Geek Your Resume

Geek Your Resume

I've been working on people's resumes for a long time. I started with my own, but then I was working in a retail desktop publishing position where one of my duties was typesetting and styling resumes, often 3 or more per day, proofing them, and reviewing them with the customers. I also spent a little time on the hiring end as a tech recruiter for a consulting firm and saw a lot of resumes from the hiring side. In between many people I knew have asked me for help, design, or to review their resume with them and make suggestions.

Most of my expertise from the hiring end is in tech resumes, and most of the people requesting my help have been geeks, so this is a geeky-resume focused article. If you're looking to "Geek Your Resume," you're in the right place! Although this article is geek-focused, I assure you that it doesn't only apply to geeks.

I've come up with a basic resume creation routine. Follow along, and pick up whatever advice you need for your own resume:

Getting Ready

Here is advice to prepare you for the resume ordeal:

  • Get comfortable :) A good resume takes time. You can break this down into several sessions, unless you're in a rush. And if you're particularly inspired, this should take only a few hours. To give you an idea of what this advice costs a la carte, if I were to go through this entire process with a client it would probably be about $300 (first draft, 2-3 rounds of revisions, formatting = about 5 hours of my time) -- and a lot of that time would be spent in constant communication with the client.
  • The day of the 1-page resume is dead. Don't be afraid to have a multi-page resume, especially if you're over 30. If your resume looks like it will be 3+ pages, don't fret during the draft phases -- once format and wording is tight on the entire resume, you'll know whether you need to trim it. I suggest no more than 2 pages when printing your resume, but when it comes to uploading your resume to a search site, or emailing it in an electronic format, keep everything in it.
  • Once you have a lengthy detailed resume, and use it on searchable databases, you can chop it down to some specific skillsets -- say 2-3 that you really want to find jobs for -- for more targeted job hunting. Note that businesses are looking for people who can multitask, often with divergent skills (fix my server and fix my Honda...), so skills you omitted from your resume could be sought after. There are so many people in the job market that you really want and need to be found on any suitable nuance. When you decide to actively write to a company and ask for a position with them, you might want to tailor the resume to feature the skills you are hawking, but for more passive job hunting such as monster, the key is to include everything relevant.
  • Use a word processing program. I know this is a challenge for many people, so I've created some templates to help you out: Microsoft Word, Open Office, etc. An RTF-capable program will do in a pinch, such as you can edit from TextEdit on the Mac. Here's a pdf printable sample of the resume style I'm giving away. This is a very, very basic format. At the minimum you must be able to scale, bold and italicize text, and use a document format that many businesses can read. I made all of the templates on a Mac, so please | let me know if they give you problems on another platform. Please use the style sheets features of your program; style sheets included in the Word and Open Office files for formatting your text (i.e. If you don't want your name and address centered, modify the Resume-name style sheet to have left or right justified text). All of the custom style sheets are prefixed with "Resume-". Study the styles used on the sample and apply the same styles to your own. Modify the style formats, and it will modify all the elements in the resume that use the style. I'll explain style sheets in a rant or article at another point.
  • Use style sheets from the start. One of the biggest problems when moving from machine to machine or from program to program is not using the proper formatting tools. Never use spaces (the space bar) to format or align text elements. Ever. Use tabs, or paragraph indents. If you think the tabs or paragraph indents are too wide, find the function to change the tab spacing in the menus of your chosen program, or look through the help screens of your program for "set tabs". Also use common fonts, such as Times, or Helvetica so that it's more likely to be compatible on the computer someone opens it up on.

First Draft

This is the initial organization and brainstorming. It doesn't matter if you're wordy at this point, if your spelling is poor, etc. It's just time to put down everything you can think of in each category.


Start with your name, on the next line put your street address, and on the following lines put your City, State zip/postal code. Now add your email address. Put one or more phone numbers -- home is usual, but cell &/or fax may also be applicable. Ex:

Joe Sample
999 Maple Lane
Winchester, NY 10000
(999) 888-7777
(999) 777-8888 cell

Summary (optional)

Some resumes have a summary line directly under the contact information. Some time ago it was "Purpose" or "Objective" and while people used it, most people frowned on it for being non-conventional. Now it's more acceptable but the header should be omitted. This is the place to say something quick about who you are and what you have to offer. Don't talk about why you want a job or how you want to save the world. This is not the Ms America contest. Make it like a brief modest testimonial to your greatness without using excessive adjectives.

ex. Manager with 2000 years of experience herding thousands of sheep using a 15-foot-long cattle prod, 3 sheepdogs, and also having 13 years of experience songwriting.


Most tech resumes now have a non-traditional category to list skills. Often people care more to skim your skills list to make sure you even MIGHT fill the job before having to hunt for where you got the experience, how much experience, etc. Mention EVERYTHING, especially on searchable resume services like Monster. Put both the abbreviations and the spelled-out-terms for any technology you want people to find you for.

