4 IT Job Resume & Interview Pitfalls To Avoid

Don't sabotage your job search by loading up your resume with jargon, fixating on old experience, or going overboard with certifications.

March 9, 2015

4 Min Read
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Once you find your way into the working world, you quickly realize that a lot of areas are highly specialized. This is certainly the case for IT pros, and it can be both a curse and a blessing.

It’s satisfying to be great at what you do, but when it’s time to interview for your next gig, it’s easy to botch the process of re-inventing yourself. Here are four common mistakes to avoid in your IT job resume and next IT interview.  

1. Don't get mired in old experience

Your last IT job might have been that of the core networking or VoIP head honcho, but finding an exact match to that role could be tough. If you’re applying for a position that calls for an IT generalist, make sure your resume and cover letter read that you have the depth to move past your last gig.

As a frequent candidate search committee member, I’m always surprised by how many resumes I read that feel like a form letter the applicant came up with years ago and didn’t update for the specific position they are applying for. If I’m looking for a field technician to do a lot of layer 2 and wireless work, I’m not going to be real excited about all of the Call Managers you’ve brought to life.  If you really want the job you’re going after, break down the position description and make sure your resume hits as many of the desired skills as possible (without embellishing).

Figure 1:

Technology has its own jargon and lexicon, and it’s not uncommon to be in a room with other system administrators that sound like they are speaking a foreign language. They know what they know, you know what you know, and there may or may not be overlap. Even within the same discipline, my frame of reference for networking might be far enough from yours that we don’t easily click.

This is the very effect you want to avoid both when applying for a position and if you get called for an interview. Selling yourself as an experienced professional that isn’t 100% defined by your last job is a hard skill to master, but it’s an important one.

2. Steer clear of jargon

As a veteran, I know the challenges of transitioning your mindset to the civilian world after a military career. For military folks in IT, the jargon effect is multiplied exponentially. Even a few years of service will earn you a multi-page resume of life experiences and technical achievements described with potentially hundreds of acronyms and cryptic terms. Unfortunately, if you don’t package it properly when applying for a position, your proud record can be hard to digest by those who have never served.

Don’t waste page space listing 15 duty stations because they sound cool, and don’t assume that employers know what a STE Viper or an AN/ALQ-99 is. Get some help stripping off all the military phrasing, leave out the parts that don’t apply to the specific position that you’re interested in, and try to put yourself in the place of the person reading your resume. There should be little on the page they need to translate to “civilian.”

3. Be careful with certifications

When it comes to certifications you’ve achieved, caution is also the watchword. If your certificates are even remotely relevant to the position, then list them along with numbers and expiration dates. But if you are still putting down the PBX school you went to in 1995, your IT resume will appear outdated to the reviewer.

Also be aware that “working on” a cert sounds pretty hollow unless you have a specific test date scheduled. Everyone under the sun seems to be working on their CCNA, but simply having a study guide doesn’t make listing that on your resume a good idea. For that matter, claiming any skill that you don’t really have is playing with fire should you get called for an interview. That C++ you took years ago in college doesn’t belong in your list of programming skills if you haven’t touched it since then.

4. Avoid using "we"

Finally, beware of the “we factor.”  Many people make it to the interview stage only to fail to sell themselves. Instead, it’s easy to talk about your last job as if you were marketing your entire ex-team to the search committee. “We did BGP and OSPF” or “we used Cisco wireless” doesn’t say much about you personally. Develop the ability to tell your own story of personal strengths and specific experiences first, and stitch that into a conversational fabric that shows you understand the value of teamwork.

It’s seldom fun to change careers, but your success starts with you and how you present yourself to potential employers. Throughout the job screening process, the key is to leverage your deeper skills without coming across as irrelevant to potential employers.

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