A Guide to Writing an IT Resume and Cover Letter

Writing a resume is an important part of the job search process. In this guide, I highlight what should and shouldn’t go on an IT resume, tips for addressing certifications, and cover letters.

Things That Should Not Go On Your IT Resume

Here’s a list of things that you should not put on your resume.


Your Photo

In my opinion, you should not put a photo on your resume.

Despite the reasons that people add a photo that I mentioned above, I think it should not be included for one main reason – discrimination.

You may be discriminated against on the basis of your photo – either positively or negatively. The reader might do it consciously or unknowingly. They might make assumptions from your photo about your age, level of experience, ability to do the job, your level of professionalism, or any other cultural differences. All of these things are not very relevant to the job that you’re applying for.

Not only does it help you against getting discriminated, but it also helps the employers against discrimination. If they decide not to hire you or not to accept your resume, they feel safer doing so without the threat of discrimination.

For example, if you’re in your fifties and add a photo, and then get declined for an interview, the employer would feel uncomfortable if you were to accuse them of age discrimination. Even if it’s not true. If they don’t know your age or what you look like, it’s safer for everyone.


Old Programming Languages

Programming languages have been around for a while. They evolve, new languages get created, and new technologies come with them.

If you’ve been in the industry for some time, you might have a long list of programming languages that you know and that are familiar with. Some of them might not even be used that widely anymore!

These are the languages that don’t need to go on your resume – the old ones. If they’re not that widely used, or if you haven’t used them in some time, then you should remove them from your resume. While it might be good to add every language to show your knowledge and ability to learn many languages, only showing the ones that are current and relevant is really needed.


Languages You Aren’t Proficient In

Another point related to programming languages is related to the languages that you know but aren’t very knowledgeable or proficient in. If you know a language, but it’s only enough to recognise it or the very basics, then you shouldn’t put that on your resume. This is because employers only really need to know the languages that you can apply on the job, so they know what your capabilities are. If you’re adding languages that you aren’t fully capable with, it makes it hard for both of you.

How do you know which ones to keep and which ones to remove? Well, if you’re confident in your knowledge and ability to use it on the job without supervision, then it can stay. Otherwise, it should be removed from your resume.


Jobs More Than 10 Years Ago

If you’ve been in the IT industry, or in the workforce in general, for some time, you probably have a long list of jobs. Even if you’ve only worked at a few places, your job history will go back some time.

It’s a good idea to remove any jobs from your resume that are from more than ten years ago. This is because employers only really need to see recent and relevant jobs, and it saves space on your resume by removing them.

It doesn’t matter what kind of job it is – it could be a fast food restaurant, an internship, or even at another IT company. If it was more than ten years ago, it shouldn’t be on the resume.

Little things like this might not matter to the resume or your overall skills, but we’re trying to make the resume as easy to digest as possible for the reader. Removing these kinds of things from the resume (older jobs, languages) will make it easier for them to read, more relevant, and save space.



Your GPA (or Grade Point Average) is a score that represents what your marks were in college or university. I think that the only time to add this to your resume is if it was a high number (over 3.5) and if you completed college or university in the last few years.

This means that if you have a low GPA or anything under the 3.5 mark, then it shouldn’t go on your resume. It’s not really relevant and it doesn’t highlight your marks.


A Non-Professional Email Address

You should always put an email address on your resume. The reader doesn’t always have your email in front of them, so adding it to the resume can help them contact you if they need to.

However, you should make sure that your email address is a professional one. It should have your name in it, if possible. Try to avoid nicknames and any other kind of unprofessional email address you might have come up with in high school or college.

I’ve had some pretty bad ones in my time, and a lot of people I know had some bad ones. Adding a professional email address to your resume is almost a must-do.



There are a few places on your resume that may refer to sites on the Internet. These could be your LinkedIn profile, your GitHub profile, email address, and any other links to your samples of work. However, while it’s good to mention these on your resume, it’s not a good idea to have the hyperlink on the resume.

The reason to remove the links from your resume is to do with the software that scans resumes that are submitted. Some of them don’t handle links very well or don’t like a lot of links, even though they may be valid.

So, to be on the safe side, you should always include this information but just remove the hyperlink. You can do this in your word processor.

If you want to make it stand out still and make it look like an external link, you can underline the word. Just as long as it doesn’t have an active link, it should be OK.


Overused Words

There are a lot of words that are used in the IT industry, or in the workplace in general, that should not be added on to IT resumes. They are overused and don’t convey the message that you need it to, and should be avoided at all times.

Words such as analytical, capable, creative, detail oriented, effective, go-to-person, hard-working, innovative, motivated, results-driven, scalable, and team player are all useless words to add to a resume.

These words add no meaning to a resume and a lot of them are implied when you go for the job (such as motivated and effective – who isn’t?)

If you’re using these words, you should remove them and rewrite those sentences if needed.