  1. List by proper name &/or acronym
  2. Break your skills down into sections if it gets long. (ex. Software, Hardware, Networking, Systems, Languages)
  3. Return over and over to this area and add in anything new that comes to mind.
  4. List every application, system, hardware, command-line tool and programming language you know that you're willing to use on the job. Or every app you know that someone vaguely may be looking for.
  5. Sanity check: If a business needed an employee who knows a specific application, do you feel comfortable enough to say you know how to use it on an interview?

Security Clearances

If you have security clearances, they can go above or below your Skills, or they can be incorporated as a separate sub-section under Skills. If your clearances have lapsed but you are still eligible, put the last date of clearance and that you are eligible for renewal. You might not be able to spell out the acronyms -- so don't. :P


Certifications can go in many places on the resume. Some certifications you may want to leave out -- apparently there are some that rank poorly in a recruiter's eyes as opposed to actual hands-on experience. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, certify." That's not to say that there are no highly sought after certifications, such as Cisco certifications. So, read the news, check the statistics, and decide whether and where to place your certifications in your resume. There is no "right" place to put the category. It can go above or below Skills or Experience. It can go above or below Education. Where you put it may be indicative to what importance you place on them. A recruiter who prefers experience may be put off by your certifications being the first thing they see on your resume. Then again, some businesses are specifically looking for people WITH certifications and may be put off by the certifications being under your work experience. It's a very tricky call.

My best suggestion is to put the certifications right below skills in response to any job ad that requests certifications, and put them above Education for jobs that request a certain number of years of hands-on experience (ie 3-5 years of Cisco security experience.). If you have the hands-on experience they're looking for, it is FAR more important than your certifications. On Monster, it's a tough call for where to put them. If you have very relevant hands-on experience, put the certifications under Experience. If you have little hands-on, put the certifications above Experience. You'll get the type of job you qualify for, and I suppose that's what counts.

Each certifications should state the year you got it in. Spell out your acronyms in parenthesis. If you are required to recertify periodically put a date range unless you skipped recertification -- you may want to put your latest unbroken streak, rather than state that you let your certifications lapse.


Start with your current employer and go back in time for each employer you have had. List the following:

  1. name of company
  2. location (City, State)
  3. web address if applicable
  4. your (final) title there (unless you made a lateral move, or were demoted, in which case you may want to list multiple titles)
  5. your dates of employment (1999-present or May 1999-present)
    • You may want to omit putting months if most of your jobs were for over a year.

Experience Details

Brainstorm. Don't worry about getting the wording right.

  1. describe your position
  2. describe major feats/projects/accomplishments
  3. Make particular note of any skills you want to continue using, and anything that shows off your ability to learn, expand, or be versatile.


If you have less than 3 voluntary position experiences, you may shuffle them directly into "Experience" and decide for yourself whether or not to mention that the position was voluntary. If there are more than 2-3 you should certainly break them out into a separate section, and you can call one "Work Experience" and the other "Volunteer Experience." Include open source project work and contributions, your private server experiences and program writing, as well as any other volunteer work you have done.

Portfolio (optional)

If you have one, you should mention it here. It can be "Available upon request" or a URL link for the web, etc.


Minimum -> Which school, what degree was attained, dates of attendance &/or date of projected graduation.

If you have less than three jobs under experience or less than 3-5 years of work experience, detail your school experience with bullet points regarding projects, appropriate volunteerism, final papers, thesis, honors and awards, grants you qualified for (if appropriate), etc.

Second Draft

Now that you've spilled your guts in a messy way, you're ready to begin refining your resume.

Refine your Experience Details

  1. Order: put your experience either in a list of most-important to least-important or in most-recent to oldest -- or a mixture of both that best accentuates current skillsets and your strengths.
  2. quantifying project management skills if you're not a manager type -- put it into concrete job tasks such as "Lead a team of developers..." -- use these to embellish other more solid tasks or projects you worked on.
    • In a management resume, they could be bullet points in their own rights.
  3. Limit the description of your position to 1-3 sentences. Try to be succinct.
  4. Limit each bullet point for tasks, projects and accomplishments to 1-2 sentence format.
  5. Make sure each bullet point shows the specific skills, equipment or languages you have used, as it will back up your Skills section.
  6. Make particular note of skills you particularly want to continue using, and emphasize anything that shows off your ability to learn, expand, or be versatile.

Refine bullet points

Pull bullet points out of your notes. They should be worded in a past-tense active voice, with details about what skills and experience you brought out of it more than what exactly you did. For older jobs the precise details of every job position are not as necessary as what you bring to your new employer from the old experience. "Fixed Windows 98 laptops." is not as relevant as "Resolved equipment issues through thorough diagnosis and recursive hardware testing."

All job task and project descriptions are past tense -- even if they're current. Always use an active voice and "I" is always implied. For example:

Spent lots of time rewording Joe Sample's resume. Also converted his job task notes to proper resume conventions.

becomes a single sentence bullet point:

* Converted Joe Sample's resume notes to proper resume conventions.

