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Rethinking The Technical Resume

Out Of Date Warning

Languages change. Perspectives are different. Ideas move on. This article was published on January 2, 2012 which is more than two years ago. It may be out of date. You should verify that technical information in this article is still current before relying upon it for your own purposes.

During my last job, I occasionally was invited to interview candidates for the web development team. Usually I’d receive a copy of their resume a few days beforehand with the instructions to review it, and I’d take a few minutes to read their resume and usually pop them into Google to take a look at their online presence. Throughout this process I began noticing things that I saw to be mistakes, probably propagated by the avalanche of resume advice that permeates the job seeking culture. This caused me to rethink my own resume, and I’ve wanted to share these things for a while.

It’s important to note here that I see the technical resume (and any resume, really) as a marketing tool. It is, in essence, the brochure that we build for ourselves highlighting what we can do for a customer (that is the employer). But technical resumes, like many resumes, aren’t written that way. Here are three common things I see as mistakes on technical resumes.

Listing everything you’ve done, ever.
There’s old advice in the resume world that suggests a resume should be no longer than one page. This is certainly not a hard and fast rule, but the reason it persists is that it’s often very true. The reason it’s true is because most resumes should only highlight the most relevant experience to the job being sought. It’s also true because most of the time, the first and often second stage of the culling process (and that’s what it is) involves people who are reading a vast number of resumes in a short time, and won’t bother reading to the end. And there’s a good chance that the longer your resume is, the less vital information is going to be presented in that short window.

So cut the peripheral crap. The awards you won in high school don’t matter if you’ve been graduated for a decade, and that first job you had that doesn’t even apply to a technical field is irrelevant. It’s important to remind people that they should never lie on their resume. It’s also important to point out that omission of unimportant information isn’t lying, and your resume isn’t a biography, it’s a snapshot.

Writing paragraphs of text.
When was the last time you saw a car brochure that had full paragraphs of text? Ever see a billboard like that? Even brochures are more pictures than text most of the time. And let’s be honest, you’re more likely to read a headline than a paragraph. So why is it in your resume?

Your resume is a marketing tool. It’s a brochure about you. Writing it like it’s a novel just makes you look complicated and hides important information inside large blocks of text that might not even be read. And the more text on the page, the more cluttered it looks. I recommend you get out of that habit.

This doesn’t mean you should write incomplete or incoherent sentences. But it’s much faster to read “Built a new HR system that scaled to 2,500 employees” than “I spent six months designing and engineering a new human resources system which allowed us to scale from 2,000 employees to 2,500 employees in the course of six months. I received an award for this work.” Let them ask about it in the interview.

Focusing on the bullshit “resume writing tips” of our parents’ generation.
While it would be unwise to throw away every tip (it is still important to spell everything correctly on your resume), there are some we simply don’t need anymore.

First and foremost, get your address off your resume. Replace it with your website, email, and other contact information. And don’t bother giving me a statement about where you want to go; everybody is a “motivated self-starter with leadership potential.” That annoyed me more than anything else. At the companies you probably want to work for, buzzword building will be noticed by the actual humans who read your resume, and they probably don’t care as much about specific technologies as your recruiter does. And starting every sentence off with an action word doesn’t make you look like a go-getter if your “action” was “enthusiastically took the trash out every night before closing the store.” As for the education section of your resume, unless it’s your first job out of college it belongs at the bottom. Most employers I’ve met want to know what you’ve been doing, not what you did years ago.

Disclaimer: resumes are complex, and there’s a huge industry dedicated to how they should be written (or writing them for people!) Everyone’s opinion is different, but as someone who has seen his fair share of interviews (on both sides of the table), this has been my experience. I hope it’s helpful to you, but your mileage may vary.

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karl wrote at 1/2/2012 11:29 pm:

I find it quite humorous how you attempt to think the world of developers are salivating or just “dying” to work for you, get to know you, or know “what you look for in a developer”.

i really wouldn’t be this harsh on you if your posts weren’t the most arrogant egotistical posts i’ve ever seen. it seems as though you have this fictional reality going on in your mind that you are some sort of world renown developer.

“And don’t bother giving me a statement about where you want to go” — LMFAO.

seriously, the day any developer in the php community with ANY skill ever has to special-case their resume for you to review can consider themselves officially hitting rock bottom.

Brandon Savage (@brandonsavage) wrote at 1/3/2012 3:44 pm:

I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. In the past I’ve had good success with my resume and interviewing skills, so I wanted to share my tips with others. If they’re not for you no worries; do what works best for you. Thanks for reading!

shri wrote at 1/4/2012 12:55 am:

Brandon,
I very much appreciate for your points listed. Especially the paragraphs of text and listing everything on resume points are good ones and saves time for everyone.
Same happened to me, when i run thru resumes similar things i find. Surprisingly the resume with bulleted points or one liners description candidate know what they and expressed “yes/no” in interview well.
Might be this kind of things may get vary from countries/regions but looking straight to understand candidate thoughts this will help a lot.
Even in the same line changed my resume. And reading Your article has just confirmed my actions.

Thanks,
Shri

PM Hut (@pmhut) wrote at 1/4/2012 5:48 am:

When I look at a resume, I give it only 30 seconds. If I feel that I need to spend 15 minutes just reading this resume, I will not even bother reading it. Of course, the length of time I am willing to spend on a resume varies depending on how many resumes we have open for this position.

This comment was edited by the blog editor.

Stephen Van Vreede (@ittechexec) wrote at 3/18/2012 9:42 pm:

Brandon,

Good information on technical resumes. As a resume writer specializing with IT and technical candidates, they definitely do have the tendency to provide an exhaustive laundry list of everything they have ever done and every technology (new, old, and even way outdated) that they have ever touched or read about.

One of the challenges in today’s job market is creating a resume that works for multiple audiences, including recruiters, HR reps, and hiring managers. Recruiters simply look at how well the candidate’s current job (and, yes, they must be currently employed!) matches with the position they are trying to fill. HR reps mostly look at things to weed out “unsuitable” applicants like employment gaps, too many jobs in a short period of time (job hopping), and how well the keywords on the resume match up with their requirements. Of course, hiring managers want more detail and will read much of it eventually, either before or after the interview. Regardless, the candidate must convince them to continue reading or to call them in for the interview, so steering the reader to the technical achievements and job highlights is essential.

So, yes, as a general rule, be more succint. Think about the information that is being included and how it supports your case. Finally, be sure to communicate how your activities provided value to the business.