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April 22, 2008

Expert Advice on How to Get the IT Job You Want


You can Google the topic of resume writing and interviewing to death.

There is a lot of good information out there, but what really works? What’s the most important thing on your resume? Is your experience more valuable than your education? How can you improve your chances of getting an interview and the job you want?

These important questions are not easy to answer. I wanted to find out what someone with real IT recruiting experience has to say on this subject so I decided to interview an expert to find out.

Geoffrey Decker is one of my teachers at Northern Illinois University. He always has excellent advice to give his class about interviewing for a job, and how to survive in the real IT world. He’s also great at providing lots of useful examples from his previous job in IT human resources.

Here are the questions that I thought would best be answered by a real IT hiring pro. Check out what Geoffrey has to say… his answers are very interesting and very insightful.

Meet the IT Hiring Expert and Get Valuable Advice

Geoffrey Decker

Lisa: Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for us Geoffrey.

Tell me a little about yourself and when you did HR?

Geoffrey: I currently teach courses in computer science for the Department of Computer Science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois.

After more than eight years as a programmer analyst with Kemper Service Company and DST Systems, Inc., in Kansas City, Missouri, I was invited to join the Employment Department at DST in the fall of 1998.

I was responsible for hiring the company’s workstation programmers, data modelers, database administrators, technical writers, and PeopleSoft developers. I worked for the Employment Department until spring of 2000 when I joined the systems programming staff at DST Systems, Inc.

Lisa: What makes you an expert on IT hiring?

Geoffrey: Probably the most obvious reason that I was considered for and asked to join the Employment Department is that I had eight years of experience as a programmer analyst in both mainframe and workstation software development.

The Employment Department had never had a member of their team with adequate technical knowledge to seek out and hire upper level IT professionals.

Lisa: Did you find that people with IT certifications or with college degrees were more ready for the jobs you were hiring for?

Geoffrey: It depends on how long they’ve been out of school. I strongly believe that college degrees are more important for in the long run for what I was looking for, but you can also have practical hands-on experience with IT certifications that can far outweigh anything learned in school.

Lisa: Can you think of examples where the opposite would be true?

Geoffrey: Not really, but perhaps certifications are best for technical positions like network administrator or network technician positions.

Lisa: So then which is more important on a resume experience or education?

Geoffrey: Both are extremely important but the credentials of a certification and/or degree are immeasurably important to catch the attention of a recruiter.

One or the other or both shows that an individual has the ability to persevere and carry through to completion. I strongly believe that I had the best luck hiring and retaining people with both professional certifications/college degrees and practical experience.

As far as I can remember, though, all of those IT professionals I hired had professional certifications and/or college degrees. Experience alone was simply not enough for the level of the positions I was filling.

Lisa: What kind of experience should job seekers be trying to accomplish?

Geoffrey: Those IT professional seeking jobs should be able to show hands on applicable experience. They should be able to describe what they did on their previous jobs succinctly and adequately.

Lisa: Do you expect your employees to take on additional education and IT certification after they are hired?

Geoffrey: Absolutely! Our field is one in which the technology and knowledge base is constantly shifting, growing, and updating. You need to stay at the leading edge of your profession at all times. If you do not, you will be left in the dust!

Lisa: What is the most importing thing you looked for on a resume?

Geoffrey: The objective should show enthusiasm and should be strong in relating the job seeker’s experience with what they want to do in their new position. In other words, a true objective should be stated.

Lisa: For the IT world, do traditional or functional resumes work best?

Geoffrey: I would recommend a combination of the two. Just be succinct in stating what you want to do and what you have done and accomplished thus far.

Lisa: Do you consider organization memberships, extra circular activities, and awards when hiring?

Geoffrey: Membership in professional organizations is a good thing to see on a resume. Professional awards are also good.

Lisa: What is the number one thing that disqualifies serious candidates?

Geoffrey: Resumes that are too long, disorganized, and un-succinctly stated. I also lost several candidates to whom I was ready to make an offer due to a positive drug test, sad to say.

Lisa: Should an IT resume be searchable with keywords?

Geoffrey: Yes, very much so.

Lisa: What is the most importing thing you look for in a candidate?

Geoffrey: People skills; this is sadly lacking in many IT professionals.

Lisa: What are some don’ts for a resume or interview?

Geoffrey: Lack of enthusiasm for the job being sought and confrontational behavior during the interview. Also, many interviewees talk too much and do not listen carefully enough to form an adequate answer for what is being asked of them. It is important to research the company and position beforehand and also important to practice interviewing.

Lisa: Would you ever look at a candidate’s social networking site as part of their consideration for the job?

Geoffrey: I probably would now but it was not available to me when I was a recruiter.

Lisa: Thanks Geoffrey for taking the time to answer these resume and interview questions for us. Your experience proved to be quite valuable.

About the Author

has a Bachelors of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa and a Masters of Science in Computer Science from Northern Illinois University. During her three years teaching in public schools she taught computer skills to students and peers, maintained the schools’ networks and hardware, ran the libraries, and helped to facilitate technology throughout the school district. At Train Signal Lisa manages the production of training videos, does video editing, and helps with technical support.