One sentence?

All bullet points should be a single succinct but descriptive sentence, but there can be exceptions. When there are exceptions make sure that it does not require being broken into several bullet points instead. In most cases I merge all relevant data into a single declarative sentence.

When the single sentence becomes too awkward it can be split into two, and try to make it such that the first sentence has all the relevant information, where the second only has supporting information:

Fixed the doohickey using C++, with the help of the accounting support staff and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The doohicky is a whatchamacallit that resides next to the Liberty Bell, allowing the Pirates to play games without concern for the Bell's safety.

I could merge these into one sentence, but the sentence would be overloaded with information and detract from the project by having a longer explanation for the project than my role in the project. Two sentences makes a clear break between my role and a little clarification.

Active Voice

When you start off your bullet point sentences with a past-tense verb it's harder to screw this up. Use a definitive action verb, in this simple formula:

"Verb"ed "the direct object" "with supporting details".

Verb - action word, such as "Repaired"

Direct Object - the object, project, person, role, etc. that received the benefit of such actions.

Supporting Details - any explanation of why, how, where, when, or with whom you performed Verb on Direct Object. The supporting details should include what items in your Skills applied to this bullet point -- did you use PHP, Python, Apache? Were you working on AIX hardware? Did you liaison with the Accounting staff on the project? How did the project turn out?

Watch your verbs

Never do this:

  • Developed....
  • Developed ....
  • Developed ...
  • Programmed ....
  • Developed ....

Try finding unique past-tense verbs or at least rotate the verb use so that they're not monotonous. Here are geeky suggestions. Break out a thesaurus and get going, and keep in mind that you want to stick to verbs with positive connotations.


Try to be specific. A word like Assisted needs further clarification as to your role. You can "assist" as a subordinate or assist as a superior, for example. Is that "assisting" or "mentoring" or even "leading other staff" -- what type of "assistance" are you providing? "Assisted subordinates with..." or "Assisted management staff by..." etc.

Assume non-techie knowledge

Some recruiters and Human Resources staff are very tech-savvy, but most are not. They're not even paid enough to try to be. Explain anything that may be over their head, but be succinct about it. Also, even someone tech-savvy does not know everything about everything going on in the technology field.

Instead of:

* Updated the PmWiki Blocklist recipe.
*Maintained security plug-ins for an open-source web application (PmWiki).

Use generic sentences and use asides to be specific.

Don't assume that because people have no experience with something that they're not interested. I know all about PEAR and not much about CPAN. To say they're "code repositories/libraries" would perhaps be a tad inaccurate, but someone who knows CPAN could go "Oh, so PEAR is the PHP equivalent of CPAN!"

Feign Objectivity

No one is really objective, but you can at least pretend to be.

Be simplistic, accurate, non-judgmental, and detached in your wording. Avoid using words that indicate opinions or judgement calls such as "great" "wonderful" "large" etc. You want to seem modest, and just because you're not putting your name in every statement, they still know you wrote it.


If you use my templates and style sheets, it should be really straight forward. I will create an article about using style sheets in Word and Open Office soon. In the Formatting toolbar (Word) there is a menu on the left that has a list of items in it "Standard, Header 1, Clear Formatting"...that is the styles menu. To change style format go to Format->Styles and select the title of the style you want to change. Have the paperclip walk you through it until I get a tutorial going.

In Open Office, select text with the format you want to change, right click on it, and select "Edit Paragraph Style", then fix the style so that it will update everything in the resume using that style. I used in-line (character) styles in Word, but there seems to be no equivalent in Open Office, so for your Position and for the Institution/business you'll have to bold/italicize the text by hand.

Final reviews

  • Spell check. Capitalize proper nouns properly. Some software and website names have odd camel-case capitalizations, like Quark XPress. Don't neglect this: laziness or carelessness in a resume implies laziness or carelessness on the job. I will go over proper resume grammar later.
  • Spell out acronyms in parenthesis unless you are very certain that people will not search for the term under it's full name. Example: PHP is fine, but OSS is not. Spell it out: OSS (open source software). You can't tell whether someone will search on "open source" or on "oss."
  • Print a copy and read it over several times:
    • First time, read your document for content grammar and overall consistency -- how does it sound?
    • Run a spell check. Check spelling of business names, proper nouns, software packages, etc.
    • Next, read for accuracy -- check your dates, and the locations &/or URLs of former employers.
    • Check for punctuation and overall visual consistency. Are all your bullet points lined up? Are all the indents the same? Does every bullet point end in a period? However you choose to format your resume, make sure it's consistent throughout the document.

You should make all corrections, give it one last read-through, and you should be finished!

Fresh Perspective

If you did this all in one day for an emergency, after you sent it out to that time-sensitive job application, be sure to read it again a few days later. You will have a fresh eye and spot things you may have missed while you were obsessing over it and getting tired of it, and you won't send it out with mistakes to other people.

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