Resume Writing for Technology Professionals

by Peg Bogema

Before you dive into this article, keep in mind that my recommendations are for resume writers who are technology professionals. I’ve read thousands upon thousands of technology resumes—but wouldn’t have a clue about what makes a good resume for a dental hygienist.

It’s easy to get lost in a sea of resume-writing advice.

   

If you don’t know where to start, I would focus on three high-impact, high-value areas.

  • First, write a brilliant introductory paragraph for your resume. What constitutes “brilliant,” you ask? Good question—and one that really does have an answer.
  • Second, organize the sections of your resume intelligently. There really is no one-size-fits-all piece of advice when it comes to this. If a PhD is a requirement for any job that would interest you, then positioning your education section early in the resume makes sense. If you don’t have a degree, or your degree isn’t relevant to the work you’re doing now, then the education section can be pushed down to the end.
  • Third, if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, prune your resume intelligently so that it doesn’t go past three to four pages.

Resumes do have standard content. I can tell you what sections your resume should have—but, again, I’m not advocating any specific order.

  • Contact Info
  • Introductory Paragraph
  • Chronological Work History
  • Education, Training, Certifications
  • Skills Matrix
  • Papers, Patents, Books, Presentations (if relevant)

This article takes a deep dive on all of these sections. You can jump over any section that you’re not concerned about our struggling with.

The Contact Info Section

At the top of your resume, give your name, address, phone number, email address, and any relevant URLs.

If you prefer not to give your street address, you should at least include your city and state. The person reading your resume will appreciate understanding whether or not you’re a local.

At a minimum, provide your LinkedIn URL. If there are other relevant URLs such as your GitHub repository, your blog, your personal Web site, etc. include those as well.

If your name might lead the reader to believe you don’t have permanent U.S. work authorization when you do, you can also include U.S. Citizen or Permanent U.S Resident.

The Introductory Paragraph

This is the money section of your resume.

If you estimate a project at 80 hours, that doesn’t mean that the schedule is two weeks.

Factually, it may be the only section of your resume that gets read. All the time you spend sweating over your work history or skills matrix will be for nothing if your reader presses the DELETE key as soon as they’ve read your intro.

You need to interest the reader in taking the time to get to know you—to explore your qualifications and really consider whether or not they should pursue you as a candidate or reject you.

So how do you do that? Start with a framework that is something like this:

(1) This is who I am.

(2) This is what I’m looking for.

(3) This is why I’m qualified.

You are telling a tiny little story about yourself and giving the rest of your resume an orienting context.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand what to do when you see examples of what not to do.

No Intro At All

resume credit: novoresume.com

In this resume, Lilibeth launches straight into her work history with no introductory paragraph. As the reader, it’s up to me to figure out what type of role she’s looking for. Does she want to pursue a role as a Data Analyst, does she want to get back into Market Research, or is she looking for something entirely different?

Compare that with Lilibeth’s resume with the intro intact.

resume credit: novoresume.com

If the reader’s goal is to find a Data Analyst with a relevant advanced degree:

  • Data Analyst? Check .
  • Advanced Degree? Check.
  • Anything that sets her apart from other applicants? Check (multi-lingual).

Non-specific Intro

Sometimes introductions are so vague as to be a waste of the resume space. Consider this intro. What do we learn from it?

Samantha makes no effort to tell the reader the specific type of role or title she is interested in. Nor does she spell out which skills and knowledge she has that she wants to utilize.

Bragging Intro

Perhaps this candidate has all of the attributes she enumerates, but it feels like hyperbole rather than an introduction.

resume credit: vault.com

I haven’t learned anything about the type of role she is looking for or anything about her qualifications.

Remember—anyone can make any claims they want about themselves. Most readers gloss over the claims and look through the work history to see what the person actually has accomplished.

Intro that Goes On and On

Some introductions never end. The candidate has so much to say about themselves that their “introduction” takes the first half page of the resume.

Don’t try to make the introduction do all of the heavy lifting. Your work history is the primary place where you want to showcase what you’ve done and your accomplishments.

Your “skills” matrix can call out industries you’ve worked in, tools and technologies you know, etc.

Bottom line: Remember the purpose of the introduction. Tell the reader who you are, what you’re looking for and a bit about why you’re qualified. If you can distinguish yourself from your competitors, include a sentence about that. Get the reader interested in taking time to really study your resume.

Skills Matrix

A skills matrix is somewhat unique to technology professionals. We work with so many different tools, technologies, platforms and frameworks that it is necessary to organize the information—just to make it easy to digest visually.

Here is an example of what not to do. The skills are listed in a paragraph with no attempt to organize them.

resume credit: qwikresume.com

While a list like this is fine if you are targeting keyword searches by artificial intelligence, it offers no help to an actual human who is reading a resume.

Any attempt to organize and categorize the information is clearly superior to a paragraph. Here are a few examples.

