Career coaches and counselors says the biggest mistake IT workers make when applying for a job is not focusing on results from past jobs, but rather, a laundry list of skills they’ve acquired. They say this is not the time to be shy; highlight your achievements and how you helped the business.
Applicants “tend to have all the technical lingo and that they’ve been exposed to this and that, but they don’t talk about their experiences,’’ says Frank Cullen, president of The Cullen Group, a career management firm based in Boston. “They talk about programs they’ve worked with rather than the real value they will bring to the company.”
Another mistake is having a resume that is too brief. Making your resume fit into one page doesn’t work in the IT industry, maintains Kingsley Tagbo, an IT career coach with IT Career Boot Camp by Exacticity Inc.
“You have to get into detail about your technical skills, since people are looking for skill sets and will compare your resume to someone else’s,” says Tagbo, in O’Sallon, Mo. IT is a “skills-crazy industry” and “The person who details every skill for a software developer’s position, will get more notice because of the relevant detail being provided.”
Make sure the resume is readable and has white space, advises Mario DiCioccio, an executive and personal coach based in Narberth, Pa. How far back in time you go depends on your experience level and how that experience has changed over time.
“There’s a designation that you go back 10 years,” he says. “The more standard thing is to include less and less about jobs over time because they become less important the further back you go.”
Networking during a job search is crucial, DiCioccio adds. “It’s a tough environment out there now and one of the best ways to identify opportunities and explore how to make career changes is to learn how to…use your network. Talk to people about the ideal job you’re looking for and ask if they know anyone who does that whose brain you could pick.” He says people like to help, but if they sense you are needy or desperate they tend to shy away because they’re afraid you’ll badger someone.
Prior to going in to the interview, research the company. Go online, find out about their business, the products they make and the department you’d be working for, Tagbo says. Once you’ve landed the interview, prove you’re good at communicating with people and will be a team player.
If the company you’re applying with is small, however, back off from talking about being a team player and more about your ability to get things done, so be sure to understand the context of the interview, he says. If possible, show proof of your work. Bring samples on a CD and explain your contributions to a project.
Also be sure to talk specifics: the increased efficiencies, better customer turnaround time, increased revenue and reduced costs that a system you worked on had for a business unit, etc., suggests Cullen.
“I find that most technical people talk about technical stuff, and people are more interested in hearing about the impact on the company,” he says.
“It’s a time to really reflect and be forthright about what is good and special about you,” he says. “When I work with people I look for adjectives that describe them, not a laundry list that describes what they’ve done. That’s more important than 10 years of experience with an operating system.”
DiCioccio says he looks for the results of those 10 years of experience. “Do you now call yourself an expert? If that’s the case, then say ‘Expert with Linux with 10 years of experience.’ If you’re not an expert, maybe say ‘Extensive experience with application implementation with a Linux orientation.’”
Like Cullen, DiCiccio advises that instead of rehashing responsibilities, highlight the work performed instead. For example, a resume might say the candidate designed a business intelligence system and developed code and did an implementation.
“If I’m working with someone, I try to put in a smaller section of responsibilities, then underneath that, a bulleted list with accomplishments.” That way, he says, you’re focusing more on the business results—did the project come in and on time? Did you save the company money? There are results that saved the company money because of your work, he says.
Organize your thoughts
DiCioccio says many people aren’t comfortable being interviewed so he spends time working with clients on a structure for organizing their responses. This includes a review of the person’s background. Think about the job you’re being called in to interview for and what are the big things in your background someone is likely to ask you about, he says.
“You may want to have a list of things you want to have discussed so use a structure to make sure everything is addressed,” such as explaining the situation you worked in, the tasks you performed and then results. A suggested phrase: “Because of the tasks I performed, we remained in budget. We delivered on time. We captured 50 errors in testing,” says DiCioccio. That way, the candidate ties it all together and emphasizes what he or she did.
In mock interviews Cullen does with his clients, he asks questions about what are the candidate’s weaknesses and challenges. “In the final analysis, the interviewer is going to ask three questions: ‘Can you do the job; do you want to do the job and are you really motivated; and lastly, do you fit in?’” The latter is critical for IT people because they tend to be introverted, Cullen says, and the candidate needs to let a little of their personality come out.
Tagbo concurs, saying that “No one wants to hire someone who doesn’t sound confident.”
When discussing your strengths, make sure to emphasize that you get along with everyone. Cullen says that’s an “unusual response for an IT person,” and he or she needs to make sure that that comes across. “Often IT people don’t think about that as much as wowing someone with their technical experience and it’s a lot more than that.”