Due to the economic impact of COVID-19 and other factors, there are a lot of people who are out of work right now.
As a hiring manager with over 20 years of management experience, I wanted to offer some resume tips…
1. Do Not List Salary Information
This is my number one tip!
Despite what you learned in school or college or from your Aunt who does resumes for a living, do not list your salary history nor desired salary on your resume.
Once you and a prospective employer agree to move forward, salary negotiation is the most important part (for you) of the hiring process.
Listing your salary history, especially your current salary, gives a prospective employer the chance to low-ball you.
When a manager submits a job requisition (job req) for a new position, the salary range is part of that proposal.
So, for example, if the manager already knows she needs a database administrator, she makes the salary range recommendation, or in some cases the salary range comes from Human Resources. When the req is approved, the new, open position might have a range of $55k to $70k annual salary.
The manager’s job is to get the best datasbase administrator for the least amount of money possible. Ideally, they want to hire below the midpoint of the salary range (for other reasons that I won’t dive in to), so they want to hire you for $63k or less.
If the manager looks at your resume and sees that you were only making $50k at your last job, she can offer you the minimum $55k, which is a nice 10% bump for you, but looks REALLY good to her manager because she just saved the company $15k/yr + another ~$4k in related costs ($19k / yr).
Even if you get a competing offer (let’s say $56k), she can up her offer to a mere $57k ($2k / yr works out to about $1/hr), and you would be REALLY happy with that, because you just got a 14% salary increase over your previous $50k!
What you would NOT know is that out of a new department of 3, she hired the two people sitting next to you, who do your exact same job, the same week:
- Guy #1 was hired the day after you, but didn’t list his salary range. He was hired at $60k, making $1.50/hr MORE than you, for doing the exact same job.
During the hiring process, based on his experience, she guessed he was previously making about $55k already, and knew that she had to make a decent offer based on that. In reality, you and Guy #1 were both making $50k at the time. So, for literally doing nothing, Guy #1 is making $1.50/hr more than you.
- Gal #2, a very experienced database administrator, was hired yesterday. During the salary negotiation process, she pointed out that the typical midpoint for this position is around $65k, and she (the database administrator) is worth more to the company than $65k, because she has specific experience with the application platforms she is being hired to support – well beyond the general database experience of her peers.
So for her, the manager went all the way out to $67k ($5/hr more than you), not knowing that all THREE of you were previously making $50k.
Worse, the extra $6k you SHOULD be getting went to fund HER salary.
Your salary history tells a hiring manager a lot more than you might think:
- People tend to view a big jump in salary as somehow unjustified. If you were making $50k and then you just happened to get a better job that pays $75k, especially if you were only there for a short time, it tells a manager that the $75k salary was way too high (even if that’s not the case). You might get an offer in the $60k range instead of the $80k you were hoping for.
- Different jobs have different levels of responsibility, or require different skill sets that might drive your salary up or down. If you job hop, your salary might go up OR down, which can be extremely confusing to a hiring manager, and is difficult to explain to someone who is unfamiliar with the realities of the tech industry.
- Similarly, explaining a pay cut due to a lateral career shift or due to job availability is simply not something that should be part of the discussion.
In addition to giving your employer asymmetric information, listing your salary history or target salary simply takes up space on your resume that could be better utilized.
Likewise, do your research ahead of salary negotiation.
Your value is based on what the market will support for your skill set at that specific time, as well as other factors about the job:
- Level of responsibility – are you responsible for a small environment, or a large, online application?
- Difficulty – does the job have unique working conditions or require a special schedule?
- Unique skills – does the job require a unique skill or qualification, such as experience with a niche platform?
If you walk in knowing what the position is worth, it puts you in a better position to negotiate a fair salary.
2. Do Not List a Salary Objective or Target Salary
Just as with your salary history, stating a target salary on your resume gives a potential employer way too much information.
- If your desired salary is low, you will get a low offer.
- If your desired salary is too high, a manager might not even consider you – your resume might get rejected without considering any qualifications.
- If you have a broad skill set and the right qualifications, a prospective employer might consider you for one of several different positions. Listing a salary objective virtually guarantees that this WILL NOT happen.
