How to Write a Technical Resume

Advice taken from Grace Hopper Celebration site.

How do you make a great impression on a hiring agent? How do you distinguish yourself from others quickly and effectively? These are just a few of the challenges facing the person who is preparing a resume. Of course, all of us have seen resumes over the years, but not often do we deliberate and consider what makes a good document vs. a mediocre one. And, of course, you want yours to be top notch!

So let’s take a look at the basics and then proceed to the more subtle points of resume preparation. Basics first. A good resume is a marketing brochure featuring you. It hits the high points, provides focus and emphasis on what you have done in your life and work life that is relevant to the job or industry that is compelling to you. It creates interest and invites the reader to get to know you; it is not a detailed, retrospective history of everything you have done over your lifetime. It is filtered to show a match to the job you are seeking, highlighting the skills, values and transferable skills that are necessary for success in the new opportunity.

There are basically two types of resumes, the chronological and the functional. The chronological resume is most common, and outlines your work and experiences in chronological order from most recent to most remote experience. Students generally use the chronological format. A functional resume is a bridge resume and is used for those making career changes, returning to the workforce, and for highlighting experience that is from volunteer work as well. It groups experience in 3-5 areas of expertise, such as project management or programming, and profiles the candidate carefully by integrating experiences. I recommend adding a section where you outline the dates and organizations where this experience was gathered.

Good paper and good visual presentation are important. Watermarked papers in beige, cream or white are the traditional choices. Watermark should face up when printed. A one page resume is the length for business, a two page resume may be acceptable in other industries such as not for profit or education. Material should be easy to read, dates easy to extract, with a readable font and balance of white and dark space.

The basic data on you is important at the top, name, address, cell phone, email. Bold is good, font bolded but not larger than 14-16, and formats are important to consider if space is at a premium. I do not recommend templates for resumes, I find that these are difficult to use for tailoring for best advantage.

Whatever you say should have a real purpose for existing on the paper. The irreverent question I pose when I read something on the resume is “So what?” If the internal answer is vague, then the statement needs to be reexamined. Maybe you will keep it, but jazz it up, or maybe it is irrelevant. This question often helps to make choices on your wording and what is included in the document.

To make your resume striking, write about accomplishments. Accomplishments are things that you have done which you feel good about, can be described and quantified, and reflect a completed piece of work. This is often cited as one of the most important factors in forming a compelling resume; it shows how you did the work, the span of control, and what level of work you did at the time. Sometimes it is hard to describe work in this way, but from a recruiter’s perspective, this is very powerful and compelling.

For scientific and technical resumes, a few pointers have emerged that are particularly helpful for highlighting expertise. The top third of the first page of the resume is known as the billboard, and it is there that you want to feature your best information for the reader. As an IT professional, a section on your areas of technical expertise is helpful. Some candidates outline professional expertise by software and hardware, or by projects. This section immediately cues the reader as to the focus of your technical skill, your level of work, and goals or match to their opportunities. If you are in college, under education you may wish to list relevant coursework, highlighting just a few of the top level courses which you have taken. Again, this cues the reader for the level of challenge which you can work on regularly.

If you are a student, then include information on your extra curricular activities which demonstrates your leadership and team skills. Companies hire a total person, someone that they would view as a great colleague, and this helps to round out the profile. If you are a junior or senior, drop high school information, but a sophomore or freshman may still include this material. Remember, anything on the resume should be purposeful!

And finally, have a few trusted friends or family and your advisor look at it. After you have slaved over your resume for hours it is easy to miss grammatical errors, typos, or material that is unclear upon a first reading. Once this is done, you will have a core resume to use for your job searches. Remember to tailor each resume to the particular job or internship, drawing on the core resume, and make your best effort. A resume is always a work in progress, so be kind to yourself, finish it in time for the deadlines, and celebrate your good efforts!

Cori Ashworth is a career consultant with 20+ years experience who works with individuals to reach their work and life goals. She has two advanced degrees, one in Education, and another in Counseling with a concentration on careers. In her own career she has worked in the not for profit, information technology, management consulting and higher education sectors; currently she is the Director of Alumnae Career Services and Employer Outreach at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. In addition, Ms. Ashworth has a private career practice, working with a range of clientèle.

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