Writing an Effective — and Honest — Resume
BackBy Katherine Spencer Lee — November 2008
In an uncertain economy, it can be tempting for IT professionals to pad their resumes in the hopes of impressing hiring managers and securing more interviews, especially if they’ve been on the job hunt for a while. Those beginning their careers may do so to make up for a lack of experience. But the truth is being deceitful on your resume can quickly ruin not only your likelihood of landing a job, but also your future career prospects.
Many firms perform background and reference checks on potential employees during the interview process, and just one lie or misrepresentation can eliminate you from contention. With a quick call to a former boss or a university’s registrar’s office, a hiring manager can uncover a fabrication and end your chances of landing the position. If an exaggeration is initially overlooked, that doesn’t mean it won’t surface once you’re employed. Even the most successful careers aren’t immune from the long-lasting effects of a dishonest resume.
MIT’s dean of admissions, for example, resigned after it was revealed that she’d inflated her qualifications on the resume she’d submitted — 28 years earlier.
When it comes to your resume, the line between effective self-promotion and fabrication can be a thin one. Ensuring total accuracy can involve borderline decisions; when in doubt, err on the safe side. For example, if you’re working toward a certification you expect to have in a few months, don’t say you’ve already earned it.
Once you have a solid, factual foundation in place, you’re free to present yourself in the best light possible. Customize your resume and cover letter toward the specific position you’re applying for, describing how your skill set and previous experience line up with the job requirements.
Here are some tips to help you create an outstanding resume that truthfully represents you:
- Start with an objective. At the beginning of your resume, include a short statement that outlines the type of position you’re seeking, along with two or three credentials that qualify you for that role. Concentrate on the value you can bring to the organization, not the expectations you have of the position.
- Focus on business contributions. A resume isn’t just a list of facts and technical skills. It should paint a portrait of what you can do for an employer. For every position you’ve held, list several specific achievements and explain how each benefited the company. Use simple, active words to describe what you did. For example, write that you “implemented improvements to the company Web site,” not that “Web site improvements were implemented.”
- Use keywords. Your resume may be scanned into a database and searched for keywords relevant to the job you seek, so including those keywords in your resume is a good way to catch a hiring manager’s eye. For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires Java expertise, include the word “Java” in your resume and highlight projects you’ve worked on that entailed extensive use of that application, or a more sophisticated platform of the Java programming language. Don’t go overboard, however, or your resume may become difficult to read.
- Keep it short and simple. Some resumes pack in as many details as possible, a lot of which have very little to do with the position at hand. As a result, the hiring manager may miss the important parts. Unless you have decades of experience or are applying for a high-level position, limit your resume to one or two pages. Use a simple, clean format with only one font. Remove formatting if the employer has requested that the resume be sent in the body of an e-mail.
- Don’t trust your own eyes. Have a few friends or colleagues review your resume, and ask if they think it successfully highlights your background and skills. A pair of fresh eyes also can spot any spelling or grammatical errors you’ve overlooked.
The most effective resumes demonstrate to employers who you are and what you can contribute to the organization — all in the best possible light. Painting an accurate picture of your skills and experience will help ensure a good fit with a future employer and allow you to sleep easy at night.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.