Grouping technology skills on a resume
February 12, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm helping a friend who just lost his job with revising his resume. At the beginning of his resume he lists all of the following technology-related skills in several columns:

HTML,XML,JavaScript,SQL,SharePoint,FTP,Telnet,VoIP,AIX/Unix,Windows,Helpdesk,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Adobe Dreamweaver,Macromedia Flash,Adobe Photoshop,Technical writing,Classroom Instruction,Instructional Design, SCORM, AICC.

My opinion is that it would be better to group these skills into appropriate categories. Here's what I've come up with so far:

Software: Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, Adobe Creative Suite (Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop)
Operating Systems: AIX/Unix, Windows
Languages: HTML/XHTML,CSS , XML, JavaScript , SQL
Protocols & Networking: FTP, Telnet, VoIP
Enterprise-level Applications: SharePoint , Learning management systems using SCORM/AICC

I'm also not sure what to suggest about his exp. in classroom training & instructional design. I think it's important for him to emphasize these skills because they could set him apart from other job candidates.

Any ideas/suggestions about how to help my friend more effectively structure & emphasize his skills are greatly appreciated.


posted by jingo74 to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
What job is he going for? The list of skill sets tells me he is a mile wide and an inch deep, and a lot of things listed are very basic technologies that don't need to be mentioned. He needs to focus on something like Sharepoint, or Flasg, or AIX, or Web Development.

I surely wouldn't put HTML/XHTML,CSS , XML, JavaScript , SQL under Windows Languages because they aren't Windows specific, and only JavaScript and SQL are 'languages'.
posted by kaizen at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2010

My personal recommendation is that he should do the following:

1. Put the technology-related skills closer to the bottom, presumably between work experience and education.

2. Group the technology-related skills based on his level of expertise, without labeling them as such.

My reasoning for this approach, as someone that has done hiring for a technology company, is straightforward: it is the work experience, not the specific technologies, that will set him apart from other job candidates.

Also, he should consider pruning the list to "Technology Skills In Current Use" or somesuch, with a note that additional skills/experience are available on request. I say that because the list as you present it tells me (as a person doing hiring) that they've listed every piece of software they've ever touched at any time, and since unused skills atrophy, I have no idea what they're currently using. In short, it looks like useless padding.

Another note: Microsoft Office and similar are not particularly useful to list, unless you're listing above-average skills (like writing macros). Same goes with operating systems unless they're not typical (BSD, Solaris) or are used for above-average work (Writing and compiling 32-bit applications for Windows) -- otherwise it looks like useless padding.

Ultimately, then, here's what the resume is trying to achieve:

#1: it should present information clearly and concisely, in order of importance (hence my suggestions to reduce the noise/padding and move that section lower), so the HR drone can parse it easily;
#2: it should present information clearly and concisely, so that the HR drone knows this person can present information clearly and concisely;
#3: it should not disqualify a person from the interview, with the understanding that lots of additional details can be provided during the interview process to make the candidate stand out.

Goes without saying this should be one page long, and if you feel the need to pad it to make it longer, stop.
posted by davejay at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2010

It may be best if he finds 3-4 job titles and roles and then customizes his resume to that job. E.g., one computer training resume, one instructional designer resume, one instructional technologist (there may be other roles he's looking at as well). Then the resume should make it clear what he's actually done with each skill that is relevant to that specific job role.
posted by ejaned8 at 12:20 PM on February 12, 2010

My friend hasn't told me what type of jobs he's applying for. I do know that his last job involved: implementing SharePoint 2007, implementing VoIP roll-out at several company offices around the US, procuring & shipping, and end-user support.
posted by jingo74 at 12:25 PM on February 12, 2010

Speaking as someone who occasionally hires tech people, I'm not impressed by a laundry list of technologies. The only case in which such a list might be useful is if HR is filtering the resumes based on a desired list of skills before the resumes get to the IT hiring guy, but even in that case the list should probably be compiled to reflect the requirement of each job.

I'm much rather see skills described in context. Listing AIX and XML is practically meaningless, but it means a lot more if you briefly describe a project you architected which provides a modern, standards-happy XML gateway into an old, proprietary database that only runs on AIX—that's attention getting.
posted by paulg at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2010

To clarify my bullet 2 above, let's say he has this list:
HTML,XML,JavaScript,SQL,SharePoint,FTP,Telnet,VoIP,AIX/Unix,Windows,Helpdesk,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Adobe Dreamweaver,Macromedia Flash,Adobe Photoshop,Technical writing,Classroom Instruction,Instructional Design, SCORM, AICC
Now, that's an impenetrable mess that tells me nothing about his actual usable out-of-the-box skillset. So let's assume it's a web developer job, and so these skills are relevant:
HTML,XML,JavaScript,SQL,FTP,Telnet,Adobe Dreamweaver,Macromedia Flash,Adobe Photoshop,Technical Writing
Okay, of those, FTP and Telnet are just foolish resume padding and would be mocked, so drop 'em. Similarly, any web development company worth anything would see Adobe Dreamweaver and see that as a red flag (good coders use real IDEs, or text editors) so drop that, too. Finally, we know what Flash and Photoshop are (and Macromedia sold Flash to Adobe anyway, something a current user of Flash would know) so drop the brand names:
HTML,XML,JavaScript,SQL,Flash,Photoshop,Technical Writing
Better. Now, let's assume he has used all of these skills in the last six months of his job, except SQL, which he hasn't used in two years, and Flash, which he hasn't used in three years. Rearrange accordingly, and drop Technical Writing as well -- that should come out in his work experience, not in this list of technologies:
Now squint at that list, and see the mistakes. First, HTML and XML and JavaScript have versions and doctypes and such, and if someone lists the ones they're proficient in, I'll assume they know enough about it to know that such distinctions matter. CSS is missing, assuming that's a simple omission. Meanwhile, how could SQL possibly be useful without some way to move data between the web and the database and back again? Probably a simple mistake, for this example we'll assume they used PHP and the SQL was mySQL (but it might just as well have been some other combo). Finally, XML comes in many flavors these days -- I'll guess at flavors he might know -- and Flash's actionscript is worth noting so the reviewer knows he doesn't just push sprites into frames:
Active relevant proficiencies:
HTML 4.01 (strict and transitional), CSS2, CSS3, XML 1.0, XHTML 2.0, Atom 1.0, SOAP, JavaScript 1.x, PHP4, PHP5, mySQL 5.x, ActionScript 2.0, ActionScript 3.0, Photoshop since version 6, Flash versions 5 through 8.
CSS and ActionScript versions are listed separately (versus CSS2/3, say) so that someone doing a text search of resumes on "CSS3" won't miss this one.

You might also list an "Additional proficiencies" section with a summary of experience that's useful but not necessarily directly relevant to the job at hand:
Additional proficiencies:
Technical writing, classroom instruction, Instructional design
If I saw that on a resume, I'd be in much better shape to judge the usefulness of the candidate's skillset, and I'd have a lot more confidence that they actually had the skills and were actively using them. Note that if I wasn't actively proficient in a key technology the job was asking for, I'd start using it intensely for a few weeks so I could claim active proficiency.

Note that the specific versions and technologies listed should be accurate; that is, whether you list "HTML" or "HTML 4.01 Strict and Transitional", they're going to ask you about doctypes and strict versus transitional in practical application, but if you don't actually use a specific variant and understand it, don't claim it.

Hope that painfully long breakdown helps.
posted by davejay at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

1. Put the technology-related skills closer to the bottom, presumably between work experience and education.

My experience as a job-seeker has taught me to do exactly the opposite, FWIW. While I'm sure that technical hiring managers don't care so much about the list of skills, HR people and recruiters definitely do, and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to scan. (This is more of an issue if the resume's going on Craigslist or or something like that, and less if it's going to be submitted directly to a hiring manager.)

And in response to paulg: IME, you should have both the laundry list and brief descriptions of how you used those technologies at previous jobs.
posted by asterix at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2010

I will offer a counter-point to the people saying that the raw skill list is not useful. Very often, particularly for tech jobs, the resume will only be viewed by an actual person after being hit by an automated search. In that case, listing any keyword you think is relevant to you is a good idea.

