Computer skills have become increasingly important in the modern job market. So why do we insist on dumping all of our considerable computer skills into a sprawling bulleted list hidden at the bottom of our resume? Why bury the gold when we can let it shine?
The trick to promoting your computer skills effectively on your resume is packaging them, moving past the "check the box" mentality of the job description to focus on the value they create. Stop talking about skills - talk about packages. Talk about what the skills can deliver.
What Types Of Computer Skills Are There?
The list is ever changing - but the larger question is how are they being used. Don't underestimate the value of outdated computer skills for that matter. The systems requiring them remain in service, with no new technicians being trained in the technology, which can represent substantial value for people who already know the technology. There are, however, a couple of major clusters of computer skills you should look to gather your skills into:
- Spreadsheet Analysis - Excel; financial number crunching
- Office Databases - MS Access; small desktop databases and ad-hoc tools
- PowerPoint - presentations
- Graphic Design / Animation - custom graphics / animations
- Email / Social Media - specifically digital marketing systems
- Digital Publishing - WordPress, Content Management Systems
- Web Analytics
- SQL / Business Intelligence - pulling data out of corporate databases
- Sales Enablement - Saleforce.com and other workflow systems
- Database Administration - managing and developing database systems
- Software Development - developing custom software
- IT Operations - management of servers, networks, infrastructure
- Analytics / Data Science - statistics and related coding (Python, R)
The individual skills can be easily taught (for example, this site on R programming) and easily tested during the course of the interview with a couple of questions or some time at a whiteboard.
Want to dig deeper into becoming competitive on pitching your computer skills? Read our article on hard skills. Many of the same techniques can be used for computer skills, weaving your computer expertise and your business knowledge together to create a compelling bundle for the hiring manager. We identify six ways to repackage your skills.
The Big Problem With Hard Skills
Ah, you learned to code - in Python, no less! And you earned a security certification. And an oracle merit badge. Fantastic. That list of bullets is certainly growing!
Unfortunately, your IT skill list now looks... every other candidate. When people attend similar schools, hold similar entry level jobs, and the entire industry keeps pushing for common certification programs.... oh, and everyone uses the same resume format for computer skills, the bulleted list without any real explaination of their true proficiency level (unlike languages, where most candidates will state their actual skill level). And more than a few of those lists have skills that are, shall we say, perhaps a bit optimistic? Or maybe aspirational is a better term.
You need to come up with a strategy to stand out.
Winning Strategies To Get Hired For Hard Skills
Every job interview comes down to a discussion at the white board, showing that you've got the ability to solve their problem. So if your resume looks like the typical candidates... or worse, they have a few educational credentials or certification that you lack, how can you stand out?
Simple. It's like the old joke - how do you beat Bobbie Fischer? Answer: Play Him in Any Game Except Chess. Competitive strategy for computer experts is the same way. Play a broader game, work to create compelling bundle of expertise rather than competing on the basis of a single skill.
Here are some winning strategies to set yourself apart for a technology job:
- Strategy 1 - Rare And Unique Combinations:: Simple but effective. Look at your technical expertise and business experience, particularly experience working in a single industry or with a particular set of business processes. The more narrow you get, the smaller the potential field of competitors becomes. You will automatically get up to speed quicker than someone who hasn't working in that field before. So that's your pitch. And narrow is better - you're not just a mainframe programmer. Nope, you are specialist in trade accounting modules, specifically for paper mills. There are technically less than a dozen people like you in the country and the other eleven aren't on the market.
- Strategy 2 - I Haz People Skills, Dang It:: The time honored path of talking about your management or communications skills in addition to your technical expertise. Management needs someone who knows how the system works in their meetings. This role is often one of the best paid jobs in the IT department and a great path to becoming CIO.
- Strategy 3 - Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair:: My personal favorite, and one which doesn't depend on luck or schmoozing. You there, sitting quietly in the corner doing your work. How money did those projects you worked on last year save? Put that number on your resume. That will get you some positive attention.
- Strategy 4 - Showcase Impressive Awards:: A key issue with many IT accomplishments is they start to sound alike. You build process X or deployed package Y. And then moved on down the line to deploy package A which runs process B. After a while, it is hard to determined how good your work was. Of course, if a senior executive gives you an award in the process, that gives your work and contributions immediate credibility. Mention these on your resume.
- Strategy 5 - Use The Prestige of Teaching:: A simple yet effective trick. We're socially conditioned to assume the person teaching a class knows more about that topic than the participants. So step up and lead that training course!
- Strategy 6 - Quiet Dedication to The Craft:: Another strategy anyone can do; if you use the same critical skills in each (or most) of your jobs, be sure to mention it in the individual job description. But position it as a) a steady interest because you loved working in that technology and b) experience across a diverse range of environments. Which is probably true enough and sounds much more impressive to a hiring manager.
The most important thing here is to have a story, a consistent story that reflects what you have on your resume and say during the interview. How do you brand your expertise? That simplifies your message so a hiring manager understands it.
Focus is Key
A typical mid-career IT professional can easily fill half a page or more with systems, tools, and languages they have worked with. The reader is left bewildered. You are better off sharing only the skills relevant to the job and supporting them with a unique theme.
Still in love with all your skills and experience? No worries, you can summarize. Lead off by focusing on the hard skills that are most relevant to the job and close with a summary that groups the balance of your technical experience into a single high level statement. For example:Three years of web development and twenty years of broader development experience.
But wait, you've got experience in multiple areas? No worries, we can extend the bullet to mention those. Something like this. For example: Three years of web development on manufacturing e-commerce sites and twenty years of broader development experience, supporting production management, inventory tracking, forecasting, and general ledger systems for medium-sized manufacturers. Perfect - if you're applying for an e-commerce job with a manufacturer, I'd be silly not to speak with you. And we've skipped listing about thirty obsolete technologies that may not even be installed at that particular customer...
Want more examples of how to set yourself apart on your resume? Check out our guides on career strategy: