Professionally Speaking

Taking Control

This month, Steve and Greg offer their thoughts on resumes, experience and the art of marketing yourself.

This month, I thought I’d share some tips on selling yourself. I recently came across an interesting article from Tom Peters (a prominent management guru who co-wrote the seminal ’80s book, In Search Of Excellence). Peters promotes the concept of using the principles of product marketing for your career. This isn’t as weird as it sounds, as the essence of marketing is about understanding what your customer needs; your competitive advantage (that is, what’s special about you); and targeting your marketing message on how your product—in this case, you—can best fill those needs. Peters has subsequently published a book on this topic and has many ideas on how you can better market yourself. Some of the book is a little over the top—and I can’t see myself doing everything—but there are a few things I found particularly interesting.

He starts with the common view that work, as we know it, has changed drastically. No more can we rely upon working for a company that’ll look after us for life. Rather than lament the passing of the old days, he feels we need to be positive about the changes and ensure that, as individuals, we’re well placed to survive the future. Job security may no longer exist, but employment security is a different thing altogether. Our careers will be more project-based, and we need to have lots of “braggable” project achievements so we can better sell ourselves to prospective employers.

In order to get the reader thinking, he presents a checklist that includes the following:

  • I’m known for (two to four things). By this time next year, I plan also to be known for (one or two more things).
  • New stuff I’ve learned in the last 90 days includes (one to three things).
  • My principal “resume enhancement activity” for the next 90 days is (one item).

These are about understanding where you stand now and ensuring you keep growing in your skills and abilities. He also has the powerful suggestion that—as an exercise—you design your own Yellow Pages ad in order to better understand your strengths and what makes you special. Constant renewal is also important, as there are so many new things to learn. This is as true in IT as it is for any white-collar job.

The Guide for Taking Control
You can read Peters’ original article, “The Brand Called You,” at
. The full details are in his book, The Brand You 50: Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an “Employee” into a Brand that Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion! His Web site is at

Being the “Brand You” means there’s no room to be a shrinking violet (this is one area about which many technical people feel uneasy). Once you have a great story to tell, you need to market yourself mercilessly to the world: customers; colleagues; and, more important, your personal network of associates (“You are your Rolodex,” as Peters puts it).

Peters suggests that a resume is old news—that what you need is a marketing brochure. Rather than merely listing titles and positions, he suggests emphasizing the skills you’ve mastered, the projects delivered and accomplishments achieved. (I’ve been undertaking quite a lot of recruiting lately; many resumes leave me cold and make me feel that the person appears to be nothing special—just another technical drone. You need to make sure your resume jumps off the page and ensures that a hiring manager can’t wait to interview you.)

I was also particularly interested in his comment that a management role is synonymous with a dead-end job. He feels that it’s far better to have a progression of more interesting, challenging and provocative projects. This is probably true; in my own case, I’ll probably move to a technical leadership role, but my time as a manager has been a great development opportunity and taught me a great deal about working with people.

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to and

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Jan 21, 2002 Derek Missouri

I agree completely and would also like to make myself as marketable as I possibly can and will take any help I can possibly get... Thanks Greg for letting us know that there is hope.... somewhere

Mon, Jan 21, 2002 Derek Missouri

I agree in some ways but am not sure in others. I got an MCSE as I heard from companies that was what they wanted... graduate college and get an mcse and bam... well I found while getting my cert that it was very interesting and I learned a lot about the latest windows and am very happy to be an MCSE on Win2k. However the job market is not looking for you unless you have a ton of experience... seems as though the get your feet wet before you swim or crawl before you walk is definately true in IT... I just hope that eventually I can use my cert, before I lose all that knowledge

Thu, Dec 20, 2001 Frank New Zealand

Agree with men from Canada. What is the point of getting any degree in any field?

Wed, Dec 19, 2001 Trying for MCSE Canada

Well, I have to say that the information from all of the sources available is very conflicting around certification. I have some (and when I say some, lean towards not much) experience in a network administration environment, and I want to break into the IT industry. If I went for an interview for any IT job, I would be laughed out the door with my little amount of experience. I don't plan on spending the next 5 years in my basement learning everything by myself, so I am getting myself a certification with an instructor led course with MOC material. I get discouraged when I hear that this is a silly thing to do and that I should just get experience first. If I can't pass the exams, then obviously I haven't got the experience/knowledge to do it, and therefore I will have to study more (text and hands-on) and then get my certification when I am ready to. The MCSE's must be there for a reason. If they are not recognized as proof of experience, well then what is the point of getting any degree in any field.

Mon, Dec 17, 2001 Arjun Rathore New Delhi

"Certification is big plus no doubt , when you go for some Technical interview , interviewer will ask some technical question only if you worked on that technology than you are able to give the right answer with full confidence , so my advice is along with certification do hand on practive , live project if you have to work without money go for that , that will gono to be the assect for you .

