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Does Resume Quality Matter in the Highly Cleared Market? March 2, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.

I hate to say this (because it makes me feel old) but when I started looking for my first real job out of grad school, the concept of submitting a resume “on-line” didn’t exist. The closet thing was faxing a copy of your resume to a potential employer with the expectation that you would send a “clean” copy on really nice paper via the US mail the same day.  Today, the thought of actually buying special resume paper and mailing a resume seems quaint and quite frankly, useless. Job applicants, recruiters and employers (especially in the cleared space) move at a pace that doesn’t support formality and etiquette. But does that mean that you can slap anything out there, call it a resume, and expect to get contacted by the people with the best jobs?  If you are a full-scope poly software engineer, the answer is probably yes – people with high clearances and high-demand skills can get away with a less than outstanding resume. But, I would argue, you are selling yourself short and maybe missing the best job for you.

So why take the time to create a stellar resume if you are highly cleared and in demand?

  1. Consider it preparation for your interview cycle: There is no doubt that having a clearance and in-demand skill set will get you lots of interviews but after that, it is up to you to sell yourself to potential employers.  Taking the time to craft a resume that tells your story is an excellent way to think about your career goals, what you have achieved in your current and past positions, and what you want in your next one.  Giving examples of how your efforts led to follow-on worked, saved a doomed project, or landed a new client will leave a much better impression on a hiring manager than “I’ve coded in Java for 10 years”.  And having a vision of where you want your career to go can show a hiring manager how you potentially fit in their company.
  2. The best companies with the most interesting work aren’t looking to hire a body with a clearance:  If you are simply looking for your next gig and don’t care about the type of work you are doing or the project you are on, then a standard resume will get probably get you what you want. But, if you are looking for your next career move, a role you can stay in for years at a company you admire and who hires the best, having an above average resume is a must. Believe it or not, one of our highly-cleared software engineering candidates told us a company refused to interview him because there was a small typo on his resume.  The internal recruiter who reviewed it felt if the candidate didn’t have enough attention to detail to catch this, he wouldn’t live up to his standards for the job.  Granted, this is an extreme example, but it does show that resumes are the first impression an employer has of you.
  3. Your resume is probably going to be first reviewed by a non-technical person who makes the initial up/down decision on you: Most internal and agency recruiters are not technologists.  Have a clean, easy to read resume that clearly states your clearance level, the technologies you use, and your job titles will help you get past the initial hurdle and on to the people who really need to see your resume. As an agency recruiter, I act as an intermediary for my candidates with HR reps at my clients. I can help push along a resume that might not be as attention grabbing or advocate for someone who has switched jobs recently and is unhappy. But, if you are working on your own, you won’t have an advocate to speak on your behalf other than your resume. Make sure it is saying the right things about you.

A few final thoughts on resumes. There is no magic way to craft your resume that will make is the best one ever. You can find thousands of “how to write the best resume” entries on Google, each one telling you something different. There are even people who will write your resume for you for a fee. I look at hundreds of resumes of technologists every week week. Here are my thoughts on how you can improve what you have:

  • Use the “Objectives” section to tell the reader what you want, not what you think they want to hear – “I am seeking a senior software engineering role using Java and Groovy that requires a full-scope poly clearance, has technical management duties, and is located within 25 miles of Columbia, MD”. This gives you reader much more clarity than “Seeking a challenging position as a senior software engineer with a top-notch company”.
  • Keep it short, focused and clear. Tell me up front what your clearance is or tell me you aren’t comfortable putting it on your resume and to call you for the details. Tell me the technologies you are proficient with and don’t include the programming language you used 15 years ago in your Programming 301 course at State U.
  • Bullet point the key highlights of your positions and what you contributed. Don’t write long or multiple paragraphs about each task did on the job. Don’t recount the entire history of the program at your current employer or paste the informational statement from your employers website about what the company does. No one cares!!
  • Run spell check and grammar check and have someone else read it for clarity and typos (preferably a non-technical person).

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.



1. John Stoneham - March 2, 2010

Speaking as someone who looks at resumes from SRC every week, and is definitely not trying to hire just anybody with a clearance – I do turn down candidates based solely on my impressions from their resume, and this is good advice.

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