Resume and Interview Preparation Tips

OK so I’ve been a manager off and on in information technology (especially software delivery) since 1990. I have hired a few employees, and more contract staff than I care to remember. I want to share some tips for getting your resume read and forwarded that work for me – they will get you a phone interview if you have the qualifications that I am looking for:

If you are looking for a role that has a leadership aspect: (technical architect, project manager, designer, manager, coordinator, scrum master, agile coach, product manager, etc. – if you are looking to move into a formal leadership role, then project that into your resume)

1) Make your resume tell me what kind of a job you are seeking. have a section devoted to how you want to add value on your next gig. Sometimes I call this “objective”. Objective focuses on the kind of roles you see yourself inhabiting, other times “summary” which focuses on your talent, skill, abilities and how you want to use that to add value to your employer. Hiring managers can quickly see whether there is synergy between their need and your direction. Let’s not waste each other’s time, shall we.

2) Clearly articulate the value that you added to your former/current employers. I like a Value, Action, Method format for bullets. Make sure that for each employer or job you put the biggest value at the top. (this tells me you know what is important, beyond just doing a job).

Example: <value> enabled 20% reduction in cost of admission processing <action> by delivering more efficient workflow and oversight <method> through implementation of BI dashboards in SSRS and BIZTalk workflow automation.

— don’t let your experience look like a job description. I see a lot of “responsible for this” or “participated in that” bullets. If you are hiring a QB for your football team, do you hire a QB who was responsible for calling plays, throwing passes and participated in running the offense? or do you hire one who scored 30 points per game, rushed for 100 yards, threw for 350 yards, had a 75% pass completion ratio over that last 3 seasons?

These tips apply to contributor roles as well: (developer, analysts, tester, sysadmin, network engineer, etc.)

3) Find a way to show how you learn, grow, or level up. This is especially important for employee roles rather than contract roles. Add experience bullets that show what skills, techniques, knowledge you acquired on the way to executing each role or completing each project. Employers want employees who are growing, learning, developing. Even more, they want employees who develop independently.

4) Be prepared to talk about every bullet you put on your resume. Some times I see resumes that look like a litany of job descriptions. Then when I ask about specific bullets, I get poor answers, because they don’t relate what the candidate really spent his time on. My rule of thumb: If you can’t talk for 2 or 3 minutes about a point on your resume, explaining:

  • what you actually did,
  • how you did it,
  • why you did it that way,
  • how well that worked,
  • what you learned,
  • and what you would do differently given the chance,

It probably doesn’t deserve a spot on your resume.


5) Buzzwords, Acronyms, technology, certifications – sometimes this is necessary to get your resume picked up by filtering systems, however, most hiring managers pay less attention to this than experience – Tie your technology savvy and knowledge to your experience using the formula in item 2 where the method contains the buzzwords. This allows the interviewer to focus questions on specific experience to assess your knowledge.

6) Make sure that you include any non-work experience that is relevant to essential skills, or learning that can demonstrate your ability to draw on personal experience to level up your value at work. By this I mean things like open source projects you participated in, pro-bono consulting for Non-profit organizations, or leadership experience you have that are not work related. This is especially important if you are seeking a “stretch” role, where you have somewhat less relevant work experience, but you believe that you have “what it takes” because of non-work experience.

7) Education is less important than experience – put this at the bottom, along with any organizational memberships, and business communities that you may participate in. It is interesting, but once you have 2 or 3 years of relevant experience, it is less important.

8) Don’t tell me about personal connections, MENSA, church, country club – because they can only be used as a means of disqualification. Why would those disqualify – because they are there. Your hiring manager may be very different from you socially, you may think a MENSA membership says you are smart, but she may think it says you are an arrogant jack-wipe. Remember – the purpose of your resume is to get your foot in the door; an interview.

9) Don’t be afraid to tune your resume to each specific opportunity – highlight more relevant experience or technical experience by moving it to a position of higher prominence, removing things that are less relevant to the role that you are applying for. A hiring manager or HR recruiter may look at a couple dozen resumes and only pass 2 or 3 on to the next level. They may only look at your resume for 3 minutes. They are likely looking for some specific things. Make sure that the things you think are most important to this role are clearly articulated. If you have friends or colleagues in the industry, have them review for clarity and relevance.

Interview prep tips:

10) Review your history. make sure that you can talk about every project, role, task, technology or other experience on your resume. If you do get a phone interview, you may only have 15 minutes to show the hiring manager or recruiter that you have got “it”. Being able to easily recall details about past experience is a leading indicator that you learn from things. Your ability to understand the cause of unfortunate outcomes is another leading indicator.

11) Prepare to answer “behavior description” questions. Behavior description questions ask you to talk about a specific experience you had, what you did, what was the outcome, how did you decide, how did you react to bad outcomes, etc. Good interviewers ask these types of questions to discern your “real world” behavior, how you handled actual difficulty. Even when presented with a hypothetical question, you can turn your answer into a “real world” conversation by relating your experience not only demonstrating that you can think through tough issues, but that you have experience doing so in real time.

I sincerely hope this helps everyone out there who is out of work, seeking new oppoertunities and trying to get ahead.  If you thought this was helpful, and have additional ideas, please comment below and pass this along to any friends who are looking.

1 Comment

  • Anonymous

    September 14, 2012 at 6:43 am Reply

    There is no one best way to prepare for an interview. But, there are specific and important techniques to enhance one’s chances for interview success.

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