Sat, Dec 15, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

It is odd that the help wanted adds I read are asking for a combo of exp, certs, and degree. In most cases they state that a cert will take the place of a 4 yr degree. I think you missed the mark with this one.

Thu, Dec 13, 2001 Ould Ahmed ELY Mustapha Tunisia

Really a hudge lesson for beginners but a mastermind game for experienced professionals. To single out such "job tricks" was a deal highly appreciated by all people looking for fitted job or professional recognization. Well done Mister crandall!

Thu, Dec 13, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

What a useless article and a waste of time to read!!!

Thu, Dec 13, 2001 Al Gore AC N.J.

"set your sights on the serious money? Become a professional basketball player, rock star or movie actor". Why?? because it was easier to become an IT professional and make a liveable wage.
Why not be a professional gambler??
You gamble when you change careers.

Thu, Dec 13, 2001 Alfred New York

It's all about the money stupid!! If corporations don't want to pay IT Pros there won't be any in the future. People want money. Corps are greedy. If they can cut costs, they will and people will have to find a new way of pulling down the big bucks. What is an MCSE earning this year?? He probably won't have a job in another 2 years.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 James North Bergen, NJ

This article does not actually account for the current job market condition. An average of 200-300 resume per job openning just would not give much chance to any resume. That is how it is in NY. Such comment would not really help at this time. To be chosen for a job, you must have both experience and certification these days. The job market is almost stale. Only if your skill sets can be ranked 1 out of 100 percentile, you may have a chance.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 I Johnson Louisville,KY

I am on the fence about certification. If certifications ars so bad why even have college degrees? With that said experience is the best mark of a person. As far as certifications, why not have the certification more like what is actually done on the job. Adding users ,setting password ,setting up profiles instead of that techno trivial pursuit. I think the "Paper MCSEs" would at least have something to offer. But even with experience every shop is so diffrent than another even in the same companies, that could be across town from each other. You almost start from ground zero. I still think it is sad however that companies want MCSE CCNA types just to do roll outs or help desk stuff. I wish that HR and IT could at least be on the same team. I will sure be glad when the IT market turns the corner.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Brett Torrance, CA

Your right on the mark! More and more people are trying to become certified, "Paper MCSE", that have no idea what they are doing.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Bob Los Angeles

Another article restating the problem. Nothing new to see here. With declining IT job markets and an over abundance of qualified people it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where this is going.

Besides, all of the network equipment vendors are making equipment that is self monitoring and/or self healing. It won't be long before ITs, the few that are left, only have to make sure the "on" light is. Many large companies have complained about the high cost of Information Technology and the equipment vendors have heard. Switches, routers and servers will no longer require the need for full time admins and, with remote monitoring most equipment will be taken care of by generic NOCs that will serve multiple companies. One only has to look at what IBM is doing with eLiza to see the writing on the wall.

The days of large IT departments are coming to an end. Most ITs will work for companies that operate the NOCs and will be dispatched to large server farms to fix what little needs to be fixed. Most NOCs will be administered by college educated geeks who stare at monitors and push buttons. They will become the new versions of help desk and with low wages to boot. This after paying tens of thousands of dollars for a college education.

It has always been assumed that computers would put people out of work, and they have but, it's the people who take care of them that are losing their jobs.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Vincey ALABAMA

Good reasons not to bother with certifications!! Why would anyone want to subject themselves to those tests and pay the money if employers don't want to compensate for them. Don't wast your time getting certified. I won't bother with any recertifications. Experience counts.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Starlock Pennsylvania

Fair article. But I think most people got into this line of work for the money. I'm in it for the money. Why else would anyone want to work this hard unless they were a masochist. I want the most money I can get for my time. Work is Work.. It is fun in the begininng but it eventually becomes just another job. I only wish I can become rich enough not to have to work for anyone ever again. Most of the techs who were fortunate enough to have profit sharing jobs during the last 5 years made their millions and got out. No that is what a job should be. Money is freedom. I'd give my soul for it.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 scott J

Good advice. To get your first job you might also have to hide some of your education. I have several degrees, including an MBA and an MCSE, but I didn't mention them to get my first help desk job. I will just keep them in my back pocket until the right job comes along. I thought I knew alot about computers, but I have learned so much hanging around a bunch of super geeks answering complex user questions that I would never see on my little home network. Now when I go for that next job that requires a degree and some actual real world experience I will be much more competitive. There is no substitution for solving other people's problems. You gain technical skills, how to find answers, and most important customer service skills.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 rex Langman victoria

excellent article ,

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

excellent article well put from a undercertified MCP ,battlescarred veteran since 3.51

