8 tips for writing a great IT resume

You only get one chance to make a first impression, which is why your resume has to be spot on.

Despite these uncertain economic times, the IT industry continues to grow at a healthy rate, so there are definitely jobs out there. But competition for the best IT jobs will always be fierce.

Typically, employers look through thick stacks of resumes for every open position. Your resume has to make the hiring manager think, “Oh, I need to interview this one.”

And when it comes to writing resumes, IT professionals like you have specific challenges to deal with. You’ve got to highlight your specific technical skills. Since the industry is always evolving, you have to constantly update your resume. And you have to customize it for every job you’re applying for.

Here are eight tips for making your IT resume stand out:

1. Fine-Tune Your Header & Summary

The first thing the hiring manager will see is your header, so craft one that’s simple yet eye-catching. It should include your name, phone number, email address and city. Skip your full address. If you have a personal professional website or online portfolio, mention it here.

Just below the header is your personal summary, a brief paragraph outlining the most important parts of your experience and qualifications. It describes you and what you offer in a nutshell.

2. Showcase Your Specific Skills

This is the most important part of an IT resume, so spend some quality time and thought on it.

In a section labeled “Technical Competencies” or “Professional Skills,” list the programming languages, operating systems, software, databases, platforms and coding tools you’re proficient in. Be specific here. Be sure to mention awards and certifications too.

Refer to resources like Stack Overflow to double-check standard industry spellings, capitalizations and such.

Study sample resumes in your field to get an idea of how other applicants in your field organize these skills on their resumes. Then do what works for you.

Finally, look through the job posting you’re applying for. Emphasize any skills that are mentioned in it.

3. Make It Visually Appealing

Separate the information in your resume into distinct sections. If the thing is a solid wall of text, nobody’s going to read it.

“Try to break it up into the following sections, in order: header, summary, technical skills, professional experience, education,” the job search website Indeed recommends. “This is pretty standard, which is a good thing when you want to make an impression on the hiring manager at a glance.”

Make sure it doesn’t look sloppy. Keep things consistent the entire way through — the same font, the same type size, the same line spacing. Bulleted lists can have periods or no periods, as long as they’re consistent.

4. Keep It Tight

Your resume should have one or two pages, max. Frankly, one is better than two.

Remember that huge stack of resumes the hiring manager is going to have to sift through to find yours? That person has limited time to scan your resume and decide if they’re interested. A resume that’s too long will get ignored.

Don’t shortchange yourself, but be concise. Cut the fat.

Know what to leave out: Extraneous stuff like your age, previous pay, marital status, personal interests. Skip any irrelevant skills or certifications or associations.

If you’ve been in the industry a while, you may not need to list your entire work history. Stick to your most recent three or four jobs, or the last 10 years. Are you a bit older? When listing your college education, consider leaving off your graduation year. Ageism is a real issue in IT hiring.

5. Don’t List Tasks — Highlight Your Achievements

Too many resumes just feature a list of tasks the job applicant has dutifully performed: “created databases, maintained website, updated software, blah blah blah…”

That won’t set you apart.

Instead, highlight your accomplishments. How have you made a difference? Did you improve anything? Did you save your previous company money? Did you increase traffic to its website? Did you streamline an unwieldy process? Did you spearhead any projects? Did you complete them under budget or ahead of the deadline?

If possible, quantify your achievements with hard numbers. How much money or time did you save? How much more efficient did you make things? How much more web traffic did you bring in?

6. Customize, Customize, Customize

When you’re in the thick of a job hunt, it’s tempting to send the exact same resume to every prospective employer. You only need to change your cover letter, right?

The problem with that is, a lot of IT job postings are seeking highly specific qualifications, and hiring managers are looking for exactly the right person for the job.

Before applying, you should study the job listing closely. Pick out which skills and what experience you have that’s most relevant to the job you’re seeking. Make sure you list those first. Also, make sure to avoid technical terms specific to your old employer.

Don’t just look at the specific job, though. Research the company. What kind of place is it? Does it present itself as a startup with an informal vibe, or does it sound like more of a button-down, corporate environment? Try to make the language in your resume match the corporate language. Remember, you’re trying to catch the eye of the hiring manager.

Get in the habit of tweaking your resume for every job you’re applying for.

7. Keywords

A great way to customize your resume is to use keywords. Because companies receive so many resumes, a lot of them use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen job candidates. If your resume doesn’t have enough keywords from the job posting, it may never make it past the ATS to get reviewed by a human.

That’s another reason to study the job listing and make your resume match it. Make sure you’re highlighting all the skills you have that they’re looking for.

Be careful not to overdo it, though. If you overstuff your resume with keywords, it won’t read very well and will come off like a spammy email. Make it seem natural and easy to read.

8. Proofread

A single misspelling or grammatical error may instantly send your resume to the bottom of the pile and sink your chances of getting an interview. A resume is where you’re supposed to put your best foot forward. Potential employers will figure if you’re too sloppy to send them a flawless resume, then you’d be too careless in the job they’re trying to fill.

Proofread, proofread, proofread. Don’t just rely on spellcheck to catch typos, either. You might be using the wrong word somewhere, even if you’ve spelt the word correctly.

Also, don’t do this alone. Reach out for help if you can. Have someone else proofread it and ask them to give you honest feedback. A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference.