March 11, 2013

1280 words 7 mins read

Resume Tips from an IT Hiring Manager

Recently I went through a round of hiring in my IT Department. Nothing special or out of the ordinary about it. I thought there was a lot of information out there on the net about how to write resumes and cover letters. However, during my recent round of hiring I received a LARGE number of applications which were… well… fairly depressing (to put it nicely). Since I don’t consider myself that particular snooty about resumes, I thought I’d share the broad ways in which applicants had troubles.

Cover Letters — Learn them, use them, love them

The first thing that really differentiated applicants whom cared about the job they were applying for, versus the masses of “spam” applicants, was the use of cover letters. As someone who’s had to go out and apply for jobs “blind” before, I agree that cover letters are probably the single hardest portion of the job hunt process.

However, you should still use them. A resume tells me (the hiring manager, in this case) what you do, it doesn’t tell me who you are. Who you are is important in any small team and with any company of less than a thousand employees, IT is going to be a small team. In my team, most of what we do is user facing so personality is important.

Cover Letters — Customize it, pretend it’s a mad lib

The next filter for incoming applications is cover letters that are completely generic. Beyond telling me who you (the applicant) are, a resume should tell me why you’re perfect for this job. You cannot possibly do that in a 100% generic cover letter. Sure, a chunk of your resume will probably be static for every application — there is nothing wrong with that — however a large section should be customized.

As strange as it sounds, treat the cover letter like a mad lib. Put in a bunch of “fill-in-the-blank” slots. These should include fields such as: Company name, posted job title, company address, hiring manager or recruiters name (if listed), and today’s date. Beyond those fields, at least one full paragraph should be written to specifically address the job description — this is the bread and butter of your cover letter. It will show that you WANT the job, and you’re willing to put in the effort.

Read the job description, use it to your advantage

One of the things I was looking for was someone who was Mac savvy. In the paragraph “brief” about the job and in the required skills, I specifically stated a need for OSX expertise. So twice in a half page, OSX is called out. However, at least half the resumes I read didn’t even mention the words “Apple”, “OSX”, or “Mac”. Job descriptions tend to be optimistic in terms of skills and requirements. However, if something is at the top of the list or mentioned several times… it’s probably very important.

If you don’t have the skill, use your cover letter to cover that. I’d have been willing to interview someone who said, in their cover letter, that they didn’t have the requisite OSX experience but were eager to learn. This at least shows me that they A) read the job description, B) understood the job description, and C) had the honesty to point out the one major way they were lacking (but probably included several other ways in which they were the best fit).


This should be fairly self explanatory. There is very little reason in this day in age not to submit your resume as a PDF document. My iPad can view PDFs, my MacBook Air can view PDFs… however neither can view MS Word documents (since I only have MS Office installed on my desktop). Plus, I had a couple MS Word applications that came in with Macros… like hell I’m running those.

If you’re on Windows, you can install CutePDF and print any document to PDF. If you’re on a recent version of OSX, you can print any document to PDF (built in). If you’re running MS Word 2010 or later, you can save as PDF. No excuse not to do so.

Don’t password protect your PDFs

This should be obvious. Don’t enable any sort of password protection on your PDFs. If you’re not sure, send it to a friend, and ask them to open and print your resume — if they can’t do that — neither can a hiring manager/recruiter. If I wish to kill the environment printing your resume, that’s my prerogative.

Claim to be detail oriented? Better spell/grammar check everything

Many people claim to have an attention to detail, be detail oriented, or some variation of that statement which implies that they are really careful. However, many of those applicants also misspell words or make fairly glaring grammatical mistakes. Not that people aren’t allowed to make mistakes, but if you make the claim — you have to back it up… otherwise it’s hypocritical.

Regardless of if you make the “detail oriented” gamble on your resume/cover letters, you should still spell check, grammar check, logic check, anything check your resumes AND cover letters. This is your first (and possibly last) impression upon a hiring manager or recruiter. Don’t have them shoot you down simply because you didn’t spend 15 minutes sending your resume to a friend to catch those glaring misspelled words.

If you apply via LinkedIn, don’t assume I can see your profile

My job posting was on LinkedIn, among other locations. The posting was under a recruiter’s profile, but the applications were redirected to me. This is fairly common. Unfortunately, since it was setup as such, I did not necessarily have the ability to see applicants full profiles. In fact, some applied with nothing more than their LinkedIn profile… of which I could not see. That combined with the fact that I had to go hunt down a profile, did not endear them me. Technology is great, but when your job is on the line, be on the safe side… use a resume.

Flair optional

If you’re applying for an artistic job, being artsy with your resume is probably a smart move. However, IT is not typically an artistic job so it is fairly safe to leave the pieces of flair at Chotchkie’s. There is nothing wrong with having some style and differentiating your resume from the hundreds of other applicants, but go easy on it. Many companies use automated keyword scanning software which is not impressed by colors and styles, some are even confused by it, so use it sparingly.

Two page resume, not a character more

You’re awesome and you know it. You want me to know it. So you’re going to send me a resume that proves how awesome you are. Do it, but do so concisely. Unless you’re a top executive (in which case, why the heck are you reading my advice), there is little reason to have a resume beyond 2 pages. If you’ve got a number of jobs you want to list, then trim down the amount of information per job. In my resume, I drastically shorten the oldest jobs and leave only the “best of” highlights.

For one job posting, I may receive a hundred or more applications. With a 2 page resume and a 1 page cover letter, that’s around 300 pages. Unfortunately, resumes are not the latest Scalzi novel, so they aren’t nearly as exciting to dive into. If you submit a 4 page resume, that doubles the amount of work I would have to do. Realistically, a 4 page resume will not get read in depth and the highlights will be missed.