IT Resumes: When Specific Isn't Terrific

Susan Hall
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Five Tips for a Well-done Tech Resume

A tech pro's resume has to match the speed of this fast-changing industry

In these days of behavioral interviewing, "specific is terrific" remains the mantra of the day, though not so much that it leads to the long, pointless stories that Grandpa Simpson tells. You have to show the business value of your work succinctly. That generally requires citing improvements with numbers.


But as I've said before, there are a gazillion things about job-hunting to make you crazy.


In a post at Javalobby on Dzone, writer John Fuex says that being too specific on your resume can backfire if you use trivial details that should be common knowledge among developers. He points out that the resume should be a brochure, not a biography, so it just has to pique the hiring manager's interest enough to call you for an interview, not serve as your memoirs.


This example from a resume for a Web developer job, he says, created too many unintended questions:

Created stored procedures to fetch query results from the database for higher performance. Involved in writing complex SQL queries that required data from multiple tables using inner and outer joins.

Then he delves into the questions:

Question 1: Why is this person making such a big deal about menial tasks like writing a stored procedure and using specific join types?
Option A: They find writing SQL/Stored Procs very difficult and consider it a major accomplishment to have done so.
Option B: They didn't have much to talk about in the resume and are padding it with trivialities to seem more qualified.
Option C: They just learned about joins and are proud of that accomplishment.
Question 2: Why call out that they wrote the procedure specifically to query data?
Option A: Maybe they have never written a query that modifies data; are they that inexperienced?
Option B: Are they trying to educate me about what a stored procedure is? Do they think this isn't common knowledge? Perhaps it isn't to them.

Instead, he suggests treating the specifics as routine, saving the clever details for the interview:

Substantially improved performance of company's core accounting package by profiling and optimizing database access code.

And while it's true that recruiters increasingly use software that relies on keywords, he warns against clogging your narrative with them. It can make your job history difficult to read. He prefers a separate "skills" section where you list them. And again, you don't have to list every last one. As you progress in your career, for instance, that can be just a core list, with more emphasis on your accomplishments.


In her book "The Google Resume," author Gayle Laakmann McDowell offers good advice on the "just-right" amount of detail in an IT resume.

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