Retooling Your Resume
The job market has certainly been tough on IT professionals over the past 18 months. In markets like these you have to ensure that your resume gets noticed. This task can be particularly tough when most hiring managers receive hundreds of responses for each job ad they post. In this month’s column, we’ll walk you through supercharging your resume to ensure that you not only get noticed, but you also win an invitation to interview.
Using Your Resume to Get Past the Gatekeepers
The first step in landing the job you deserve is getting past the gatekeepers. It means making it easy for resume screeners (IT manager, HR specialist, executive administrator) to pick you from the hundreds of resumes that they may have to sift through. Keep in mind that some of the screeners may not even have a technical background, so it is even more important to help them match your competencies and skills to their open job. There are three important components to this.
- Skip the objective statement. Every employer knows that you’re seeking a challenging position within an IT department where you can apply your skills. Use the space on your resume more effectively by providing a summary statement instead. A summary statement should include the title of the job you’re looking for and a broad description of your skills and how they may be used to solve a company need. For example:
Seasoned network engineer with 5 years of security management experience in the financial/banking industry. Check Point Certified Security Administrator (CCSA) certified.
- Don’t hide your skills. Most resume screeners won’t ever make it to your second page, so you must ensure that everything you want them to know about you appears in the first two-thirds of your resume. That includes software/hardware, skills and certifications. As a technical professional, these should appear immediately after your summary statement. Most computer professionals include languages, technologies, operating systems, applications and certifications.
- Show them what you can do with those skills. Now that you’ve piqued their interest, show them what you can do. For each position, you should describe your responsibilities and the projects that you worked on. Include the purpose of the project, the technology used and the difference you made. If you have a hard time identifying ways you made a difference, ask yourself “So what?” for each of your job responsibilities or projects. The answer to this question should help the resume screener and hiring manager picture you doing the same for their department.
Customizing Your Resume
Every position is different, so every resume you send out should be different as well. This means doing a bit of research on the company and the position to help increase the match between you and the available job. This involves a bit of research and creativity. There are different ways to go about doing this.
Researching the company should be easy enough. Your research should start with the company’s Web site. A visit can provide a wealth of information on the company and the job positing. To start with, you’ll want to gather the following information:
- Its industry and its industry ranking.
- How long it’s been in business.
- Whether it’s a public company.
- How well it’s doing (particularly in this economy).
- Its strategic imperatives and vision for the future.
You can use this information to tailor how you present yourself on your resume. This information can help you tailor your objective statement by calling out experience in the same or a similar industry. This may score you more points with employers because they anticipate it would take you less time to get to productivity than someone with experience in a different industry. (The information you gather from the company’s Web site will also help you later to structure informed questions in your interview.)
In addition to posting the “required” stuff, a company typically also posts available job openings on their own site. By checking these out you can find out whether other jobs are available. Using this information, you can determine whether the company may be backfilling a position or building a new department or team. Building a new department is typically an indication of good times for the organization. And you never know whether there might be another position that you may be better suited for, like a management position rather than a staff position.
Don’t limit yourself to the company’s Web site. There are lots of other ways to research a company, including:
- Asking friends whether they know the company or anyone who has worked for the organization.
- Searching Google.com for recent press releases.
- Searching local business journals.
Another great way to research a company is by calling its HR department. HR specialists can be a wonderful source of information on hiring managers and can provide more details on the position, including whether the position is a backfill or a new position. While you’re at it, find out more about the perks of working for the organization. This will help you assess whether it might be a good fit for you.
The Cover Letter
People don’t pay enough attention to cover letters these days. It’s a shame because cover letters can help you tell your story and sell yourself. A cover letter is an introduction. It adds personality to your resume. It’s very important!
A cover letter should include:
- The position and where you found out about it. If you heard about the position from a friend who works for the company, let the screener know. Companies know that recommendations are the most effective hires. They trust their own employees to know who would make a good fit with the company, and you’re sure to get extra consideration.
- Identify why this is a great opportunity to hire you. This may include your most recent experiences with the same technology, similar responsibilities someplace else or experience solving a similar problem. Sell yourself!
- Identify the benefits of hiring you over any other candidate. This includes your experience and your certifications. Stress the added benefits of previous training, motivation and other personal qualities that have made you successful in the past.
- Ask for an interview. Recommend a time when you’ll be available. Make it worth their time by demonstrating deliverables from previous projects. Think of different ways you have made a difference and promise to bring them to life for the interviewer.
Your cover letter should be about three paragraphs total. It should be respectful but not stuffy.
Most people send their resume to dozens of different companies and in response to hundreds of job postings, but they never follow up. A little-known secret is that most hiring managers can take up to six months to fill a position. Managers get distracted by other things. Persistence in this job market can go a long way. This means following up after every single resume you send. It’s become a lost art.
Before following up, give the recipient about a week to review your resume. Some hiring managers like to collect all the resumes and review them all at once. If you responded to a job ad on a job board, call the company directly. Most jobs are posted by the HR department, so you should start there. Find out who the hiring manager is, and ask to be directed to them if they are screening resumes themselves. Politely acknowledge that you know they are busy and that you are following up on the resume that you submitted. Since you have little time with the hiring manager and you don’t want to blackball yourself from the process, simply ask for three pieces of information: