Six Ways to Ruin Your Resume

Bad techniques can bury your talent.

My vision is blurry. I've reviewed more than 40 résumés for a network administrator position, and less than half have made the cut. Although I rejected some candidates because of their lack of experience (or, rather, their lack of demonstrated required experience), others had errors in their application packages that lowered their ranking -- errors that could have been easily corrected.

Of course, the traditional job-seeking advice still applies. Always follow résumé best practices -- proper spelling, good organization, consistent font and so on. Realize, too, that if you simply don't meet the required minimum experience, it's very unlikely that you'll get the job. Beyond that, if you avoid these all-too-common mistakes that can be found in résumés for all kinds of IT positions, you'll boost your chance of landing the job.

Mistake 1: Your objective is unclear

When I review résumés for a network administrator position, if the applicant chooses to include a section about his objectives, I hope to see something related to networking. Likewise, managers filling spots for security, databases, Web development and other specialties are looking for specific skills that show a candidate is a good fit. However, I often see vague statements such as, "I'm seeking an interesting and challenging career position." This conveys very little.

Instead, something directly related to the position you're seeking would be appropriate. Suppose, for example, that you applied for a network administrator job at a community college. "To use my experience to expand and maintain the network to enhance the mission of the college" says that you see this as a challenge and that you understand the business of the place to which you are applying.

This leads to two subpoints. First, whenever possible, show that you understand how technology affects the business. Second, decide if an objective is really necessary. Some people substitute a short paragraph that encapsulates their goals, their understanding of the business and their skills.

Mistake 2: You've listed old skills

I'd like to say it has been some time since I've received a résumé that listed in a skills section "Windows 3.11 for Workgroups," but unfortunately it hasn't.

I'm not trying to downplay achievements from over 10 years ago; I was a Novell 3.12 CNE. But how relevant are those skills today? Including them on a résumé gives the impression of trying to fill the application with fluff.

When I look at a skills section, I am trying to directly correlate the candidate's skills with what I need. Of course, some network skills that don't change much over time can be listed. If, for example, the ad calls for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol administration experience and you managed DHCP 10 years ago, by all means put it in the skills section. It's the technology no longer in use that should be left behind.

Mistake 3: You've created an acronym explosion

What is one thing that unites all aspects of information technology? Acronyms. For example, IT workers are often guilty of creating AERs (acronym-enhanced résumés).

A seemingly endless stream of acronyms is like data padding in an ICMP packet; it only adds space. If you indicate experience configuring enterprise core LAN routers, I would expect that you understand TCP/IP, SNMP, TFTP, VLSM, VLAN, possibly NTP and VPN, and at least one routing protocol such as OSPF or RIP. There is no need to list them.

If you mention a specific acronym or protocol, be prepared to back it up. I like to ask applicants to describe the differences between TCP and UDP. If you've put TCP/IP anywhere on the résumé, you'd better get the answer right.

Mistake 4: You misuse industry jargon

Avoid using a term or statement that could have the unintended effect of conveying a lack of experience. It may be technically correct, but it's seen only in textbooks and study materials and isn't used in the real world.

My favorite example of this is "Worked on networks with a star topology." I don't recall ever asking a vendor about its star-topology products. We both know that a switch is a device that distributes connectivity physically and logically from a single location. Including such phrases tells me that you don't have actual, significant experience working on enterprise networks.

And don't use buzzwords if you don't know what they mean. If you say you work with both single-mode and multimode fiber, be prepared to explain the differences between, and the uses of, each.

Mistake 5: You're unclear what job you're applying for

Some IT professionals have a narrow definition of what a network administrator does: works on Layer 2 and up enterprise transport equipment -- in other words, switches and routers. Also included may be ancillary duties such as DNS and DHCP administration or firewall configuration and support.

Others, however, define "network administrator" to include server and systems administration. This would include one who works on the endpoints of a client/server network. In these cases, administration of the network may not be as vital, perhaps because the company has a simple network.

Whatever the position, the point is to look beyond the title of the job you're interested in, determine what the employer is really looking for and apply for that specific job.

Mistake 6: You're vague about your experience, or you're just downright confusing

Statements such as "Worked closely with the network team," "Assisted in network installation" or "Supported networks" convey nothing about relevant network experience. I work closely with my tax adviser; does that make me an accountant? You need to clarify relevant experience.

Also, if you're applying for an enterprise position, be sure you meet the experience required. If a position calls for experience with administering enterprise routers, don't assume that setting up Linksys routers means you're qualified. All that does is convey that you don't understand the difference between SOHO and enterprise networking.

Finally, and this may seem obvious, describe your experience for each position you list, even if it means some repetition. Otherwise, it's difficult to determine the years of experience in, say, configuring routers. I reviewed one résumé in which the candidate described all of his skills first, then simply listed his position titles and dates of employment afterward. Since I couldn't match duty with position, I couldn't calculate number of years of experience in each area. The résumé ended up in the reject stack.

Schaffer has more than 20 years of experience in networking. Contact him at

This is the print version of a story that ran online first at To see the original story, click here: "7 mistakes to avoid when applying for that tech job"

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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