References in the Same Document

It’s a good idea to include references of people with your resume. However, they should not go in the same document. It’s better to add them to a separate document, which is just for references. You can put your professional and personal references here, and the document should be formatted in the same way as your resume.

This is just good practice and is the standard that many employers prefer. Having references in the resume takes up space, and if an employer is considering you for a job interview or after the interview, you can supply the references to them at that stage.


Irrelevant and Unprofessional Awards

The final point on what to exclude from a resume is awards that are unprofessional and irrelevant. You should use your own judgement on this one.

It can be a good idea to add your awards to your resume. This can show you have the motivation and interest in a subject to put in extra work to receive an award for it. This could be top marks in your subject, a prize for public speaking or some other award that’s relevant to your job. Adding these in can be good, but only if they are both professional and relevant.

If it’s related to your job or to skills that you use for this job, then great, add it in. If not, then leave it out. Hot dog eating champion and running races probably don’t need to go on your resume for this reason.


Certification Logos

So, you’ve got a certification, and as part of that, you have a logo of the certification. Should you put that certification logo on your resume?

The short answer is no, you should not put it on your resume.

While it may seem like a good idea – it validates your certification, makes it stand out on your resume, and could impress the reader – I don’t believe it should be. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this is the case.

The Logo Takes Up Valuable Space

Resumes should be short and to the point. Two pages at the most – some people go for one page, some for two.

A lot of the time, job candidates need to format their résumé and cut things out to make it fit neatly into one or two pages. If I’m putting together my resume and try to add a certification logo on my resume, it just takes up valuable space, which isn’t always available and can mess up the formatting.

The Certification Is Already Listed On The Resume

Adding the logo of your recent or major certifications might put the focus on it. However, the certification should already be listed on your resume in text form. For example, under your Certifications or Education section on the resume, you should have the name of the certification there, such as “Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)”. The reader will see this and doesn’t need the logo to realise that you’re CCNP certified.

Resume Scanning Software Does Not See It

A lot of the resumes that are received by recruitment teams are sent to them via software systems.

If they come via recruitment systems or job websites, they are usually scanned for keywords. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is. These scanner systems don’t usually pick up the certification logo. This means it doesn’t really make any practical difference to these systems if there is a logo there or not.

Depending on the system, it may actually cause problems on the resume as well.

So, in short, I don’t think certification logos should be added to resumes. The details of the certification should be listed on the resume, without the logo, for the best professional impression. I also don’t have my certification logo on my resume.


Certifications on a Resume

It’s a good idea to put certifications on a resume. Getting a certification has many benefits and represents several things:

  • A minimum level of knowledge
  • A passion for your subject area
  • The ability to focus on a goal

Getting a certification means you have a minimum level of knowledge. Adding the certification to your resume will show the reader that you possess this knowledge, and can compare you to another candidate for a role (while the idea of comparing candidates on certifications alone is quite heated, as there are more to abilities than certifications, it’s one way to do it).

Showing the certification on your resume also shows a passion for your subject area. You wouldn’t spend six months buying books, studying for a certification, and passing the exam if you didn’t enjoy the topic. Well, maybe you would, but it shows that you like it at some level. Having a certification on your resume shows this passion.

Having a goal to focus on and achieving it is an important trait to demonstrate in a resume. You can mention that you are a person who likes to have goals, but putting down your certifications actually proves you’ve done this.

So, now you know why they should go there, where should they go?


How To Add Certifications To A Resume

A common question is how to add the name of the certification to a resume. I believe you should add both the full name and the abbreviation, for several reasons:

  • Reader Recognition – It helps the reader to understand and recognise what the certification is. A lot of the time, readers of your resume aren’t technical, so if you don’t mention what an SCJP is, they won’t know.
  • Keywords – Many companies use resume scanning software, which looks for keywords. Having both the full certification name and the abbreviation will help these tools put your resume in the good pile.
  • Achievement – This is a personal one, but when I see the full name of the certification I completed, it seems more real, more of an achievement. Seeing the words “Oracle Certified Expert” looks like more of a milestone than seeing “OCE”.

Also, don’t include the logo on the resume. It’s tacky, it takes up space, and it’s not necessary.


What Date Should I List The Certification As?

You should list the date that you completed the certification on your resume. This helps the reader understand how it fits into your overall career and how recent it is.

The dates should be written as month and year (e.g. July 2013). No day should be included, as it’s not relevant. A month and year is a common approach because it indicates when the certification was achieved with good enough accuracy.

Alternatively, you can just write the year. This can be beneficial if you have a lot of certifications or if you have a long career.

Keep it consistent. Don’t list month and year in one area, then just year in another. It should all be the same.


How Should I Order The Certifications?

Certifications, like education and experience, are most commonly written in what’s called “reverse chronological order“.

This means that the most currently achieved certification should be at the top, and working down the page until the older certifications. This highlights your recent achievements to the reader, as it is assumed they will be more relevant to your current or targeted job.