Simple Bullet List

resume credit: jobhero.com

As you can see, simply bullet listing the skills is far superior to a paragraph. It is much easier to read.

Category List

Resume credit: Free Templates Designs by Lorette Flanders on Pinterest

resume credit: resumekraft.com 

Breaking skills into logical categories allows the reader to focus on a specific aspect of a person’s skills.

Experience and Proficiency Rating

resume credit: 101ways.com

resume credit: Luc Verhoeven

Skills matrices that include detailed information about how long a tool or technology was used, when it was last used, and even one’s own proficiency rating may provide insight into a candidate. They can get too big—or two complex—unless they are deliberately tailored to focus on key skills.

Skills Matrix Tips and Hints

You can remove skills from the matrix that you aren’t interested in using any longer—or that are antiques. Especially when you post your resume online, that will help you reduce outreach from recruiters who are pitching jobs that won’t interest you.

While it can be tempting to mention every single thing you’ve had a passing acquaintance with, don’t. If you wouldn’t want to answer technical questions about something in an interview, don’t mention in on your resume.

The number of items in a category will grow over time. You may need to reorganize your matrix from time to time by breaking a category into sub-categories so that the matrix remains readable.

Chronological Work History

A chronological work history details your professional employment from the most recent to the earliest in your career.

The opposite of a chronological resume is called a functional resume. In a functional resume, the candidate presents all of the functions they’ve done without regard for when and where. That approach to a resume doesn’t work well for a technology professional. When you did something is extremely important—not just that you’ve done it. So stick with a chronological resume.

Generally speaking, each section of your chronological work history is going to include:

  • the name of the company you worked for
  • your title
  • the dates
  • a brief introduction
  • a bullet list of your tasks, duties and contributions
  • if applicable, a description of the technology stack

The following sample is one example of a layout that is neat, tidy and easy to read.

For any employment that spanned many years, break it down into subsections that show career progression. That might be changes in title, such as Software Engineer I to Software Engineer II. That might be moving from project to project. That might be moving from technology stack to technology stack.

In the example above, the candidate called out a shift from one project to another, which provided an opportunity to show a progression in technology stack.

If you worked on contract, show your employer and the company to which you were assigned or contracted, such as in the following sample.

How Much Space to Take Up

Saying too much is certainly problematic.

At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with the following example. But look closely: this employment lasted only five months. The less time spent with an employer, the less space you should devote.

On the flip side, saying too little is also a problem.

In the following sample, only six bullet points for six years of experience—including time spent in a director level role—isn’t nearly enough. It tacitly denigrates the work and any accomplishments if you hardly have anything to say about it.

As a general rule, you’ll want to say more about the work you’ve done recently. Then say increasingly less about the work you’ve done going back into the past.

Particularly for people who have had a lengthy career, you are entitled to cut off your work history and write Prior work history available upon request. You might elect to do that just to keep your resume from ballooning up size-wise. Or you may elect to do that to nip any age discrimination in the bud.

If you are a recent graduate, you certainly can provide your non-technology work history, but don’t devote too much space to it. You can get away with listing your employer, your title and the dates. That shows that you’ve held down a job, but it leaves plenty of space for you to highlight other more important things such as courses you’ve completed, academic projects you worked on or side projects you’ve undertaken.

Date Paradigm

It doesn’t matter if you provide employment dates in YYYY-YYYY format or MMYYYY-MMYYYY format—as long as you are uniform throughout the resume.

Personally, I prefer YYYY-YYYY format. Two reasons why: first, it’s less cluttered. Second, if you had a gap of some months while you were job hunting, it won’t be apparent.

Employment Gaps

If there is a gap in your employment, you might as well address it right in the resume.

Here are some examples that we’ve seen:

Actively seeking employment and upskilling (2008-2009)

Stay at home mom (2002-2010)

Caring for family member with medical issues (2016-2017)

The best way to address a resume gap is to explain it. It’s far less likely to come up during an interview if a reason has already been provided.

Education, Training and Certifications

Where should you position your education, training and certification info in your resume? That depends upon how likely it is to influence someone’s decision to interview you.

If the positions you typically apply to require a degree or a certification, then this section should be immediately beneath your introductory paragraph.

If a degree or certification is merely preferred for most of the positions you’re interested in, then this section can be positioned beneath your work history.

Education and Training

How much information you include in this section is heavily influenced by where you are at in your career.

If you are a recent graduate of a training program or university, you’ll want to include quite a bit of information in this section.

  • Graduation Date
  • Relevant Courses
  • Key Projects
  • Extra-curricular activities that are on topic to the type of position you are seeking

Here is a sample resume for someone still in school and pursuing an internship.

resume credit: Monster.com

If you are currently in school or have only recently graduated, you can afford to devote a lot of resume space to your academic experience. You don’t need space for your work history—it’s probably non-existent, very small or not relevant.

