As you can imagine, I read a lot of resumes. I don’t hold myself out to be a resume writing expert and I haven’t conducted any formal research on the effectiveness of different resume designs but, as a headhunter, I think I’m fairly qualified to talk about what works and what doesn’t.
I probably read anywhere from 20 to 50 new resumes on average every day. I can’t imagine anything I haven’t seen in a resume. Additionally, I hear feedback from clients every day on resumes I have sent to them. Believe it or not, you can tell a lot about a person from their resume. I’m not talking about just what professional experience they have. You can start to get a feeling for a persons personality and soft skills just by reading the resume too. For this article though, I just want to talk about resume basics. I’ll delve deeper in future articles.
Before I jump into it, I need to let you know that I am strictly talking about technical resumes. Many of the points could apply to other types of resumes but I recruit in the IT arena so my expertise lies in what makes a good technical resume.
Lets talk about the different sections of a resume.
I see this section on a lot of resumes. It is not helpful at all and I rarely read it. The best thing this section can do for you is just reiterate to the ultimate reader (the employer) that you are interested in the type of position you are already applying for. The worst thing this section can do for you is give someone a reason to screen you out of a position. Is your definition of “fast paced environment” the same as the person reading the resume? And for God’s sake if you insist on having an objective on your resume, please make sure you use proper grammar and there are no typos. I can honestly tell you that no resume ever leaves my desk on it’s way to an employer with an “Objective” section on it. Sorry if you spent 30 minutes crafting just the right words to convey the depth of your experience coupled with what you strive to find in your next employer.
Summary of Qualifications Section
I’ve seen this section done a few ways but generally I think of this section as the short paragraph or two that describes who you are and what you can bring to the new employer or project. I’m sort of on the fence about this section. If this section is well done, it can make a resume stand out and really cut down on my future reading since I’ll know exactly what kind of background I’m dealing with. At that point, I’ll only be looking for very specific fit points. If this section is written very generically, it’s as worthless as the “Objective” section. If the summary paragraph is written poorly (bad grammar, misspellings, informal phrases such as “go-to guy”) it will take a stellar background to overcome it. My advice is to leave this section off unless you know you are a good writer. If you are a good writer, it is most important that you make sure this section summarizes your skill set. If you go on to make statements about benefits you can provide an organization, make sure they are quantifiable. Please don’t say you are a hard worker, energetic or anything remotely like that.
Technical Expertise Section
This section can go by a lot of different names such as “Technical Skills”, “Technical Summary”, “Skills Summary” etc. The name is not as important as the content. This is the section where you list all of the technologies you have experience with. This section is imperative. Let me say it again. Every technical resume should have this section. All technical positions have technical requirements. This section allows me and an employer to make a quick scan to make sure that at least the minimum pre-requisites are met. If this section is not there, you run a lower chance of getting an interview, period. It is simple logic. If you make someone read every line of your upcoming “Experience” section, there is a chance they will miss the particular technology they are looking for. If they miss it, and it is a pre-requisite, you aren’t moving on. I have even gone as far as to create this section for people before sending their resume to a client. If a headhunter who doesn’t get paid unless he gets someone a job is willing to spend an hour creating this section for someone, you can bet it is important.
This one is simple. If you have certifications, make sure you have a separate section of your resume for it. Please make sure the certifications are relevant to your career though. If you are in IT, most employers and recruiters don’t care if you have a real estate license, insurance license or anything else like this (and yes, I have seen this on technical resumes).
This is obviously the meat of the resume. It should be in reverse chronological order. The minimum you need for each position is the company, your title and the dates you worked there. If you are on contract to a company through a recruiting firm, the ultimate client company you worked for is more important than the recruiting company you worked for during that time. For date, month and year is all you need. Nobody cares what day of the month you started or left. For title, please make sure to use a title that is relevant to other companies to. If your title is Systems Analyst III but your job function is network administration, use Network Administrator for your title.
This section should be bulleted, not in paragraph form. I see a lot of “Experience” sections where each position held is written as a paragraph. I think people do this because they have been told in the past to keep their resume to one or two pages max. That is just not the case any more. People don’t read resumes on paper anymore so the physical limitations aren’t relevant. Anyone who compares the same resume side by side where one is bulleted and one is paragraphs will say the bulleted resume is easier to read. If you have a resume that is in paragraph form now, it is very easy to convert it to bullets. Most resumes I have to reformat can be converted by turning each sentence into a bullet. Ninety percent of the time that’s all it takes.
I know you listed your technology skills in the “Technical Expertise” section above but please make sure to say what tool, language, methodology etc you were using to do whatever it is you are talking about in that bullet point on the resume. In fact, think about it like this. A good “Experience” section will explain the following:
- What you did
- Why you did it (if relevant)
- What you did it with (tools, apps, languages, methodologies, etc.)
- What the results were
If you stick to these suggestions, you’ll end up with something that is readable and well thought out.
If you’ve got a degree of any kind, it goes here. If you have several semesters towards a degree, it’s OK to include that here too. If you have a total of 30 hours college under your belt, don’t include that unless you are currently still in school. Nobody cares what high school you attended. Please don’t include that. There are a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people in IT who never even attended college. That’s OK but it is better to leave the “Education” section off all together if that’s the case. I would also include professional training in this section as well. If you have military experience in lieu of higher education, please substitute it here.
If you maintain a reference list, please make it a separate sheet you can provide when necessary. Also, there is no need to say “References Available on Request.” Everybody assumes you can provide references anyway. It’s redundant.
I have seen many people include things like hobbies they have and volunteer organizations they belong to. In general, I would suggest leaving these things off the resume unless they somehow enhance your professional career. If you volunteer for the Houston Minority Business Council or the Greater Houston Partnership, go ahead and include something like that. But if you volunteer your time to a typical charitable organization, I wouldn’t include it. While it’s a very noble cause and obviously near and dear to your heart, you cannot be sure what the reader of your resume thinks about that organization. You want your resume to show who you are as a professional and that’s it.
To summarize, a good technical resume should include the following sections in this order:
- Career Summary (only if you are confident in your writing skills)
- Certifications (if any)
- Technical Skills Summary
- Professional Experience
- Education / Military Experience
I’ve only discussed the most common sections I see in resumes. There are, of course, special situations and circumstances that have to be weighed on a case by case basis and I’d be happy to discuss any of them you may have questions about.
Does your resume fit my guidelines? Will you change it if it doesn’t? Let me know in the comments section.