Writing a Resume That Stands Out
BackBy Dave Willmer — September 2009
Like any skill, resume writing improves with practice. Here are some suggestions to help speed up your learning curve.
Target the content. Many employers use computer programs to determine how many times certain words or phrases they’ve selected turn up on the resumes they receive, flagging those resumes that have the most matches for further consideration. How do you make sure yours is one of those selected? By scanning the job description of the position you’re applying for and using the same terms — provided they actually describe your experience, of course. For example, if you’re applying for a position as a software engineer, the employer may select Java as a keyword, particularly if that language is included in the job posting.
Proofread. According to a Robert Half Technology survey, when CIOs were asked which of the following areas their IT staff could most improve in, 15 percent said verbal and written communication skills: the third-highest response. Any errors that show up on a resume reflect on your attention to detail and professionalism — albeit poorly. In addition, communication skills are becoming more important for IT professionals to possess, as they interact with more people from across the organization. They must be able to clearly explain complex technical ideas to a variety of audiences.
Be specific. Hiring managers aren’t looking for a laundry list of tasks you’ve performed in previous positions. Instead, they seek information about your accomplishments, your advancement within a company and ways that you’ve changed or improved the positions you’ve held. Today, especially, hiring managers want IT professionals who can use technology to save the company money, improve efficiency or guide business decisions. Illustrate examples where you’ve benefited past employers in these ways. Quantifying your achievements — perhaps you reduced software licensing fees by $10,000 or cut call times in the help-desk department by 20 percent, for instance — can make them stand out even more to prospective employers.
Keep it short. Cut back on the heft of your resume by examining your work history and removing items that do not relate to the types of positions you’re seeking. For example, jobs you held in college, especially those outside of IT, will probably not be of great interest to hiring managers, unless you’re a recent graduate. Of course, this doesn’t mean your resume cannot exceed a certain length. According to a survey by Robert Half Technology, 44 percent of executives polled said that two pages is an acceptable length for staff-level resumes. The point is to be selective about the information you include, not to provide as much information as possible in hopes that something catches a hiring manager’s eye.
Consider altering your format when appropriate. The most commonly used resume format is chronological, in which you list your work history in detail, placing your most recent position first. But you may want to think about other options. For instance, say you’ve been on maternity leave for a few years and are looking to re-enter the workforce as a software engineer. It’s likely that the programming languages you were familiar with have been updated, if not replaced, since then. In this situation, a hybrid resume may be a better option. Job seekers who use this resume format list their relevant skills and accomplishments near the top of the document — you might have sections titled “Technical Skills” and “Leadership Experience,” for instance. An abbreviated work history, in reverse chronological order, is placed after this initial content. By making your skills and abilities, rather than your job titles and previous employers, the main focus of the document, you may be able to overcome any concerns about your gap in employment. Others who may want to consider an alternate format are recent graduates, those who have job-hopped quite a bit or those making a significant career change.
Send a follow-up resume. Few people send hard-copy resumes these days, given the ease of submitting electronic applications. And that’s exactly why you should consider sending a prospective employer a paper resume. By following up an e-mailed resume with a hard copy, you give yourself an extra opportunity to get the hiring manager’s attention, and you may stand out from other applicants.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.