In case you’ve been following my blogs, you may have noticed that for the past few weeks there hasn’t been anything new. I haven’t abandoned you! I’ve actually been fighting a bad flu and more importantly searching for a new job. My current one just isn’t a good fit anymore so it was time to look for that next chapter in my career. I’ve now successfully completed my search and, after dealing with several interviews and recruiters, learned a few things along the way that I wanted to share. In particular, my resume hadn’t seen a lot of use in, well, a long time. My last couple jobs were found through word of mouth so I was fortunate to not have to do the interview shuffle. Well, guess what, times have changed! ATS tracking systems and something called the internet mean companies are dealing with high volumes of resumes in a very different way.
As developers we tend to get caught up in listing all our previous jobs with details on exactly what we did. But believe it or not, that’s not necessarily what the people short-listing resumes are looking for. They probably have a big stack (or inbox) of potential candidates all with similar experience and skill sets to get through and, believe it or not, they likely don’t want to spend days going through the list. So set up your resume to make their life easier.
It’s really easy to convince ourselves that going crazy with design will make our resume pop and catch the reviewer’s eye. It might do that but it can also make it more difficult to read, which is the opposite effect we want. Clarity is much more important than style and fancy paper color.
Rule of thumb: Picture yourself as the person tasked with filtering a stack of 80 resumes down to the top 5 to interview. Then look at your resume and decide if you’d want to read through 80 of them. No? Then it’s time to simplify.
What? I’m not applying to work with robots, what do you mean? A very large percentage of companies now use software (ATS or applicant tracking software) to compile all their applicants together. This goes to nearly 100% for recruiters and jobs sites. Believe it or not, machines aren’t very good at parsing fancy layouts into easily manageable data. So keep multi-column layouts, boxes, etc. to a minimum. Simple lists make your resume much easier to process for both machines, and humans. Here's an example.
is likely going to be easier to parse than:
Don't get me wrong, you can still have some fun with your styling, just save it for the printed resume you take to an interview!
That’s great you’re thinking, but what are they looking for? It’s easiest to think of it in terms of what they are already seeing. A big pile of similar resumes. What do they want? An easy way to filter the star candidates (that’s you) to the top!
We do that by putting the information that’s the most import first. The tricky part is determining what that information is. I’ll cover what I feel are the key items now.
Every resume reviewer has a list of skills they’re primarily looking for and a list of nice-to-haves. This is a really easy way to filter the resume stack so they’ll likely look at this first. So where should your list of skills go on your resume? First (after your contact info of course)! Put it right at the top so they can find it right away. As long as your skills are a good match for the job, you’ll survive the cut so there’s nothing to worry about. This leads me to my second point about skills.
You have the job description and know what skills they’re searching for, so arrange your skills so those ones are first. You’re far more likely to continue through the process when they see what they want right away. Rubber stamp, on to the next!
This is a simple one. Do you think recruiters care that much what small dev shop you worked for? No, they’re more interested in what you did for that dev shop. So put your role first. Instead of “ABC Software Co, Lead Developer”, use “Lead Developer, ABC Software Co”.
Guess what, resume reviewers don’t want to know that you were responsible for developing
Here's an example of what I did for one of my jobs:
This tip is probably more for experienced devs who have a lot of jobs on their resume but it’s something to keep in mind for everyone. Believe it or not, tech resume reviewers probably don’t care that you worked a couple of summer jobs doing landscaping or earned some extra cash working retail over Christmas. If that’s all you have to put on your resume then go ahead but it might just help highlight your lack of experience. Another option would be to spin it to focus on more relevant aspects. For example, did you supervise anyone? Then instead of “Performed fry cook duties such as cooking, etc.”, change it to “Led a team of fry cooks to maximize efficiency of operations”. Leadership skills are almost always relevant.
I don’t have a lot to say on this other than make sure any diplomas, etc. they specifically mention are listed first.
One of the big things I noticed in my job hunt is that there is a big emphasis in some companies on seeing things you’ve built. Therefore it’s really important to put links to Github repos, websites, etc. on your resume. Don’t just brag about your widget project, let them go look at it and see the active community you’ve built around it.
I’m not going to say making these changes will guarantee you your dream job, that’s still up to you, but they will definitely help you get through the short-list process. If you have any other tips, post them in a comment for all to benefit from!