Resumes, my take

Posted on Mon 17 April 2017 in Posts

So a blog I follow had a recent post about resumes for devs, particularly for junior devs or recent grads. It ended with the open question:

Readers, do you have any advice for students or anyone who doesn’t have years of dev experience to put on their resumes?

I started to write a reply, and then it ballooned into a blog post of my own, so here's my unsolicited advice on the topic.

First, a disclaimer: while I've read a fair number of resumes & interviewed quite a few candidates at places I've worked, at the end of the day I'm a dev not a hiring manager, so all this should be taken with a grain of salt.

So what advice would I give to those looking to spice up their resumes. Well, first, not so much resume advice, but general job seeking advice: do your best not to settle.  Devs especially right now (even junior devs) can afford to be a bit selective about where they apply.  Read the job post & do a bit of research into the company.  Do you know anyone who works there or has worked there who you could ask about what the place is like? Read some reviews of the place on sites like Glassdoor. After doing that, honestly ask yourself: does it sound like a place you'd be interested in working at?  Will it help you achieve your career goals?

Don't just apply to a place because "you never know it might work out", target your applications to places & positions that align with your values and interests. A former manager once said to me "the problem with applying to a job is that they might offer it to me, so I better be sure that I'd like to work there before applying", and I think that's sage advice. Having said that, I recognize this can be challenging when you're desperate for cash, or find yourself in a situation where you need to be employed ASAP, but even in those cases doing some due diligence can help you prioritize which places to apply to first, and how much effort to put into each application.

Ok, but what about resumes.  Well, to begin with: structure your resume to highlight your strengths first. If your strengths are your previous job experiences, then put those front and center. If your strengths are your projects (which might be more the case for undergrads or recent grads), make those the focus so put them at or near the top. Same for education. Prioritize the stuff that makes you look good, don't get hung up on traditional resume structures (i.e. "oh there has to be objectives first, then work experience, then education, etc").  Make the "wow" stuff about you come first as that'll encourage someone to keep reading.

Second, when you write your bullet points for your experiences, read them back to yourself and ask the question "so what?". This can be a useful exercise in making sure the "why it's important/valuable" is clearly communicated. Here's a bad example:

upgraded company to new code review system

As a hiring manager I'll read that and go "so what?" and likely toss the resume aside. OTOH, if it read:

upgraded company to new code review system resulting in a $10,000 savings in licensing costs

Well, that's the kinda thing that will get you in for an interview. That's a rather extreme example, but try to put as many quantifiable items alongside your experiences (examples might include number of bugs resolved, or how much you increased test coverage, etc). This advice is particularly true when applying to a place where tech resumes are first filtered by non-devs. This bit of advice can be challenging for devs, as often the things we know are important/useful are things that only devs (or technically savvy people) know are important/useful.

Next, the one you've probably heard a million times: take the time to tailor your resume for the job you're applying to. If the job posting you're applying to makes it clear that the company cares about AWS experience, then make sure you highlight your experience with AWS (as well as you can, obviously be honest and don't misrepresent your abilities). This is true as well for an objectives section: make sure your objectives statement aligns well with the job post you're applying for.  This more than anything makes the difference in my experience.

One more thing: get a copy of the book What Color is Your Parachute? and read the chapter on resumes. Then when you're done and you've written your resume, read the rest of the book as it's full of really useful advice on things like interviewing, salary negotiation, etc.

Lastly, remember that looking for work is work. Don't spend days writing a single resume for a single job, but definitely recognize the fact that it's going to take some effort. It sucks too because job hunting is one of those things where you can do everything to the best of your ability and still not get in for an interview, and can also write a crap resume, but luck out & happen to catch a hiring manager on a good day resulting in an interview.

Good luck!