Should I Use a Template for my Technical Resume?

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By Jennifer L. Hay

Many people believe that a technical resume can be vastly improved by using the right format. There are lots of companies offering formats that add bling to your technical resume. These companies promote the idea that an eye-catching resume is more likely to be read, thus leading to more interviews. If only it were that simple. Bling alone is not nearly enough.

Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which first load your resume into their applicant database. These are typically relational data structures, so they strip out all the formatting and only load the content.  Its basically a content management system that the company’s HR department uses to run reports.

Some companies use in-house built ATSs with limited functionality and they don’t do a great job of parsing the data from PDFs, tables, and columns. So not only will your beautiful format not be seen but your content might not be loaded correctly. So, my question is, ‘why take the chance?’

Here are some problem areas with resume formats.

PROBLEM #1

On the surface, this format looks great. It’s a way to transform lists of technology into an easy-to-read format and at the same time it shows your skill level. Unfortunately, it only works for a small list and it will not parse well in an ATS.

Adding color to highlight things in your resume is a good way to make things stand out. It does not cause any problems with ATSs and draws the eye to different sections of your resume. If you are sharing your resume with a recruiter or colleague, this is a good choice.

You can add a technology skills section that includes both your strengths and the tools that you’ve used. Using category names in this section makes it easy to scan and understand.

PROBLEM #2

People like to use PDFs for their attractive formatting, but unfortunately ATSs can have problems parsing from a PDF. As an example, I created a resume using multiple columns and several tables and then formatted as a PDF.  I opened it using a text editor.  The below is how the text editor interpreted the document and its a mess.

You are going to have varying results, and this depends on the ATS’ features and functionality.  Just be mindful of this before you select which resume format to use.

PROBLEM #3

While it is important to have an attractive and easy to read resume, ultimately, the most important part of your resume are your achievement statements.

LAN/WAN Administrator and Project Manager 

Before Storytelling

  • Packaged software for automated installations utilizing InstallShield DevStudio.
  • Created automation scripts (DOS .bat C#, and VBScript based).
  • Created and implemented automated backup and restore solution.

After Storytelling

  • Automated Software Installations: Based on ability to achieve high productivity within a short time, selected for software readiness team to prepare for a completely automated software installation system.
    • Met with key business staff for application identification and cataloging, as well as a compatibility assessment. Utilized InstallShield to capture an image of the installation process and for testing before push to deployment team.

Having a very average resume is simply not enough in today’s job markets. Begin to rethink the language in your resume. Here are some examples of the types of questions to be answered.

  • Why was the project funded?
  • What new business or technical capabilities did you deliver?
  • What challenges came up and how did you resolve them?
  • What good things happened during the project?

About Jennifer Hay

I’ve been writing technical resumes and advising on career transitions for almost 15 years.

Throughout that time, I’ve read numerous articles about best practices for IT resume writing. What I found in those articles is a lot of bad information because it’s the same advice they give for non-technical professionals. This is important because IT resumes are different.

I built this website to share what I’ve learned in my career. I think you’ll find information on this website that will help make your IT resume a success.

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