This is common to do whether you have two, five, or even ten certifications. Listing them from newest to oldest will help the reader and will be consistent with the rest of the resume.


Should I Combine Certifications With Education?

Another common question is where should the certifications go? Should they go with the Education section, or should they go by themselves?

The common practice for how to add certifications to a resume indicates if you have one or two certifications, you should include them with the Education section, as they are probably not enough to create their own section for. If you have more than two certifications, I would suggest putting them in another section titled Certifications.

This allows the reader to see how your education is split between your certifications and any other education you have, such as degrees. The aim is to help the reader digest what’s on your resume, so try not to make it too cluttered.


What If I’m Currently Studying For A Certification?

If you’re currently studying for a certification (which is a great way to improve your IT career), then I would include it on the resume.

You can format it to indicate that you’re currently studying for it, such as Project Management Professional, “2013 – Current” or “2013 – “.

This will make it clear that you’re studying for it at the moment.

But why should you include it if you haven’t achieved it? Isn’t this just leading the reader on?

Well, not really. It indicates a passion for your topic, willingness to improve your career and to learn. It also indicates the ability to juggle work life with studying. For these reasons, it’s good to add certifications to a resume that you’re currently studying.

The only exception would be if you’ve been studying it for longer than it should take. If you’ve been studying the PMP for five years, it might be a good idea to remove it (as it takes most people up to two years to complete).


How To Write a Cover Letter

Cover letters are used along with resumes to explain a bit more about who you are and why the organisation should consider you for the job. Here are some tips for creating and using cover letters.


Use The Right Format With A Cover Letter

The cover letter you’re writing should be in a standard format, just like the resume. It should consist of three areas – the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

  • Introduction – This is where you introduce yourself and mention the position you’re applying for. Make sure to begin with the name of the person who is advertising the role (or, if you can’t find the information, use “Recruitment Manager” or something similar). Mention the position you’re applying for and how your experience or knowledge makes you relevant for that position.
  • Body – This is where you go into further detail about yourself. Mention your technical skills, experience in previous roles and projects, and your communication skills. Be careful with this section – it’s not meant to be a repeat of your resume. Stick to a few things that are relevant to this position and use appropriate language to describe them.
  • Conclusion – The final part of the cover letter is to thank the recruiter or the reader for consideration of your resume, and that you’re interested in an interview for the position. Highlight that you can be contacted using the details at the top of the resume, and sign off with your name. A signature at the bottom of the letter is preferred, but as a lot of jobs in the IT industry are handled online, you may not have an electronic version of your signature so this is not essential.


Perfect Spelling And Grammar

The cover letter should not contain any spelling or grammatical errors.

Not one.

Recruiters spend a lot of time reading cover letters and resumes, so if yours has any spelling errors they will most likely pick up on it – and your resume won’t be put into the “good pile”. It shows that your work is lazy and inaccurate. Don’t rely on the spell checker in Microsoft Word or other word-processing programs to check your cover letter for IT – proofread it yourself or get a friend to. Or do both. It’s a great tip for your career overall, actually.


Don’t Use A Template

There are hundreds of templates for IT cover letters on the Internet  I could easily provide a few links here, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Using a template makes your cover letter look standard and makes you look uncreative. By all means, get some ideas on how a cover letter should look, but don’t copy a standard template. Change the formatting and styles of any templates you see (within reason, of course) to make it less common – just make sure it’s still readable.


Research The Company

One way you can stand out from the other IT cover letters that come across the recruitment team’s desk is to actually research the company you’re applying for. This not only shows that you’re willing to do a bit of extra work, it shows that you’re interested in the company – which helps your job chances.

Look for information on the size of the company, where they are based, any recent projects they have been involved in, who their customers are, what products or services they provide.

Use this information when suggesting why you would like to work for the company. For example, if the company has a lot of customers in the finance industry, you could highlight that your experience in the finance industry would be beneficial to them. Or, you could say you have a keen interest in the finance industry and point out that this company came up when looking for finance industry roles.


Give Reasons Why You Should Be Hired

One of the best things you can put into a cover letter for IT is the reasons why this company should hire you. This is where you focus on your strengths – both in your career and how it applies to the job you’re going for.

You can mention your technical experience, your great personal skills, your enthusiasm, any related experience you have with this company or the field, or anything else you can come up with. You’re essentially trying to convince the recruitment team to give you this job over anyone else.


Put Yourself In The Recruiter’s Shoes

Finally, before submitting your cover letter, try to think in terms of the recruiter and put yourself in their shoes. Read and re-read your cover letter for IT and ask yourself, “Would I give this person a job?”

If not, why not? Make any changes as necessary. Clean up the formatting, make it easy to read, ensure your contact details are on the resume – and hope you’ve done everything possible to get the job!


So that’s how you can create a resume and cover letter for a job search. If you have any tips or questions, share them in the comments below.

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