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Writing an Effective Technical Resume

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Has your job tanked? It is time to dust off your resume and get a new job, but will your old resume work in this tight job market? Here are some helpful ideas for sprucing it up.
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Out of that high-tech, high pay job? Bummer! So how do you, as a technical person, convince employers that they should hire you for positions they have—and increase your pay to boot? The first step is to locate employers seeking applicants for technical jobs for which you qualify. Advertised jobs that seem to fit your exact qualifications may not match because the advertisement has often been reviewed and rewritten by several people before being published. The manager with the position may not be able to write an advertisement that accurately describes the person who is the best candidate for the job. This just means that you must apply for many, many positions in order to find a match. Never get discouraged when job interview requests do not magically appear, even after you respond to many job advertisements.

Typical Technical Resume Content

After locating employers that need applicants for jobs for which you qualify, the next step in the process is to create and send an effective resume. The problem with technical resumes is that they often contain too much information. Many times, the information in the resume narrows the applicant's capabilities so they do not fit the position that the prospective employer wants to fill. A resume I recently received illustrates this. A section of the resume appeared as follows:

SOFTWARE CAPABILITIES

Provide training (classroom or one-on-one environment), technical and help-desk support, and production skills in the following:

OPERATING SYSTEMS

DOS
Macintosh
Windows 3.1
Windows 95/98/ME/2000/NT

SOFTWARE

Adobe Acrobat
Adobe FrameMaker
Adobe GoLive
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe PageMaker
Adobe PhotoShop
Adobe Premiere

Macromedia ColdFusion
Macromedia Director
Macromedia Dreamweaver
Macromedia Fireworks
Macromedia Flash/ActionScript
Macromedia FreeHand
Macromedia Homesite

Microsoft Access
Microsoft Excel
Microsoft FrontPage
Microsoft Outlook
Microsoft PowerPoint
Microsoft VisualBasic
Microsoft Word

ASP
CGI/PERL
CorelDraw
HTML/DHTML
JavaScript
Painter 3D
RayDream Studio
XML

HARDWARE CAPABILITIES

Installing, configuring, optimizing, operating and troubleshooting the following:

CD ROM Drives/Burners
Digitizers
FAX/Modems
Hard Drives
Laser Printers
Memory Modules
Microphones
Motherboards
Network Cables
Network Cards
Optical Disk Drives
Plotters
Scanners
SCSI Cards and Devices
Slide Recorders
Sound Cards
Sound Mixers
Speakers
Video Cameras
Video Cards
Video Monitors

What kind of problems has this applicant solved? What kind of problems can this applicant solve? If I were to interview this candidate for a training position, he or she would likely not be capable of teaching PC and telecommunications technology seminars.

Following is a listing of the certifications from another resume:

CERTIFICATIONS:

Cisco Security Specialist 1
Cisco Certified Networking Associate
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer on Windows NT 4.0
Microsoft Certified Professional plus Internet

TECHNICAL TRAINING:

Cisco Secure Pix Firewalls Advanced course
Cisco Secure Pix Firewalls Basic course
Managing Cisco Network Security course
Certified Information Systems Auditor review course
Symantec Intruder Alert intrusion detection system
course
3Com Netbuilder II Router course
Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0 course
Supporting Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 course
Administering Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 course

PROFESSIONAL EXAMS PASSED:

Cisco Intrusion Detection System and Policy Manager exam
Cisco Secure Virtual Private Network exam
Cisco Secure Pix Firewall Advanced exam
Managing Cisco Network Security exam
Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated exam
Microsoft Internet Information Server 3.0 exam
Networking Essentials exam
Microsoft TCP/IP on Windows NT 4.0 exam
Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 in the Enterprise exam
Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 exam
Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 exam

The certifications indicate that the candidate passed the certification exams, but do they demonstrate the systems thinking needed to solve networking problems? Not necessarily. The ability to solve network problems depends little on the certification knowledge a candidate possesses and more on the ability to look at a whole network picture while asking dumb questions. Certifications do not convey this ability.

As an employer, I have reviewed hundreds of resumes that have listed gobs of detail on a person's background. Further, certifications are growing by leaps and bounds. There are certifications in almost every conceivable hardware and software discipline. Employers are inundated with this information and have little time to review it. Of course, they need to balance general information with detailed information on specific technical knowledge and skills when determining whether a candidate has the technical background for a specific job. However, people are hired to solve problems. People are not hired to be skilled at passing certification tests.

When it was fashionable to be a Novell CNE, I passed all the requisite CNE tests within about two weeks and became one. Was I a better network support person after I passed the tests? No. Could I solve network problems any better after passing the tests? No. If I failed the tests, could I still solve network problems better than someone who had passed the CNE tests? Yes—because when I started solving a network problem, I did not quit until it was solved. The number one rule of troubleshooting is "I will win!", and passing certifications tests doesn't change that attitude.

What is the correct technical background? A candidate should have just enough technical knowledge to get started, blended with an extra large dose of enthusiasm for the work so that the applicant solves the employer's problem. Candidates should not be over-trained so they can't adapt to the technical environment and systems that the employer has. Candidates must also be enthusiastic and quick learners so they can quickly come up-to-speed and solve technical problems for potential employers. Listing certifications and technical capabilities does not do this.

So, the approach to creating an effective resume is to not list every piece of software or every computer on which an applicant has worked, but to demonstrate the ability to learn technologies and to use that knowledge to solve technical problems. It is much better to stress general areas of technical knowledge and demonstrated work accomplishments in those areas that illustrate what an effective problem solver and employee the job applicant is. Certifications should be provided as ancillary information.

Another important resume component can be a technical demonstration of the skills and knowledge of the applicant. This should not be an overblown demonstration, but rather a low-key demonstration of using technology to get a job. It can also include a Web page reference that is easily searchable by anyone for the detailed information omitted from the printed resume submitted. An effective resume should be a multifaceted document that sells the problem-solving accomplishments and skills of the job applicant.

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