Resume Writing 101

The hiring manager is usually a very busy person. Make his or her decision easy to make.

After reviewing near one million resumes this week, I half-expected balloons to drop, sirens to sound, and a cheesy emcee to award me a check. Alas, there was no fanfare or screaming crowd, simply more paperwork to tackle.

Here’s the backstory: A few days ago, I posted an ad for a “PHP developer with five to six years of solid experience.” Simple enough requirements, or so I thought. Instead, I ended up with an inbox full of .NET Developers, a few software sales managers, and at least a dozen pizza delivery guys wanting to break into open source. Evidently, the Internet extends into the Twilight Zone.

I exaggerate a little, but not much. The truth of the matter is that I spend a lot of time sifting through resumes of unqualified—talented but not suitable—candidates and even more time trying to make sense of resumes period. Typically, the construction and organization of the resumes I see are off, so much so that even the best- and most-qualified candidate can lose an opportunity.

Oddly, the difference between an effective resume and a discounted submission is slight, according to my colleague Dan White, a 12-year veteran IT recruiter who specializes in talent acquisition and executive recruitment. White says, “The rule of thumb is simple: The hiring manager wants to see recent and relevant work experience that directly relates to the open position.”

White continues, “The interview is how you secure the job; the resume secures the interview. In a market where hiring managers have a lot of choices, it is very important to make yourself ‘jump off the page.’”

And how does one do that? White recommends that you tailor your resume to each position that you apply for. Use bullet points to summarize your skills, abilities, projects, and accomplishments. Simply listing the technology you have worked with in the past is not enough.

To elaborate, here are some tips to construct your resume for greater results.

  1. Target the position that you are applying for. If you want to be a LAMP developer or a network manager, state your intent clearly and directy. Further, ensure your titles are precise, appropriate, and descriptive. If your most recent title was “IT Director,” but you were a one man show, don’t apply for a system administror job without first turning down the volume on that “title.” In other words if you were really an administrator with a beefed up title, change it.
  2. Pay close attention to your content. I’m not bashing human resources here, but all too often and especially when recruiting specialized, technical positions, human resources staff and recruiting managers scan a resume for specific keywords before passing it along to the hiring manager.
  3. Tailor each resume to the job requirements. Review job ads closely and craft a version of your resume to detail the skills that make you a suitable candidate.
  4. Articulate your most recent experience. It’s nice to bullet point your overall strengths at the top of your resume, but the careful hiring manager is going to focus on your most recent experience.
  5. Keep it simple. Help the hiring manager make the decision. For example, here is a consise catalog that is both clear and motivating.
    • Designed and wrote SDK using the Schema Aware XSLT 2.0 Saxon Parser.
    • Rewrote entire web portal using PHP and Zend MVC Framework with LAMP environment.
    • Incorporated AJAX calls into new portal.
    • Managed a team of twelve including two leads, four engineers, and six junior PHP developers on a six-month project with a budget of $1,000,000.
  6. Keep salary in mind. If you seek a salary of $100,000, make sure that your resume stands out in such a way that the hiring manager picks up on it. On the flip side, if you earned six-figures in your last position, but have been out of work for six months and are willing to be paid less, be sure to customize your resume accordingly. For example, I recently submitted a Ph.D. to an $80,000 per annum developer position, and the hiring manager hit the brakes fearing that the candidate would become bored. Don’t be dishonest, but you may have to dumb down your resume a bit to land an interview.
  7. Show Progression. If you’ve been promoted over time, whether in title or responsibility, deliver that information in your resume. This is especially important if you are interested in moving up a ladder. Additionally, if you have led teams, be sure to toss a bullet point in there about the size of the team, the methodology, budget, and results.
  8. Avoid useless information. Seriously
  9. In all seriousness, leave pictures of yourself off your resume. I received a resume from a PHP developer with a picture of him shaking hands with Mickey Rooney and immediately deleted it from my inbox. Unless you are applying for a position where your boyish or girlish good looks are a functional part of the role, I suggest leaving the snapshots to John Casablanca.
  10. Explain transitions between jobs. If you have gaps in employment or an array of short-lived positions, prepare to explain the situations. If you worked on several contracts in sequence, describe the purpose and duration of each.
  11. The hiring manager is usually a very busy person. Make his or her decision easy to make.

    Happy Hunting!

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