What Your Technical Resume is Missing and How to Stand Out
What Your Technical Resume is Missing and How to Stand Out
Erin Urban, LSSBB, CPDC
I was settled in to review a technical resume from a very experienced technically adept professional. By the 3rd sentence, I thought: “You’ve got to be kidding me, this person has absolutely no idea how their work impacted the business as a whole – or even their key stakeholders.” Not one single thought was spared to show what they did matters to the rest of the organization.
Unfortunately, this issue is not uncommon. It is easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and not be aware of our larger impact on the organization. We are driven to only consider the ‘next thing’ in line. It takes intentional effort to step back and view what you have done from a global perspective.
The challenge is – this leads to myopically focused resumes weighted down with tasks and little to no focus on outcomes. As a result, hiring managers do not see how you stand out from other applicants.
Worst case scenario: a technical resume reads like a litany of acronyms strung together with a few nouns and verbs. Not only is it impossible for the average person to understand – it also does not highlight what or how the individual actually contributed. The resume reads like the professional is completely disconnected from the rest of the company. Such as: Managed Drillable Crystal Report on SSRS integrated with SharePoint, authentication with Active Directory, Oracle eGate solution to automate extracting records from SAP, custom Web Parts, C# scripts, XML codes in Microsoft BDC Definition Editor and Meta Man, SQL queries and forms in VS2008.
Best case scenario, your technical resume might read something like this: Project to adopt 123X for the talent acquisition system required integration with JDE and EDM systems. Created and drafted the data flow architecture and built the process flow. Managed the agile development of the full system and conducted daily scrum with the local team twice daily.
If you read either paragraph and think to yourself: “What’s wrong with these examples? I get it and it looks fine to me” – this article is for you.
What’s Missing in Your Technical Resume
The absence of a business impact and inclusion of excessive techno-speak is very common in almost every technical resume I review. The problem with this level of detail in your resume is that it doesn’t connect what you do to the business as a whole. As a result, hiring managers (and certainly recruiters) have no idea how what you did matters. The recruiter sees a list of tools and skills strung together with no measurable outcomes or business impact. The hiring manager sees what tools, techniques, and software you interfaced with – but no mention to the details that tells someone:
- The reason for the work/project, what was going on
- Why it mattered to the business (business case)
- Who you collaborated with and key stakeholders
- Any significant business risk that was avoided or efficiencies found
- How big was the project – particularly if you can cite dollar figures
- The impact to the end-user, client or organization upon completion
Hiring managers want to see how your work aligns with the business and the impact you have. It’s not enough to string a bunch of tools or skills together on your resume, you have to articulate how you get real results with your work. Being technically knowledgeable won’t get you results alone. You might have done all the ‘things’ and completely sucked at them. Or, you might be a rock star – who can tell??
How to Stand Out
As a technically focused professional – you can’t ignore the skills required to do your work. It’s important to list the software, hardware, processes, etc. you leveraged to do your job. It’s also important to mention all relevant points in the previous bullet list (or as much as you can find out). Let’s break each bullet point down into questions to help you arrive at a story that is more compelling.
The reason for the work/project, what was going on?
What was wrong or missing that needed to be fixed, replaced, upgraded? Was there a gap? Was something too laborious? If so, what was the result of the issue – what was going on? Was the company losing money, paying more in labor, overhead, fees, and so forth? If you automated a process – how much time did it take before the improvement and how many people? Time is money. If you save the company time or material in a process: that matters.
Why it mattered to the business (business case)?
Which leads us to this question – the business case. Usually, companies don’t spend money for the heck of it. Most are looking to net an efficiency (stop the bleeding in cash flow), get more money, or meet regulations. What did the business hope to gain through the work that you did?
Who you collaborated with and key stakeholders?
The question here is fairly self-explanatory but you might wonder why it matters. It matters because it allows the reader additional insight into how cross-functional (complex) the project was and who you had to interface with. If one of your key stakeholders is higher on the corporate ladder; that means you probably can collaborate with leadership. If you can’t be bothered to spell it out then at least mention: “complex project engaging with high-level cross-functional key stakeholders”.
Any significant business risk that was avoided or efficiencies found?
Hiring managers love to hire people who are looking out for the organization. While completing your work as expected is nice, it’s even better to cite where you saved money, time, or materials (also money). Avoiding risk is just as critical. If you were able to help the company avoid a negative impact to the organization – this means a lot to leaders!
How big was the project? (Particularly if you can cite dollar figures)
Helping the reader to understand just how critical your work does make a difference. Usually, high-risk major projects aren’t handed over to professionals that can’t get the job done. Making this obvious is important. Don’t think other people will just ‘figure it out’ on their own. If you don’t know the exact amount, you can cite an estimate (but say ‘estimated). You can also just simply ask – if you still work there or left on good terms.
The impact to the end-user, client or organization upon completion
Why did your work matter? If you don’t know – I’d recommend finding out! Think of it this way: what do they have now that they didn’t have before? Did you create efficiencies, avoid risk, align with regulations, increase cash flow or customer experience? Did you save someone time, if so – how much? Time is money!
An ideal career contribution synopsis might sound something like this: As the Scrum Master, lead a team to replace the internal employee direct-deposit system (EFT), transforming a non-functioning dated system to a scalable, dependable, easy to use, supported, and state-of-the-art system which improved timely automation and management of the electronic money deposit as well as transfer operations.
The People Factor
Don’t forget to mention how well you collaborate, lead, or influence others. This is very important and almost always absolutely absent in technical resumes. If you are aiming for a managerial role – mentioning your leadership and collaborative capabilities is essential for you to be considered an ideal candidate. For leadership roles: mention how well you motivated others, directed work, oversaw key projects, and aligned with the strategic direction of the organization.
The other people factor are the people reading your resume. Keep in mind that the first pass at the recruiter level is often not done by a technical expert. While the recruiter may have some idea of what the role entails, it’s rarely far beyond what is described in the job description itself. This is important to remember!
The recruiter (technical expert or not) is the person who decides whether your application gets to the next level. It’s very important not to bury this person in techno-babble or dismiss them because they don’t ‘get you’. I’ve had to talk extremely smart professionals around their skewed perspective to understand that everyone matters in the interview process, even if they ask questions that seem silly to you. Just answer them, be pleasant, and be sure to send them a ‘thank you’ note.
Avoiding Interview Mishaps
When discussing your work on the phone screening call, please do not overwhelm the recruiter with technical jargon (unless you are interviewing with Google, Microsoft or similar). Even at high-tech companies, people skills are also considered important. Your ability to listen well, answer questions clearly and ask clarifying questions of your own is essential.
The biggest reasons most of my more technically focused clients struggle in the interview process is because they (1) don’t articulate their impact well and (2) lose their audience in technical jargon. Sometimes this is because we fall into the trap of attempting to over-impress people. Most of the time, being personable and relevant to the job are the most two critical factors in your first few screening interviews.
Interviews are only as important as your resume’s ability to get you there. By doing your best to include the key resume drivers included in this article, you will get to try your skills in the interview. Don’t forget to be as succinct as possible with your career contribution examples (and relevant to the job).
If you struggle here, get a qualified, experienced, and certified resume writer to assist you. Avoid ‘resume mills’ at all costs – cheap resumes will net you cheap results. You can visit parw.com for a list of certified writers in your area. Happy hunting!