I typically list about 30 major technologies/skills/languages/etc, along with how many years of experience I have with each one. I put them in one column on the right side of the resume, so it's not the focus.
posted by cseibert at 1:22 PM on February 12, 2010

It's good to have a Master Resume that serves as a feeder for all the resumes he sends out. In terms of that, a laundry list is probably useful to him. In terms of sending it out, he should be choosing the skills and jobs that are relevant to the job he's applying for. No resume should be over 1 page long unless you are literally the most impressive person on the planet. And it should definitely be organized better than just a list of skills.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As others have pointed out your friend needs to list those types of job he wishes to apply for and target his resume accordingly. A good way of doing this would be to use his LinkedIn account (which he has and has polished to the same standard as his resume, right?) to subscribe to those specialist groups which deal with the areas he wants to apply for jobs in. For example Sharepoint users. Look at the jobs which people post to such groups and look at the profiles of those people who are members of the group. Then look at the way those people describe their skills.

Finally - if he has time - he might want to consider taking one or more relevant certification exams. For example in Share-point.
posted by rongorongo at 1:39 PM on February 12, 2010

The real trick here is to take that brainstorm list and write a ridiculously detailed job history triggering these keywords (a 'Master Resume' as stoneweaver put it). Make sure each keyword has a defensible entry like 'implemented sharepoint 2007' or 'designed SCORM courseware and implemented in Blackboard'. The point here is to convince the reader that you aren't just listing every technology you've ever heard of.

Once you've got this done, you now have a master resume to trim to socially acceptable lengths when a job you want to apply for is discovered. Try to hit as many points on help wanted posting as possible. It's okay to leave things out and work them in as 'extras' during the interview.

The next problem this person has is relevancy. FTP and Telnet are dying technologies. They simultaneously date the person as older than average and indicate the candidate hasn't kept up to date. SCP / SSH replace these with secure systems; they should use some of their newfound downtime to familiarize themselves with it. The only reason to include these on a resume is if the job posting is asking for it; if there's some legacy system you'd need to support, for example.

Finally teaching experience. This can be tricky. It suggests the candidate is a good communicator, but a bad interview performance will negate that entirely. SCORM / AICC are going to win in a stump-the-interviewer contest, which is a game you don't want to win. So unless the job involves online education, don't bother listing these on the resume. And if it DOES, you're better off mentioning which LMS systems you were trained in, rather than the data formats they read.
posted by pwnguin at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2010

HTML,XML,JavaScript,SQL,SharePoint,FTP,Telnet,VoIP,AIX/Unix,Windows,Helpdesk,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Adobe Dreamweaver,Macromedia Flash,Adobe Photoshop,Technical writing,Classroom Instruction,Instructional Design, SCORM, AICC.

Jack of all traits, master of none. Dreamweaver indicates HTML crutch. Macromedia Flash indicates ludicrously out of date because Flash is now owned by Adobe. Furthermore, Flash doesn't mean anything. ActionScript 3 means something. Flash means vector graphics. You know what says, "I know vector graphics"? Actual artistic samples. Same with Photoshop. Same with Office. The fact that you're looking at a printed resume indicates at least passing familiarity with Microsoft Office. Windows/AIX? Everyone knows Windows. AIX? Unless you have some specific AIX-only administration knowledge, you're just saying, "I've used AIX", which, frankly, so has every college student. Same goes for VoIP, Telnet and FTP. XML is ubiquitous. If you know HTML you know XML.

If I saw that list I'd think the person was trying desperately hard to impress me, and failing miserabley for it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:14 PM on February 12, 2010

If you know HTML you know XML.

Quick note: this isn't actually true.
posted by davejay at 7:27 PM on February 12, 2010

In my experience hiring people, I'm much more interested in the problems they've solved than the technologies they've used.

The laundry list does, however, serve a purpose. It helps me understand the tools a person uses to address a problem.
posted by Freen at 6:11 PM on February 13, 2010

HTML,XML,JavaScript,SQL,SharePoint,FTP,Telnet,VoIP,AIX/Unix,Windows,Helpdesk,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Microsoft Office,Lotus Smartsuite,Adobe Dreamweaver,Macromedia Flash,Adobe Photoshop,Technical writing,Classroom Instruction,Instructional Design, SCORM, AICC.

I guess you can list all those on the off chance the company filters through resumes with a keyword search. An actual human reader would really find that useless, though. Can you think of any jobs that actually require everything in the list? Tailor your resumes to the jobs you're applying for, and prune that list down.

You'd be better off listing two or three core competencies that apply directly to a particular job than providing a laundry list like that. Maybe a brief blurb about what you did in HTML or what the heck "instructional design" actually means.
posted by wonnage at 1:33 AM on February 14, 2010

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