I’ve talked about it for a long time, but I finally refactored my resume. I read a lot of resumes, and most of the time they annoy me because I get annoyed by the way that it’s written, even if the candidate is qualified. Yet my resume was more or less the same thing, so I figured I needed to take my own advice and do something about it. Here’s the thought process that led me to the end result (which you can see here).
Go to any tech conference and you get the big bag of vendor pamphlets trying to sell you their product or consulting services. These papers are very colorful and attractive and professional looking. What you don’t find is a black and white piece of paper with a list of 50 bullet points that enumerates their achievements.
We really are no different from those companies. We are trying to sell our services to potential employers or clients. So why aren’t we making our resumes look more like marketing material?
When I read a resume, I pretty much know whether I want to hire someone or not. The interview is just there to confirm my assumptions and potentially break the tie between two candidates. So if your resume is poorly done, you’re already behind the 8-ball before I even get to talk to you.
Answer the right question
Most resumes are answering the wrong question. The question to answer is not, “What did you do?”, the question is, “What sets you apart from the other candidates?”, or, “What experience that you have that can help our team/company improve?”
If you’re a QA person, don’t put “Entered bugs into bug tracking system” on your resume. That is something you did, true, but (a) I assume that a QA person uses a bug tracking system and (b) it doesn’t tell me anything about how you can help my team.
More is less
The way I see it, there are two kinds of people reading your resume. There are those who are briefly glancing at it to decide if they want to learn more. There are those who want to learn more and/or interview you and they will read more of it. No one ever reads it all.
With that in mind, only put things on there that you want someone to read. I know that sounds obvious, but apparently people are not good at it. You want to make it easy for the people glancing over your resume to want to read more, and you want to make it easy for the people doing the interview to find what’s important.
Everything on your resume has a value — but that value can be negative. When I read a resume before an interview, I read through the last couple work assignments and cross out everything I read that doesn’t add value. Then I’m left with the statements that have value. I would’ve much rather just read the good stuff without having the black out all of the cruft.
Also, I don’t really care what you did in 2003. Chances are you were using a technology that is not the technology being used in the job you’re applying for. Just tell me the things that have relevance, either because it’s a similar skill to what the team needs or because it’s something that you did relatively recently.
No more than 2 pages
I’ve never found anything meaningful on page 3 of a resume, so don’t have one. You don’t have to list every place you’ve worked and you don’t have to list every single thing that you did there. This is particularly challenging for consultants because we tend to move from project to project. Remember, you just have to give me enough information to make me want to work with you, you don’t have to tell me your life story.
Write it so someone would want to hire you for the job you want
If I think about my ideal project, it would probably involve Agile, TDD, either .NET or Ruby on Rails, and working in a team environment with people who care about their craft. I tried to make my resume reflect that. On the first page, I highlight how I’ve led Agile projects, I do TDD training and like unit testing and acceptance testing, and how I’ve used Ruby on Rails and ASP.NET MVC, which is my .NET tool of choice. I put a link to my GitHub account because people who tend to think like me like to see that developers hack on stuff and like to be able to look at actual code they’ve written. I also have a link to my blog so that people can learn more about the things I like (and don’t like). While I don’t claim to be great at design, I’ve tried to add some flair so that people can see that I am creative and am capable of thinking outside the box, which I think is an important quality for a software developer.
I actually went through this process when I created the first page of my resume. I made sure I highlighted all of the important stuff that I mentioned and left off everything that was not on that list. There’s room on page 2 for the other less important details.
Things I don’t want to do are nowhere to be found on either page. I’ve done C++, WebForms, and TFS build server administration. I really don’t want to do those things again if I can help it, so I’m not going to list those things anywhere. The people hiring someone for my ideal job wouldn’t care about those things.
You are selling yourself. There is nothing that mandates that your resume be a sea of bullet points or that you must list everything you’ve ever done. You are much smarter than that, so be creative and come up with your own marketing material. Then walk into the interview knowing that they have the important information they need to want to give you the job.