a fresh view. Most importantly, “You cant write it all in one sitting.”
When youre confident in the résumé you have created, have a boss, friend or family member look at it before you put it out there.
“It doesnt have to be a qualified person in your field. A lot of the people reading the résumés are managers and CIOs and not people in HR. These people just want to know what you can do,” Turner said.
As for résumé-writing services, Turner said there are a lot out there, but theyre best for execs and not necessary for most IT workers.
Go old school
It may sound revolutionary in this Internet age, but Turner said sometimes sending in your résumé in a less common way will attract notice.
“Users often say, Hey, Im putting my résumé out there and nobody is replying,” Turner said. “One thing that is unique and rarely done is faxing résumés. Nobody does this anymore. You could stand out this way. Do a custom cover letter for the company, and its not hard to track down a companys fax line. You can direct it to the HR department or to the person who runs IT.”
Although Turner doesnt recommend calling a place that you would like to work, he does encourage job seekers to find out who they would be working for and network to get the résumé right in front of them … just like the old days.
Use common sense
Even broaching this topic may seem insulting to someone who has worked with computers and the Internet for a span of time, but as recruiters say people are still stumbling on the basics, wed be remiss not to share these gems.
- Assume that any future employer will do a quick Web search on you.
“Keep your personal life off MySpace! If we see something on MySpace thats not good for the company, we are not going to hire you. If you going to do something stupid, at least dont use your real name. Its okay to have a home page and link to your work, but we really dont want to find out that youre a stripper at night, etc.,” Turner said.
- Get a professional e-mail address
“Make sure to have a recruiter-friendly e-mail address. Dont put [email protected] on your résumé and expect to get a lot of responses,” Turner said.
- Dont botch it when you get in the door
“The days of IT where you could drink your beer and play pool at work are over,” Turner said.
Which means, he continued, dont wear your Led Zeppelin t-shirt and dont arrive late.
“You need to sit up straight and be ready for the job. Some might disagree, but I dont think a suit and tie are necessary. But you should be nicely, casually dressed.”
- Assume that any future employer will do a quick Web search on you.