DevOps Jobs: How to tailor your resume

For DevOps jobs, your classic IT resume and interview preparations need a rethink
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As the DevOps hiring wars heat up, top-notch pros will have plenty of DevOps job opportunities. But if you expect to just cakewalk your way into a plum DevOps gig, especially if it’s your first move into a “real” DevOps job, you’re setting yourself up for frustration. Even the classic IT resume needs a rethink.

In fact, there’s a rub with the growing demand for DevOps talent. As Mike Durney, CEO of tech jobs site Dice, recently told us: “DevOps is a relatively new role; therefore it’s challenging to demonstrate experience, given there aren’t years and years of working in the function.” It’s a techie version of the job-seeker’s longstanding dilemma: It’s hard to get the job without relevant experience, but you can’t get relevant experience without the job.

The inspiring news: Most of the DevOps pros who’ve come before you underwent similar trials when blazing the path. Indeed, they had to start somewhere too, even when they had little formal “DevOps experience” on their resume.

“DevOps is a growing and changing area, and much of the top talent in the industry are self-taught through conferences, courses, and certifications,” says John Reed, senior executive director for tech recruiting firm Robert Half Technology.

[ For more wisdom on breaking into DevOps, check out our related article, DevOps Jobs: 5 tips for making the transition. ] 

Landing that first “official” DevOps role is often about translating past experience into a relatively new position and building new skills – both technical and so-called “soft” skills – that align with DevOps objectives and methodologies. You’ll also want to appropriately tailor your resume and other interviewing strategies for specific positions. We’ve gathered some expert advice on how to do both. 

1. Smart job-seekers never send the same resume twice

This is good advice for anyone on the job market. It’s an especially worthwhile starting point for IT pros looking to shift into DevOps from a more traditional role. You’re not going to get very far sending out the same old resume time and time again. It’s akin to throwing the proverbial spaghetti against the wall: It just makes a mess, and even if a few strands do stick, they probably won’t be very appetizing.

“Resumes shouldn’t be a ‘one and done’ project – if you’re applying to multiple roles, you should also be sending resumes to reflect how your prior experiences have prepared you for each specific role,” Reed says. He shares three examples of non-DevOps-specific skills and experience that might be desirable in a particular DevOps position.

  • Technology expertise. Let’s say you’re well-versed in Python or Bash scripting. Well, you might want to underscore that when pursuing DevOps positions that place significant emphasis on automation. That extends to just about any application, language, or platform – if the employer needs it and you know it, make that evident, even if your past job titles don’t match perfectly with the role you’re seeking.
  • Management experience.  If you’re sizing up a DevOps manager position or similar role that involves managing people, you’ll want to emphasize how you’ve successfully managed teams in the past.
  • Industry-specific experience. If a particular hiring company wants someone with previous experience in their industry – say, retail or healthcare – highlight your prior roles and success stories in that sector.

Bottom line: Tailor your resume – don’t lie, but customize appropriately based on your background – for the DevOps position you want. 

“When a hiring manager scans a resume, they should be able to see the keywords, phrases, technologies, and tools that are specific to the role quickly and easily,” Reed says.

2. Strategize how to translate traditional IT experience 

This is the next big step beyond customizing resumes for specific roles. Think deeply about how your prior experience translates well into a DevOps position.

“[Sysadmins], for example, are highly sought after for DevOps roles – a candidate should emphasize their ability to build and administer [infrastructure] and discuss the overall success of those projects,” Reed says. 

That’s not enough, of course. Reed advises asking yourself: “What are the other skills that are specific to the DevOps roles you’re looking into that you can highlight and show your capability to take on those additional tasks? A sysadmin who is looking to make a transition into DevOps but who submits a resume specific to system administration will likely not make it to the top of a hiring manager’s list. It’s not that the skills aren’t potentially transferrable or sought after by the organization, but your resume should be doing some of the work to explain why you’d be a valuable asset as a DevOps engineer, for example.”

This is especially important. Because we hear so much about hiring wars and IT talent shortfalls, there’s a tendency to picture packs of marauding recruiters warring over a resume laden with the right buzzwords. Don’t be surprised to find out that you still need to sell yourself, especially early in a career pivot.

“Explain who you partnered with and the leadership involved in your projects,” Reed says. “You’ll also want to highlight your soft skills – the ability to work with and manage others – and your development skills.”

3. Take on new projects and responsibilities 

If you’re planning to transition to a DevOps role in the future – or at least want to keep the door open – actively seek out opportunities in your current organization to work on relevant projects or take on new responsibilities. 

“As organizations have made the move to adopt DevOps methodologies, they are looking for candidates who understand the benefits and can explain where they fit in with the strategy,” Reed says. “Emphasizing cross-departmental relationships and collaboration will certainly be a plus, as will extensive experience with cloud migration and a good understanding of agile methodologies, development, and integration.”

It’s win-win advice: Even if you don’t seek out a DevOps role in the future, those examples are all highly sought-after attributes in modern IT pros, especially in hybrid cloud environments that might require extra doses of all the above.

4. Revisit your interview preparations for DevOps jobs

“A candidate who understands the ‘why’ of DevOps will be extremely appealing to a hiring manager.”

Tailoring a resume might involve, to some extent, ensuring you’re speaking the keyword-based language of hiring managers and recruiters. But the interview process, by design, will separate the promising candidates from those who are merely stuffing their LinkedIn profiles with DevOps-y jargon.

Be able to tell a story about how your past experiences and skills have prepared to you to add value to a DevOps team.

“Perhaps your organization just moved to implement DevOps methodologies – explain the benefits and efficiencies that came as a result and how you were able to get involved in the process,” Reed says. “Showing that you worked beyond your role in order to get involved with DevOps will demonstrate your desire to take initiative with your career and with new processes and projects.”

Moreover, spend time thinking about and learning to communicate the value of DevOps. It’s one of the more hyped IT trends of the last 5+ years; are you just chasing that hype, or can you connect the dots between DevOps and the big picture?

“A candidate who understands the ‘why’ of DevOps will be extremely appealing to a hiring manager,” Reed says.

[ Need a refresher course in how DevOps fits into today’s IT landscape? Check out our 10 DevOps must-reads. ]

5. Sometimes, what you don’t say is important, too

DevOps was born out of a need to move beyond old, siloed methods of working in IT that were no longer suitable in age of digital business. DevOps is about embracing change and enabling technology to drive the overall organization. And guess what? DevOps hiring managers aren’t in hot pursuit of the “cranky-but-brilliant” engineer who pines for the good old days.

“Hiring managers do not want someone who is stringent in their old ways,” Reed says. “An innovator is someone who is constantly looking for ways to improve processes, and good companies want innovative team members. Someone with an ‘if it’s not broken’ mentality will not be attractive to a company with a growth mindset.”

It’s OK to wax nostalgic from time to time – but maybe save it for the next happy hour, and keep it out of the interview room.

This is another reason to double down on incrementally developing new skills, taking on new responsibilities or projects, and generally displaying a willingness and desire to try new things and embrace change. Silence on this topic speaks volumes – and not in a good way. 

“A candidate who hasn’t shown that they’ve taken steps to advance their career or skill set may be a red flag for hiring managers,” Reed says.

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.