I’ve really been meaning to write this out for a while – but since I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing recently, I figured it’s about time. I’ll be completely honest here, the first few iterations of my resume absolutely sucked. I had a family member help me put one together, and I slowly modified it from there – but it wasn’t spectacular.
A few years into my first IT job, and I worked with a great guy who took the time to teach me some critical resume skills. The things he taught me seem like common sense now, but at the time they seemed to do magical things for me. I actually had a few recruiters comment on how much they liked my resume – which seemed pretty amazing.
So what I want to share today are some of those tips that I was given, including some things I personally look for when I’m interviewing people.
1. Formatting, spelling, and grammar
I have to put this first because it is absolutely critical. For me personally, I am very disappointed when I see a resume with bad formatting, misspelled words, or cringe-worthy grammar. Your resume doesn’t have to look like a work of art, but don’t just include massive blobs of text. Break it up and create a nice simple layout. Don’t forget to use spell check – it’s already included in most word processing applications.
Grammar can be more difficult – again, I don’t expect perfection, but have someone else read through to ensure everything makes sense. I’ve literally received resumes before where they didn’t use any punctuation. Everything on your resume needs to maintain the same tense, and I prefer it to be past tense. Every point on your resume should reflect work that you have done – so you want to speak about it as a past experience.
2. Use clear, concise bullet points to describe your work history
I’ve come across a lot of people who type an entire paragraph under each job. It’s harder to read through quickly, and it just doesn’t look good. Remember when I mentioned formatting? Use bullet points.
Each bullet point should be kept to a maximum of one line. The occasional two-lined bullets are acceptable, but try to keep them to a minimum. Usually, if you need more than one line, then your point may be too wordy and you may need to re-phrase your statement. Each bullet should be a contained statement of your work experience. For example: “Managed Cisco ASA firewalls across five business locations”. From that single statement, I should be able to get an idea of what that means.
3. Keep it under two pages – but keep the relevant details
Maybe this is again personal preference, but I don’t really want to look over a resume that’s longer than two pages. When you only have a single job to put on your resume, it’s important that you put a lot of detail about what you’ve done. In this case, it’s acceptable to fill most or all of a page with your sole point of job experience. However, as you start adding more job history, the detail listed for your older positions should be stripped down to the most important points.
Always keep your most recent experience first!
4. Don’t re-write your job description – focus on your individual achievements
I’ve read too many resumes where the job history read like a list of job postings. Mentioning some of your job responsibilities is fine, but it shouldn’t be the entire thing. As someone reading your resume, I don’t want to read about what you’re supposed to do in your job role – I want to read about the things you’ve accomplished.
As an example to this, someone might put on their resume “Monitored security logs for anomalous events”. That’s great – but I’m not getting a sense of this person being self-motivated. Their job was monitoring logs for events, so they did exactly that. But what if this person was someone who really made something of that job duty? Then it would be better if they listed an actual individual accomplishment, like “Mitigated major threat to the company by identifying early indicators of security breach” or even something like “Refined security log review processes and mentored new employees on performing thorough review”. These statements give talking points – both something for me to ask about, and something for you to show your skills and pride of your work.
5. Tailor your resume to the job you want
When I started my career, I worked for an IT consulting company. As a result, I had an extremely wide range of experiences. Everything including help desk, network admin, storage admin, Windows sysadmin, antivirus admin, VoIP admin, etc. My resume from my first job was a mess – mostly because of the amount of roles I had to fill. If anyone looked at that resume, it would be impossible for them to tell that I really wanted to become a full-time network engineer.
My point is that you should revise your resume to fit what you’re looking for. If you have a strong drive to specialize in server hardware and Windows administration, then your resume shouldn’t have a ton of detail about your experiences with database administration. You don’t have to remove that experience completely from your resume, but your resume should carry a theme surrounding the job you want.
If you want to take this a step further – revise your resume for the job you’re applying for. If they’re looking for significant experience in vulnerability scanning and analysis, then make it a point to highlight your experiences that match that. Maybe you have a bit of experience with Nessus, but it’s not typically something you call out much on your resume. If the job posts that the position requires a expert knowledge of Nessus, then you definitely want to make sure your knowledge is immediately visible to them. Remove some less important bullet points, and add in a few more that pertain to the job role.
6. If you put something on your resume, be prepared to defend it
I love this from both the standpoint of an interviewer and an interviewee. Resumes are essentially a quick summary of your experiences, and you should be expected to be called out on anything listed there. Never put something on your resume that you can’t speak to.
As an interviewer, I like to find things on someones resume that they’ve claimed experience or expertise with and ask them about it. Especially people who put a list of technologies they’re familiar with. I don’t expect you to be able to answer extremely in-depth questions about every single thing on your resume. But more often than not, I ask “Okay, so I see you’ve listed experience with BGP and MPLS on your resume” and the response I get is either “Yeah, I know what those are” or “We used it at my last job (but I had no direct experience with it)”.. You don’t want to find yourself in this situation.
As an interviewee, I’ve had this same thing happen to me multiple times – except that these turn into ways for me to speak about things I’ve done with those technologies. It makes a good impression if you’re able to quickly recount knowledge or experiences of any random thing listed on your resume.
7. Keep it updated!
IT is fast paced. Things change – and you would be surprised how much you accomplish in six months. You probably won’t be surprised at how quickly you forget everything that you did in that six months though. For that reason, you need to make it a point to keep your resume updated – even if you’re not looking for a new job in the immediate future. That way, you make sure that you remember your recent accomplishments to add onto your resume – and you can also take a moment to review and remove older/less relevant items. I would recommend doing this every six to eight months.
You never know when you’re going to see a job you want, or get contacted by a recruiter for a perfect opportunity. Don’t miss your opportunity because you need time to update your resume. Keep it updated. I’ve known a lot of people to say “Oh yeah I’ll apply for that, I just need to update my resume first” – but then they never do.
8. About objectives or mission statements….
Alright, one last thing. Some people put objectives or personal mission statements on the top of their resumes. Personally, I don’t like them at all. I’m okay with them if you are a young professional who is looking for their first or second job. After that – I don’t want to see it.
Also – If you feel the need to put an objective at the top of your resume, please do me a favor: do not put “I’m working to become a <insert title of the job you applied for>”. I would say that about 80% of the resumes I see with objectives look exactly like that. I understand that you want this job, otherwise you wouldn’t have applied for it, right? So if you absolutely have to put an objective, make use of the space – tell me where you see yourself in five or ten years, or what your ideal position is. It means a lot more to me if you put something like “Working to gain knowledge and expertise as a network admin, with the goal of becoming a senior network architect”. Then I see that you have goals, and you’re working toward them.
Okay! That’s all I’ve got for now on this – but I hope that it helps you if you’re reading through this. I owe a lot of my resume-writing knowledge to the guy who originally helped me seven years ago, but I make it a point to pass along the help whenever I can.
If you have any other tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!