I’ve interviewed people for one position, had them interview well, and everyone agrees that they like the candidate, but that person just isn’t the right fit. Later, when a more suitable position opens, you have them in mind.
If someone says to me “I’m willing to agree to $90k as a senior production DBA, but $85k as a database developer is too low”, then it’s difficult for me as a hiring manager to consider that option – maybe you WANT to move toward development, and the lateral move is worth the $5k short-term hit, but in my mind, I’m now asking the question: “How long are you going to stick around before you bail out for a higher-paying job”.
3. Do Not Provide References
If the interview process goes well, you’ll be asked for references.
If not, then it’s irrelevant.
Either way, pull the references out of your resume and create a separate reference sheet.
Use the same styles and fonts as your resume, and title the document “Reference List for _Name_”
4. Do Provide an Objective and Summary
Some professional resume doctors will tell you NOT to list an objective, while others advise that you should merge the summary and objective.
As a hiring manager, I like to see both.
The objective should be one line, and tells me what kind of job you’re seeking. I could review your summary or job history to see what you’ve done recently, but an objective straight-out tells me what kind of job you want.
If I got your resume because the recruiter sees database experience, but your objective says “Seeking Opportunity as Sr. Developer”, this tells me right away that there is a disconnect.
Likewise, a summary should be 1/2 page or less, describing at a high level what you’ve done in the last 10 years, plus relevant additional experience.
- Stick to bullet points, and get your point across without being verbose.
- Don’t list accomplishments – save that for the more detailed work history section
- Include skills, certifications, acronyms, and any other buzzwords that might be snarfed up by a resume filter
Going back to our DBA example, here is a suitable summary for a Sr. DBA:
|Database Administration (DBA), 17 years
Why you should / shouldn’t list:
- Some obscure database platform that you touched once: If you know it, list it. If you don’t know it, don’t pad your resume. A good hiring manager can look at this summary and say “I bet this guy can figure out the ins and outs of MySQL in about 1 day”
- Report Writing: NEVER advertise something you hate doing, or you might get stuck doing it.
- You wrote an app once: Do you want to be a developer? If not, then it isn’t relevant. You can say “extensive support for various development teams” in either your summary or work history.
- SomeOtherDatabase: Once, I got hired because I had worked on an obscure payroll system for 3 months, and happened to list that on my resume. I knew it well enough to list it, and was lucky enough to find someone in need of that specific skill!
Likewise, you SHOULD list obscure skills and experience if you truly have them.
5. Do Not Compress to 1 or 2 Pages
Conventional wisdom says that your resume should be 1 page, or 2 at the absolute most.
I’ve seen absolutely awful resumes that were composed in 9-point font with no whitespace in an attempt to “compress” it down to 1 page.
This comes across as cluttered, difficult to read, and is a real eye test for the hiring manager. In reality, all I want to see is your objective, summary, and your most recent job.
Everything else is supporting detail, and accordingly, it should appear on page 2 or 3.
Tech stuff can be complicated, and job-hopping is common, especially for contractors and consultants.
Although you DO NOT have to list every single thing you’ve ever done, DO use enough real-estate to get the point across, and DO put all of the main details on page 1.
6. Do Remember These Formatting Tips:
- DO use 11 or 12 point fonts for greater readability
- DO use whitespace to make the document readable
- DO use boxes and horizontal lines to separate various sections of your resume
- DO use a splash of color to make your resume stand out, but DO NOT go crazy with it.
- DO use tabs or tables to keep everything aligned.
- Do NOT go past 4 pages
7. Do Stay Relevant
If your resume includes something like this:
|Network Engineer at XYZ Corp (Jan, 1999 to May, 2001)
Did you run all of these projects? If not, what was your role?
This was 20 years ago… is it still relevant?
What skill or experience are you trying to emphasize?
|Network Engineer at XYZ Corp (Jan, 1999 to May, 2001)
If it’s not relevant consider not listing it, or simply condense it down to one line. For example, if you are no longer a network engineer, and your current role is a widget developer, consider:
|Network Engineer at XYZ Corp (Jan, 1999 to May, 2001)|
IF you think the experience is relevant at all, it’s there. If people want to know what you did as a network engineer, they will ask.
