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How tech job hunters can get on recruiters' radar

January 17, 2014: 1:46 PM ET

Some people whose skills are in demand aren't great at selling themselves, says a Microsoft recruiter. Luckily, that's addressable.

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: A friend sent me your recent column about the bright outlook for the tech job market in the coming year, but it doesn't say how techies can get recruiters to notice them. I have several of the skills mentioned in that column, and I'd like to change jobs because I'm totally bored with what I do now, but so far, I seem to be off the radar of companies who might be looking for what I can offer. Have you got any suggestions about how to get noticed? -- Invisible Man

Dear I.M.: It sounds as if maybe you need to toot your own horn a little more, even -- or especially -- if you haven't been selling yourself much lately. "This whole business of marketing yourself and putting your best foot forward really doesn't come naturally to many IT people," observes Colleen Canney, a recruiter in the operating systems group at Microsoft (MSFT) who writes a blog about getting hired there.

Canney recently interviewed a candidate, for instance, who wondered if he should mention on his resume an app he had just developed in his spare time. "My reaction was, 'Why on earth wouldn't you?,'" she recalls. "Some people really are too modest."

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If that applies to you, now is the time to get over it. "Don't be shy," says Kathy Harris, managing director of New York City tech recruiters Harris Allied. "If recruiters aren't calling you, don't wait. Reach out to them and talk about your skills and achievements, and what your professional goals are."

Be prepared for a headhunter to tweak your resume a bit, or even rewrite it, she adds, to highlight skills you may take for granted, but that particular employers want: "We make some changes in about 90% of the resumes we see."

Here's a checklist of what else you can do to get noticed:

Polish your presence online. "The No. 1 quality we look for in new hires is passion for the work," says Canney. "We like to hire people who don't see what they do as a 9-to-5 job -- people who have done interesting side projects, or started their own companies, or who are known for something in the industry."

She adds that even a great formal education can't make up for a lack of enthusiasm. "Even if you went to a top school and had a 4.0 GPA, if you're not really excited about technology, you won't stand out," she says, adding that some of Microsoft's best hires have been partly or entirely self-taught.

In practical terms, standing out usually means having a strong online presence. Some Internet trolling grounds for recruiters and employers: coding competitions, profiles on code-sharing site GitHub, LinkedIn profiles and discussion groups, and personal websites and blogs. Make sure you can be easily found on any or all of them. "We recently hired a 'passive' candidate because of something interesting he had written on his blog," says Canney. He's now a game designer at Xbox.

Mind your keywords. If you're sending out resumes or posting them on job boards, says Kathy Harris, make sure that each resume is tailored to the job you're applying for. "Don't send out one-size-fits-all resumes," she says. "Instead, make sure each one highlights the specific keywords that are mentioned in the job description." So many companies use computerized screening systems now that the wrong keywords may mean "your resume just ends up sitting in a database somewhere, unseen by human eyes."

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Follow up. Noting that "tech people aren't really wired to talk about themselves or their accomplishments," Harris says a common mistake is getting in touch with a headhunter, or being contacted by one, and then letting the connection cool off. "Any job hunt is really all about relationships," she says. So keep them going: "If you send a résumé to a recruiter and then hear nothing, for example, pick up the phone after a couple of days and ask for feedback. If you don't connect on the phone, send an email. Stay in touch."

Have fun. Let's say you reach the interview stage with an employer who has an opening you really want. Canney's advice: Relax and enjoy. As you probably know, every IT interview has a technical part, called a tech-out, where you get to showcase your skills, but where many candidates flame out is apparently in the non-technical talking part.

Microsoft has eased up on the brain-teaser questions the company was once famous for ("How would you move Mount Fuji?") but, Canney says, "we do still ask complicated questions intended to demonstrate your problem-solving skills."

The trouble is that this makes some people so nervous they can't think straight. "I met one candidate who had stayed up all night 'cramming' for the interview, so he was too sleep-deprived to answer the questions," Canney says. "All those Red Bulls didn't help him." She adds: "I always advise people not to put too much pressure on themselves. Go into the interview just thinking of it as an interesting conversation with some smart people."

Good luck.

Talkback: If you're getting calls from IT recruiters or employers, what do you think brought you to their attention? Leave a comment below.

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