Somewhere in between these two extremes lies getting a job. You will probably be looking for a new employer more often than you pursue a new spouse, but still not often enough that you become a total expert in the do's and don'ts of writing a resume. Yet, you need that piece of paper to stand out and land you some interviews.
"People look at resumes very quickly," says Thomas W. Morris III of Washington, D.C.-based Morris and Associates, Inc. "A resume should have a really good appearance so people can look at it in five to 10 seconds."
While there are lots of books giving the proper format for a resume, they don't necessarily cover the specifics that apply to landing a high-tech job. To help you out, we have spoken with three experts in the IT resume field, people who prepare resumes for IT personnel a living. Here are the key points of advice.
Particularly when applying for higher-level positions, a well-done cover letter is essential. The cover letter must be specific to the job offering, not a canned letter.
"I have talked to a lot of recruiters who say that if you don't sell them in a cover letter, they don't even read the resume," says Morris.
Others don't read the letter until after they have read the resume.
"One guy said he that he wants the letter to see if applicants can write a letter," Morris continues. "If he likes the resume then he will read the letter."
The cover letter also gives the applicant the opportunity to explain things that can't easily be covered in the experience section of the resume itself.
For example, a person may have been changing jobs frequently, not due to quitting or being fired, but because employers have merged, downsized or closed. The cover letter can explain this situation and emphasize that the person wants to stay with and help build a company.
This would also be the place to explain career shifts which might otherwise baffle the recruiter. Lewis E. Platt, for example, after 33 years at Hewlett-Packard, the last seven years as its CEO, switched to being CEO of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates for a year and a half. While Platt wouldn't have to present a resume if he chose to come back out of retirement, those who haven't been CEO of a multi-billion dollar firm would use a cover letter to show how the experience gained in non-IT fields would help them do a better job in IT.
Many companies now use electronic HR systems. Recruiters directly import the e-mailed resumes into the database and scan paper copies. They can then do key word searches to locate applicants with the skills needed for a particular job. Key words and buzz words, then, have high importance.
If you are not certain of what words to include in your resume, one approach is to go through the employment section of the want ads and observe what words are being used there since these ads are written by the HR personnel.
Don't just compose the resume based on these terms, however. What shows up in the ads are generally the positions that the companies are having a hard time finding someone for, not all the positions that are available. Just because companies are heavily recruiting for security engineers doesn't mean they don't also need database administrators or website designers. So make sure that your resume reflects what you are really interested in doing, not just what is listed in the paper.
Another approach that some people take is to simply do a long resume including as many items as possible so that they will have more terms that can show up in a search. There is a downside to this "catch-all" method, though. Once the resume shows up on a search, the recruiter will still read it and if with a quick glance at the summary it doesn't seem appropriate you won't get a call.
That's why Mike Mullery of Fortune Personnel of the East Bay in San Ramon, Calif., recommends that people have multiple resumes. "I tell them they should do a shotgun resume for a recruiter that includes all the buzz words," he explains. "But for a specific job, they need to customize it to emphasize the skills needed for that particular job."
He also recommends that people list all their lower-level training, not just the highest certificate earned.
Let's say that the IT Director tells personnel that the requirement for a position is that the applicant needs to be a Certified Novell Engineer (CNE). If you are a Certified Novell Instructor (CNI), for example, you are also a CNE since that is a prerequisite for the CNI. But if you don't state in the resume that you are also a CNE, it will never show up in a keyword search. You can't expect an HR clerk to know to search under both terms, or even to know that a CNI also means that you are a CNE when reading your resume.
While the resume should list all your technical skills and experience, that is only part of what companies are looking for in hiring personnel. People skills these days are just as important.
"The principle in any kind of resume is making sure that you understand what the hiring manager is looking for in terms of skills and experience and matching yours to the position," says Michael Goldstein, director of High Tech Resumes in Mountain View, Calif. "What employers are looking for is people who can communicate and are fast-thinking, in addition to being current on the technology."
This applies to everyone, but it is particularly critical for those seeking any type of a managerial position.
While some advise against including any type of personal information in the resume, Morris recommends that those applying for management positions include a personal section giving professional affiliations and memberships as well as community activities especially if the person held any officer or leadership positions in these groups. This demonstrates that someone has organizational and managerial skills in addition to being technically proficient.
In addition to the above points, of course, there are specific style and formatting rules to follow when preparing a resume. Books on the topic are available at any bookstore and there are also several websites covering the topic. But, if you are not quickly getting the job you want, consult a professional. It is far cheaper, after all, to obtain a professionally prepared resume than to spend another week out of work.