As you move further and further away from graduation, you can allow more and more of this information to drop off your resume.

resume credit: TheMuse.com

And if you graduated several decades ago, you can even drop the graduation date to reduce the likelihood of age discrimination.

Certifications

When it comes to certifications, some people have just one while others have many.

Include them if they are:

  • Difficult to attain
  • Likely to influence the decision of whether or not to interview you
  • Current (that is, not expired)

Some certifications are so easy to attain that they don’t deserve the space on your resume. Others must be kept current through ongoing training. And then there are those that expire whether you take continuing education courses or not. You actually have to retake the certification exam and get the certificate re-issued.

It is particularly important not to put expired certifications on your resume. Your interviewer is going to wonder why you didn’t make the effort to keep it current. Better to just leave an expired certificate off than to open up that question in someone’s mind.

If the certification has an eye-catching or readily recognizable logo, it’s not a bad idea to include it.

Other Items to Consider Including

Where should you position your education, training and certification info in your resume? That depends upon how likely it is to influence someone’s decision to interview you.

If you have authored technical books or papers, list them (or some of them) in a section in your resume.

For some positions, these are very important, so you’ll want to list all of them. But in most cases, you can have a complete list on LinkedIn and include only a few in your resume.

If you have other qualifications or accomplishments that distinguish you from other candidates, it makes sense to devote some space in your resume to them.

  • You are a frequent presenter at conferences or user groups.
  • You volunteer or mentor in a technical capacity.
  • You participate in open source or personal programming projects.

In a tight race for a position, accomplishments of this nature may push your resume to the top of the stack.

I’m not a big fan of including non-relevant hobbies in a resume. They can definitely be included on your LinkedIn profile. But devoting precious space in your resume to something that won’t bear on the decision to interview you seems wasteful. There are exceptions to this, of course, and I don’t cringe too much when I see a small hobby section on a resume. Sometimes I’m even impressed—wow, a triathlete!

Common Mistakes

I’ve seen so many mistakes on resumes that I’ve lost track. Having someone proof-read your resume will prevent some of the more egregious or laughable ones. Here are a few to look for.

Spelling errors, especially the kind that won’t be caught be a spell checker. (You led a team, not lead.)

Errors in technical terms. It’s UNIX in all capitals, but it’s Linux in mixed case. It’s JavaScript.

Grammar and punctuation errors. I’ve seen people use punctuation that would be appropriate when writing code in their resume. Don’t do that.

Forgetting to put contact info on the resume. I know, hard to believe, but I’ve seen it.

Using your cutsie personal email like momslittlegirl@hotmail.com or totalhockeynut@hotmail.com.

Just get a boring gmail account for your job search and use that. In some ways it’s nice, because when your job search is done, you can delete the account and turn off the flow of recruiter traffic.

As much as possible, avoid sending your resume around in any format other that PDF. Any other format (like a Word document) can be reformatted in strange ways when opened on someone else’s desk or in some other program.

Unless you’re an actor or model going for an acting or modeling job, don’t put your photo on your resume. You definitely need one on LinkedIn, and that’s the first place your reader is going after they’ve read your resume. So don’t waste the space.

And unless you’re a graphic designer, stick with a boring resume. One font, one color, a simple layout. Chances are that anything fancy is going to end up being busy in the hands of anyone who isn’t an artist. You don’t want a resume that detracts from the simple act of reading it because it’s too busy.

Unless you’re a recent graduate, don’t try to have a one-pager.

By the same token, very few people need a resume that exceeds four pages in length. (As a reminder, LinkedIn can be much longer than your resume.)

Don’t leave everything in your resume forever. Prune out old, outdated or irrelevant content and replace it with content about your more recent accomplishments.

If you worked for a contracting company, don’t call that your employer. You can mention the name of the company you were assigned or contracted to, but you need to properly identify your employer.

Summary

I know I already said this once, but if you’ve made it all the way through this article, it bears repeating. If you don’t know where to start, I would focus on three high-impact, high-value areas.

  • First, write a brilliant introductory paragraph for your resume. What constitutes “brilliant,” you ask? Good question—and one that really does have an answer.
  • Second, organize the sections of your resume intelligently. There really is no one-size-fits-all piece of advice when it comes to this. If a PhD is a requirement for any job that would interest you, then positioning your education section early in the resume makes sense. If you don’t have a degree, or your degree isn’t relevant to the work you’re doing now, then the education section can be pushed down to the end.
  • Third, if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, prune your resume intelligently so that it doesn’t go past three to four pages.

Happy resume writing!

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Peg Bogema is the President of Stout Systems. She was John Stout’s first hire after he formed the company in April 1997. Peg has expertise in project management, software development management and technology recruiting. She has a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Michigan and is a Certified Scrum Master. Peg is raising two very active boys and a ridiculous number of orchids.

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