One of the most daunting tasks in a job search is devising a resume that's going to get you past that first cut. To do that, though, you have to know what the hiring manager really wants.
Sure, that's easy when it comes to the required technical skills: Degree in computer science. Five years' experience. Java expertise. Check. Check. Check.
But how do you recognize -- and then convey on your resume -- the fact that you have, for example, team-building skills, the ability to work with minimal supervision, excellent analytical and problem-solving skills, and the ability to develop solutions using enterprise-level best practices? Those were actual requirements listed for a senior .Net engineer in a recent posting.
IT professionals often skim past lists of desired soft skills when they're reading help-wanted ads and don't bother to highlight them on their resumes, perhaps assuming they don't have them. That's a big mistake that can land your resume in the wrong pile.
"I'm stunned at how otherwise qualified people disqualify themselves unintentionally," says Rick Endres, president of The Washington Network, an IT services company in Alexandria, Va.
Before you make that mistake, carefully consider your own experience, then think of all the skills that experience actually showcases and highlight those skills on your resume.
Here's a look at how you can do that with five sets of nontechnical skills culled from numerous job postings.
Ability to Translate Complex Business Goals
The task of translating business goals might not be a big challenge for a business analyst, but how does a software developer or a database administrator demonstrate that he has such skills?
The best approach is to think of ways that your technical accomplishments contributed to your company's ability to reach its goals, says Michael P. Brooks Sr., regional account executive at Kforce Professional Staffing in Tampa, Fla., and president of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management.
Then spell that out on your resume by using phrases like "contributed to such-and-such project, which improved customer service/saved money/generated new revenue," says Chad Lilly, director of recruiting at Lextech Global Services, a mobile application design, strategy and development firm in Lisle, Ill.
Some IT people "have a harder time doing that because they may only work on one component of a larger system, and that's one of the challenges that tech people face," says Lilly. "It's an unconscious thing, but you have to start to incorporate the understanding of why you're building what you're building."
Superior Analytical and Quantitative Skills
Postings for business intelligence and analytics jobs naturally call for quantitative and analytic capabilities because those positions require mathematical expertise. But hiring managers may also list such skills in other IT job postings in hopes of finding good thinkers, says Rachel Russell, director at TEKsystems, an IT staffing firm in Hanover, Md.
They "want someone who can identify the root cause of issues and recommend solutions that apply to the business," Russell says.
How do you know you've got it?
Consider how you approach problem-solving, Russell says. Do you come up with multiple solutions and present them along with the pros and cons of each? When the business asks for help finding a solution, do you ask why they're asking so you can better understand the problem? When asked to pull data, do you learn why it's needed so you can present the data in a way that offers a holistic view of the information for the person who requested it?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you've got the mindset that hiring managers want.
To show that on your resume, Russell recommends listing accomplishments that highlight your approach. "Describe how you used the skills [by mentioning] the projects you've supported and the impact you know you've had on the business," she says.
Ability to Innovate, Passion for Problem-solving
When it comes to recognizing and promoting their ability to innovate, IT workers often sell themselves short, says Amar Panchal, CEO of Akraya, an IT staffing firm in Sunnyvale, Calif.
"Writing code is creative. You can write code in five different ways. You can use the same language in five different ways to write a poem, but only when you use the words in the right way does the poem sound good. Writing a code in an optimum way is just like writing a good poem," he says.
Consider how you approached an assignment and whether your contribution made a difference. Have you written code that improved an application's performance or a business user's ability to do a task? If you have, "that shows creativity -- that you see there's a better way to do something," Panchal says.
Also, list the ways you've been recognized for that kind of thinking, such as winning a corporate award. "If I see a resume that says 'nominated' or 'won' these kinds of awards, it shows me that they're not just following instructions," Panchal says.
He says he also looks for IT people who have applied for or gotten a patent, published an article, written blogs or are contributors to user forums -- all of which he considers proof points of an innovative professional.
4 Resume Tips for 2013
1. Tailor your resume to each job posting. "You want to make sure you're highlighting the skills that are important for that position," says Mark Relf, an instructor at Computer Systems Institute.
2. Keep it short. Although resume length will vary depending on how long you've worked and how senior you are, two pages is about right for most people, says Michael Crom, executive vice president at Dale Carnegie Training.
3. Think of your LinkedIn profile as a public resume. "It shouldn't be a duplicate of your resume, but it should match, because recruiters are checking LinkedIn profiles, how many people you're connected to, what groups you're in, what books you read. That tells them a lot about you that your resume doesn't," says Michael P. Brooks Sr., regional account executive at Kforce Professional Staffing.
4. Solicit recommendations for your LinkedIn profiles. Putting "references upon request" at the bottom of your resume is dated, says Rick Endres, president of The Washington Network.
-- Mary K. Pratt
Excellent Communication Skills
Although technical folks have a reputation for being introverted and prone to using techno-babble, you may have the communication skills hiring managers are seeking. In fact, many IT professionals have had to develop and employ communication skills as part of their everyday jobs. They just fail to recognize that and don't highlight it on their resumes.
"A lot of technical individuals have a tremendous amount of certifications. They showcase that they know how to perform those tasks, but they don't show how they're able to communicate with folks," says Mark Relf, a networking career program instructor at Computer Systems Institute (CSI), a post-secondary education provider in Illinois and Massachusetts.
Look at past jobs for proof: If you've worked on a help desk where you've coached users through troubleshooting exercises, recapped for your colleagues what you learned at a conference, written a request for proposals or briefed business partners on an IT project, then you have communication experience, says Robert Howden, also a networking career program instructor at CSI.
If that sounds like you, Relf recommends adding "communications" to your resume and briefly detailing such experiences.
Strong Interpersonal Skills, Peer Relationships
When HR manager Fran Peters is trying to fill an IT position, she looks for the ability to work well with others in addition to strong technical skills.
Peters, who works at SWC Technology Partners, an IT solutions company in Oak Brook, Ill., says IT folks might hesitate to claim they have strong interpersonal skills because they don't have training in subjects like business communication, but there are several professional experiences that tell her a candidate does indeed possess such skills.
For one thing, she looks for people who have been members or leaders of teams, because successfully completing a project as part of a team is difficult unless you learn to work well with others. She also looks for IT pros with consulting experience, because that usually indicates that they've interacted with clients.
The bottom line, according to IT leaders and hiring managers, is that job seekers need to not only list what they know but also show what they can do.
IT workers likely gain more experience than they realize in the various projects they work on, and they can transfer that expertise from one job to another, experts say. But their resumes have to show hiring managers they've got what it takes. As Howden advises: Put your accomplishments front and center.