Most employers are only going to go back 3 or 4 years, so if your relevant widget developer experience happened in the last 10 years, consider consolidating even further:
|Network Engineer at Various
Now, 2 or 3 jobs can be summarized in one section on the back page of your resume, where it belongs because it’s no longer relevant.
No one is going to check your references at any of these places, and you’re now focused on developing widgets rather than network engineering. So, other than showing your complete work history, it adds no value.
8. Do Not Over-Pad Your Resume
It’s normal to list your janitorial experience as “sanitation engineer”.
However, do not misrepresent:
- Obscure experience. If you touched something once, either you have enough experience to be adept, or you don’t. If not, don’t list it on your resume.
- Your level of experience. I had a guy once basically tell me he was put on earth by the technical gods for the sole purpose of supporting Windows Server, and his resume indicated the same. As it turns out, he regularly INSTALLED Windows Server operating system, but had no practical operational experience with troubleshooting production issues.
It took all of 5 minutes in to the interview before he apologized and left.
If you have experience installing Windows, list “Extensive experience installing.. ” not supporting.
- Your role. I’ve interviewed numerous candidates who list “managed project to…”, only to find out that they had a minor supporting role, not a project leadership role. Or, “technical lead for…”, and when asked about the role of a technical lead, the person basically indicates a help desk role.
Again, it takes 5 minutes in to an interview to uncover this, and it makes you look like an ass.
- Jobs you never worked. Yep, I’ve had candidates claim to be at XYZ Corp participating in a “big network upgrade”. The tech industry is small enough that you can usually confirm whether someone was actually there, or just claiming to have been there in order to boost their work experience.
Once, I even had a candidate claim to have participated in a project that I RAN, claiming to have been “one of the main guys there”. No, you weren’t.
- Education and certifications. If you don’t have a degree or cert, don’t claim to have it. Education is incredibly easy to verify, and will cause an employer to immediately rescind an offer – if you’re willing to lie about your education, what else are you dishonest about?
If you legitimately have some training but no certification, list it that way: “Attended formal training course for x”. If an employee asks if you got certified, be straight – actual certification wasn’t a priority for you at that time. You just needed the training, and since that time, you have legitimate work-related experience as well. Or whatever the case may be.
When you misrepresent yourself, at best, you get called out in an interview. At worst, you end up taking a job where you are completely incompetent in the position for which you were hired.
It’s better to be completely honest about your skills, roles, and level of experience.
Conversely, there are some times that it’s OK to truthfully-pad (within reason):
- Gaps in your work history. It’s easier to gloss over a small gap in employment, which, to an inexperienced manager might make you look unemployable.
“Various engagements while seeking a full-time opportunity” sounds better – it sounds like you were out there working, rather than “unemployed”, which sounds like you were sitting on your couch eating ice cream out of the container.
If pressed for details during an interview, just be honest – you probably helped a couple of relatives with tech support issues, or maybe donated some time to your church, or helped your brother-in-law spec out and install a new computer for his small business.
- Never list “self-employed”. It’s difficult to verify self-employed. Instead, specify that you had one or more short-term contract or consulting engagements, which is probably the truth.
- Use “largely-responsible” rather than “solely-responsible” or “in charge of”, if that’s the case. Even though you did a lot of work on that project, unless you were THE PROJECT MANAGER, you were NOT SOLELY-RESPONSIBLE for that project. DO NOT use “largely-responsible” if all you did was tech support. However, if you DID have a large project-wide role, even if not officially-acknowledged, “largely-responsible” is absolutely fine, and obviously, you can speak to verifiable facts during the interview.
- Consolidate multiple roles and transitions. If you worked for the same company but held a role for less than a year, consider not listing it, or list “transitional role” in order to consolidate multiple job transitions – for example, maybe you had several short-term jobs, all at the same company, due to a merger or acquisition.
Your resume should:
- be easy to read
- have all relevant details on page 1, with supporting details on subsequent pages
- only list relevant details
- have an objective and summary
- NOT be scrunched in to a single page
- NOT list references NOR salary information