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Chuck Groton, CT

Great article. New Idea to me to be 'overqualified' in relation to one's experience. Don't know how big a problem that it, I wouldn't let it stop me. Grab the study time when ever you can is my angle, working or not.
I can see difficulties in searching when only an MCP, I'd snap out an A+ to add to it before continuing on to MCSE, that is IF you need a better shot at work immediatly.
I'd add to the column, BE POSITIVE. And also look for OTHER things in your present experience that they are looking for IN ADDITION to a Microsoft paper. For example, someone setting up a migration of 9000 computers might need someone who can work Ghost, but be looking heavily at interpersonal communication skills to interface with the 9000 users, ( a skill which you may already have in spades), so showcase that on your resume/cover letter, (yes absolutly individualized by job as Steve said). Such a job might be repetative, but it will also give you that golden IT experience.
As to people sending in resume's for Steve's review, if they are doing that, they are probably doing a lot of other things wrong that are preventing hiring.
Be Positive! Even when you know the world's difficult. Positive people work, wishy washy people look for work.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Ricky J. Columbus, OH

Way too true! Certifications became more and more worthless as it became a matter of passing a test, not understanding the fundamentals. Microsoft bears a great deal of resposibilty for this, because of their marketing and market share. There is still no requirement as an MCSE to have a clue about what to do when the case has been cracked open. I work with an MCSE/MCT who is reluctant to change a NIC in a PC, because he really does not have the hands-on experience. I am afraid that Cisco is moving in that direction, although most companies with half a brain would not trust router/switch infrastructure to a complete neophyte (I hope).

The return to a more normal environment, where experience matters, along with "practicum-base testing" and vendor-neutral certifications will help us all in the long run.'

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 David Atlanta

Too many people pay large sums of money to become certified based on misleading advertisement offering great job opportunities. Certification might get you a start but you still have to start at the bottom and obtain practical experience. Nobody will pay you a fortune for theory.

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Dave Maryland

Very good article. Having accumulated over 15 years of IT experience and no certifications has served me well. I have worked with and for way too many "certified professionals" who do not know anything beyond their certification tests. Experience teaches you how to apply all that book knowledge. I'd much rather serve with an uncertified, battle-scarred veteran than some newbie who thinks they own the world because of a piece of paper!

Wed, Dec 12, 2001 Matt Dayton, OH

I also agree that there is no alternative to experience. However, I do not completely fault your readers, just listen to the radio. During my one hour ride home in the evening, I am blasted with no less than 2 or 3 advertising spots for the Technical Colleges or institutions promising "Big Money" if you only get IT certified! Unfortunately, false or misleading advertising like this and the media are responsible for much of the woes of the job seeker.

Tue, Dec 11, 2001 Mark Los Angeles

Very well said, there is no substitute for experience. Certification is validation of theory, but hands on experience carries more weight than being certified. Once you have some experience, then the certification is a plus.

Mon, Dec 10, 2001 Steve London, England

Great article! It seems especially fitting at this time. However, I think it's important to remember that marketing ourselves does not necessarily mean having a long string of initials after our name. While certifications are good and prove that you can take tests well, real world experience is as good or better at making sure "your resume jumps off the page".

Fri, Dec 7, 2001 Dennis Pleasant Valley, New York

I agree with anonymous that this is excellent advice regardless of your occupation - mine happens to be system engineering and project management. Tonight I will be having dinner with my network of IT friends. The dinner is actually a commemorative one for some recently departed friends. Several of those attending, have been hit hardest by recent events concerning employment/employability. Two of our group are among the most outstanding in their respective fields, yet have been out of work in both of their cases since April. I believe this article and the one that is linked to it in the FastCompany site are important enough to bring with me and to pass along to those friends. One is a server/MS OS wizard, the other is simply the best global project manager I've ever seen or heard of - yet neither has found the next great job. I hope to help to change that for them by passing along the 2 articles. Thank you.

Fri, Dec 7, 2001 Tim Antioch, TN

I agree with what is being conveyed in this column but would like to start seeing the IT community boost the certifications a bit more so that those that do attain them receive a little more industry-wide respect.

Thu, Dec 6, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

This sounds like good advice to me whether you're a MCP or not.

Thu, Dec 6, 2001 kich Mauritius

I think that for quite a while people have been thinking that certification is the magic wand which will turn their problem into dust but it is not the case. Experience is somthing certification can enhance but not replace

Wed, Dec 5, 2001 Susan Columbus, OH

Well said. I am an IT recruiter, and I get asked those questions almost daily.

Tue, Dec 4, 2001 JO Anonymous

Totally agree that the Certificate(s) does not provide direct access to the job's market while it will help for the recognition of the skill(s) that he/she is having currently.

Tue, Dec 4, 2001 Maggie Anonymous

Very good information. You are correct about being certified without the experience. It's rough out there. I'm an Mcp and unemployed.

Sat, Dec 1, 2001 Vishwanath Mauritius

Concise and quite interresting.

Wed, Nov 28, 2001 Matt Grand Rapids, MI

I think Greg is right about how we constantly need to update our skills as IT pro's. I'd like to see some examples of resumes so I can make mine market myself better. Interesting article.

Matt Anderson
MCT, MCSE, CNE, CCNA, Network+

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