With the economy looking so bad, you might be updating your resume. We often review resumes for friends and offer advice. Here are the suggestions that I generally give out:

Tips for Technical Resumes

Tip 1: Know the audience

First of all, then writing it is important to play to your audience. Steven King always includes the elements that his fans expect. An action film is expected to have an explosion or something major in the first scene. A romance is expected to introduce at least one of the main people in the first five minutes. A resume has to be written for its audience too.

Who are the audiences of a resume?

What makes writing a resume difficult is that there are two audiences. First is the low-paid, non-technical HR clerk that receives the resume. If it gets past the clerk, it will arrive at the desk of the person that will be your future boss. Your resume has to have the elements that will please both of these people.

The most common mistake that I see is that people do not write anything for the clerk. Therefore, their resume never gets to the hiring manager. The “Objective Statement” at the top of your resume is what the clerk reads. Make sure you resume has one, and make it a good one.

Tip 2: A good Objective statement

A good objective statement tells a plainly-state title you would like (“UNIX programmer,” “CGI Developer,” “Project Manager,” “Prostitute”) and a couple skills that you have (“excellent writing skills,” “experience with digital audio technology,” “excellent oral skills”, etc.).

You can also specify what industry or department you want to be in (“financial services,” “telecommunication,” “.COM”, etc.).

Here are some good ones that I have seen:

  1. A position as a Senior UNIX/Linux Developer that lets me utilize my years of experience in the TDM cellular technology.
  2. A position as a Project Manager in the EDA industry that lets me utilize my excellent communication and presentation skills.
  3. A position as a Junior UNIX/Solaris Sysadmin (SAGE Level II) in the financial services industry that lets me utilize my superior Solaris knowledge.
  4. Experienced web-developer looking for projects that let me expand my HTML, VBNET, MS-CMS2k skills.

In that last example “expand” sets an expectation of being a little green at VB.NET, etc. Replace it with “utilize” if you want to set an expectation of already being an expert. Companies do hire both, so do not set unreasonable expectations.

A sample bad objective statement (this is a real example):

That person did not get any calls back, even though he had built .COM infrastructures that served literally millions of users’ email, web services, etc. The person was quite brilliant with technical things, but did not write a resume that would get past the clerk as it did not include any buzzwords or technology that the clerk could recognize nor a tangible position/title that was open. How could the clerk classify such a resume? It has to get past the clerk to get to the hiring-manager.

A better statement would have been: “A senior architect of UNIX-based (Solaris, Linux) email and web services that lets me utilize my experience in building extremely scalable systems with high up-times.” He did change his resume to something similar, and soon started getting phone calls.

Tip 3: Buzzwords

Use ‘em. There is a reason for them, it makes communication faster. I hate “buzzword compliant” presentations, but only when they aren’t adding any value to the statement. When they appear on a resume they do add value because the clerk uses them (whether or not they know what they mean). Better-trained clerks are given a list of synonyms.

For example: they might be told “We need a Solaris sysadmin… but that means anyone that mentions Sun, SunOS, or UNIX should be considered. Oh, other synonyms for UNIX are: AIX, Linux, IRIX… a person that knows any of those but wants to learn Solaris is fine for this position.” However, that does not always happen, so I am a little redundent: I include the word UNIX in addition to the name the vendor uses.

List your strongest skills first. People evaluating resumes only read the first 3-4 items. I see many “skills” sections that list 20 operating systems or 20 languages or 20 vendors and that is a fine way to show that you have a lot of experience over many years. However, the person reading your resume is only going to read the first 3-4, so make sure those are the ones you want to work in. do not list them in chronological order: that just emphasizes out-of-date technology.

A friend listed the languages she knew in the order she learned them. Which of the these two would a clerk find most useful if he/she was told to find a “Windows C++ programmer”.

  1. BASIC, Pascal, C-64 BASIC, AppleBasic, Cobal, Fortran, C, awk, C++, Visual C++, Perl
  2. Perl, Visual C++, C++, awk, C, Fortran, Cobal, AppleBasic, C-64 Basic, Pascal, BASIC.

Number 2 is the more appealing, right? List the technologies you want to work with first.

Delete the super-old technologies like Commodore 64 and Apple II.

A concise way to list skills is to group them:

Tip 4: Use industry classification like certifications and SAGE Job Classifications

Who cares about certications? I do not, but the clerk does. If you have any certifications, list them. Consider getting certified on topics that you feel you could pass without studying very hard. It will help you get past the clerk.

If you are a sysadmin, use the SAGE Job Classifications to describe yourself and/or the position you are looking for. More and more HR departments are using them, and certainly the cool companies that you want to work for are using them. However, explain enough so that someone that has not read http://sageweb.sage.org/resources/publications/8_jobs/ will understand what you mean. That is why the above example was redundant: “a Junior UNIX/Solaris Sysadmin (SAGE Level II)”. Also good would be “A SAGE Level II (Junior) UNIX System Administrator”.

Tip 5: Never lie

I shouldn’t have to say this, but do not lie on your resume. do not exaggerate your skills. do not claim you have certifications that you do not have. Companies would rather know that you do not know something but are willing to learn than be surprised to discover that you misrepresented yourself.

I had rather poor grades in college so I did not include my GPA on my resume. I was honest when asked for my GPA during interviews: the first interview was with someone that did not complete college, and was unconcerned with GPA: he thought experience was more important.

I once interviewed someone that claimed they had designed LANs and WANs only to discover that they had talked about it with friends, usually while drinking at parties. If he had said he is looking to get started in LAN/WAN design, I might have hired him and enjoyed teaching him the rules of the road. Instead, I ripped up his resume after he left.

If they do not discover you are misrepresenting yourself (google is a great thing), then they’ll be surprised when your job performance is not what they expected and end up terminating you after a few months. do not waste their time. There are jobs out there for every skill level no matter where you are.

Tip 6: Your filename

Never use a filename like “resume.doc” when sending your resume as an attachment. Name the file something like “resume_tom_limoncelli.doc” so that if the HR person saves it, s/he will be able to easily tell yours from someone else’s… and your resume will not be overwritten the next time someone else sends them a file called “resume.doc”. (Thanks to Tina for that tip!)

Example Resume

Here’s the beginning of my resume, altered slightly to demonstrate the above tips:

123 Main Street
Townname, ST 12345
+1 123 456 7890 [email protected]

Objective: An architect-level senior system administrator (SAGE Level IV) UNIX or Network Administration position that uses my technical and inter-personal skills; or a role evaluating new technologies especially in the security and networking marketplace.



Work History:

Director of Operations, Lumeta Corp, Somerset, NJ

Senior Network Architect (MTS), Lucent Bell Labs, Murray Hill, NJ

References available on request.