Job-search tips for IT pros: Don’t make these mistakes

While attending a recent tech conference, I ran into an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. Inevitably, our conversation turned to our careers in the tech industry. During this conversation, my friend told me that he wanted to leave his current employer for something else, but hadn’t even been able to get an interview anywhere, much less a job offer. Just to be clear, this was someone who has worked in IT for a long time and who I know to have a very solid skill set. He is someone that any company would be lucky to have. So why is it that he had thus far been unable to get an interview?

I don’t know the exact reason why my friend was having such bad luck in his quest for a new job. What I can tell you, however, is that in some of my previous positions I was responsible for hiring new IT employees. In doing so, I quickly learned that there are a number of red flags that can cause a resume to be rejected without so much as an interview. Before I tell you what these red flags are, I need to point out that every company (and every hiring manager) has its own way of doing things. As such, the things that I’m about to tell you may not always hold universally true, but they are food for thought.

So, with that said, the first thing that has to be understood is that the hiring manager typically receives a huge number of resumes. Just going through all of the resumes can be an overwhelming task, so they need to narrow down the list of applicants as quickly and efficiently as possible. Today, of course, many organizations use online services that filter resumes based on various criteria. Before the use of online filtering, a hiring manager might only spend less than a minute reviewing a resume before making a decision as to whether or not to call the person for an interview. Regardless of whether an automated or manual process is being used, it is critically important to make your resume stand out, and avoid mistakes that will result in an automatic rejection. So, let’s dive in with these job-search tips for IT pros

Make it believable

job-search tips for IT pros

The first bit of advice I would give to anyone who is searching for a new job in IT is to make your resume believable. I’m not just talking about the importance of not embellishing your resume (more on that later), but rather making sure that the hiring manager knows that your resume is legit. If your credentials are overly impressive, then your resume could be perceived as a fraud, even if everything on your resume is absolutely true. Let me give you an example.

Suppose for a moment that a particular applicant has 20 years of IT experience and has held some really high-level positions in the companies that they have worked for. Now suppose that the person is laid off and they need to find another job quickly, even if the job that they are applying for is an entry-level position (such as a level I helpdesk technician). If the hiring manager who needs to fill that helpdesk position receives a resume from someone claiming to have decades of experience in high-level IT positions, they may assume that the applicant actually has no experience and has grossly embellished their resume in an effort to compensate for their lack of any substantive experience.

The lesson, therefore, is not to sell yourself short, but rather to try to match the information that you provide to the job that you are applying for. As painful as it may be, this may sometimes mean omitting some of your more impressive achievements. If you’re unsure of whether or not to include a particular item on your resume, try putting yourself in the hiring manager’s position and ask yourself if you would believe that particular statement.

Don’t include what you can’t prove

job-search tips for IT pros

Another big mistake that I’ve seen people make when applying for IT positions is to stretch the truth a bit with regard to their skillset. I have heard people say that everyone embellishes things a little bit on their resume and that the practice is OK because hiring managers know that there is almost always a bit of a disconnect between an applicant’s actual skills and experience and what is presented on the resume. Even so, I strongly recommend keeping your resume truthful — especially in IT

In the world of IT, hiring managers commonly put applicants to the test to make sure that they actually have the skills that they claim to have. I know of several companies for example, that use IT certification practice exams as a tool for evaluating an applicant’s knowledge. The reasoning, of course, is that if an applicant professes to be an expert in a certain area and yet is unable to get a decent score on a practice test, then they are obviously not as skillful as they claim to be. This immediately creates distrust on the part of the hiring manager.

Keep in mind that although certification practice exams are a popular tool for evaluating an applicant’s skills, they certainly aren’t the only tool that is available. I once had someone tell me that they don’t use certification practice exams when evaluating an applicant, because someone could potentially memorize the answers. Instead, this particular person tries to use other techniques to assess basic IT knowledge. I don’t know the full extent of these techniques, but the person mentioned that they will show the applicant a Fibre Channel adapter and ask them what it is. It’s a really basic question for sure, but if the applicant doesn’t know what a Fibre Channel adapter is, then they probably lack other basic storage and networking knowledge.

Don’t use a generic resume

One more critical mistake that IT pros often make is to create a single version of their resume and use it for each application that they submit. At one time, this practice probably wasn’t all that big of a deal, but today many companies use filtering software to weed out the unqualified candidates. As such, it is important to structure your resume in a way that explicitly addresses as many of the stated requirements as possible.

job-search tips for IT pros

Attention to detail

IT is a very detail-oriented field, and so it is important to have a resume that clearly illustrates your attention to detail. Things like spelling errors and inconsistent formatting can quickly land your resume in the rejection pile.

Be specific

Finally, use specific details whenever possible (without going overboard). Hiring managers often perceive vague references as an attempt to hide some sort of inadequacy. While a vague statement might occasionally go unnoticed, hiring managers review a huge number of resumes. Those that are intentionally vague stand out from the rest, and not in a good way.

Job-search tips for IT pros: Burden of proof is on you

When applying for an IT position, the first thing that your application will have to do is to make it past any automated filters that the hiring company may have put in place. If your resume does eventually make it to the hiring manager, then it is important that your resume be believable, and it’s important that you be able to prove (if asked) any of the items that you list.

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