Saturday, February 21, 2009

Show Your Skills on Your IT Resume

Employers often screen candidates based on their technical skills, so job seekers naturally want to make sure they present their skills properly. As a result, creating a resume’s skills section can be a challenge.
Typical resume issues techies wrestle with include:
- Whether to list skills alphabetically or in order of importance.
- Whether to include every skill - but how much detail is too much?
How they can differentiate between expert knowledge and passing familiarity.

Don’t Exaggerate

One recruiter’s advice is simple: Don’t obsess over the skills section to the point of embellishment. "In adding a skills section to their resume, a lot of people have a tendency to exaggerate their level of expertise in various technologies," says Scott Hajer, senior corporate recruiter for Software Architects. "They figure the more keywords, the more exposure."

Such tactics are likely to backfire, especially during a technical interview. "We had a candidate who had a big grid on his resume, listing all the skills he had and rating himself on a scale of 1 to 5 in them," says Hajer. One of the skills was J2EE, with a "3" (for average ability) tagged to it. "When asked to talk about J2EE, he could not even define the term, much less talk about his experience in it," he says.

Some employers provide questionnaires asking candidates to rate themselves on particular skills, but they don’t expect such ratings in a resume’s skills section. Keep things simple. Denote each skill with the number of years’ experience or, if you’re intent on including a rating, with words like novice, intermediate and expert.

Skills and Their Uses

The skills section should be buttressed with job descriptions detailing how those skills have been used in the workplace. For example, a resume listing Java, Oracle and UML in the skills section should describe how those technologies were employed on a particular project. Those details provide employers with genuine insight into the depth of a person’s knowledge and experience with those technologies.

Stay Relevant

Consider these tips:

  • Delete outdated skills or those with no relevance to your job objective.
  • Separate tech skills into familiar categories such as operating systems, networks and programming tools.
  • List skills in the order of their relevance to your job objective, rather than alphabetically.
  • If you’ve only read about it in Computerworld or on, don’t include it.

Resume Organization

Techies may want to place the skills section after the job objective and before the experience section. But there are exceptions. If you’re just starting out, you may want to place a greater emphasis on education and internships. If you’re seeking management or sales positions, you may want to avoid crowding the resume with a list of technical skills. Instead, consider placing the list below the experience section or adding other elements, such as communication abilities and foreign languages, to the skills section.

Here are examples of one job seeker’s technical skills section:

Paragraph Format — the Most Common

Technical Skills
Languages: Java, XML, C, C++, JavaScript, SQL, HTML, UML.
Tools: Borland JBuilder, Sun ONE Studio (Forte), Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Rational Rose, UltraEdit-32, Borland CBuilder, Oracle SQL Plus.
Operating Systems: Windows (XP, 2000, NT), IBM OS/2 2.0, HP-UX 9.0, DEC VMS 4.1, Unix (Linux and Sun Solaris).

List Format — Gives Employers a Quick Overview

Technical Skills
Languages Tools Operating Systems
Java Borland JBuilder Windows (XP, 2000, NT)
XML Sun ONE Studio (Forte) IBM OS/2 2.0
C Macromedia Dreamweaver HP-UX 9.0
C++ MX DEC VMS 4.1
JavaScript Rational Rose Unix (Linux and Sun Solaris)
SQL UltraEdit-32
HTML Borland CBuilder
UML Oracle SQL Plus

List Format with Years of Experience — Shows Depth

Technical Skills
Web Technologies Dreamweaver, JavaScript, HTML 4-7 years
Languages Java, C, C++, UML 5-8 years

List Format with Years of Experience and Skill Level — More Detail

An alternative is to denote only the years of experience.

Technical Skills
Languages Years’ Experience Skill Level
Java 6 Expert
XML 3 Intermediate
C 6 Expert
C++ 4 Intermediate
JavaScript 6 Expert
SQL 4 Intermediate
HTML 6 Intermediate
UML 2 Novice


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