Writing an effective software engineer resume is more art than code, but it’s not that hard to create. You just have to focus on a few key things. A resume is like a super business card. Its purpose is to get you in the door, so it needs to sell you and your skills as the best candidate for a job.
Here are 5 things in no particular order you can do to improve your resume and start getting quality interviews.
1. Keep it Short
Just like any good piece of communication, your resume should be no longer than it has to be. Some people swear by one page, others swear by two, and I’ve seen a few four-page resumes filled with relevant and also not so relevant keywords. I think four pages is way too long.
Your resume doesn’t have to be one page, but keep it short and to the point. Edit your work and remove unnecessary spaces, redundant content, and long-winded explanations of what you did. Save that stuff for your interviews.
For each job, what are the standout results of your efforts? What did you do with your days, and how did your efforts contribute to the overall goals of the team and business? Concisely communicate the best parts, and leave out the fluff.
2. Bullet Points with Impact
Your resume should have bullet points for each item of interest. They’re easy to read, and they’re easy to skim. We all know so few people actually read resumes in detail. Some lazy hiring manager should be able to skim your resume and get the highlights you present in bullet format. And for those responsible recruiters, make sure each bullet communicates effectively.
Don’t be long-winded with your bullet points. Short and straight to the details will be the most effective approach. Each detail needs to hit the person skimming your resume right in the face. What impact did your work have on your organization and what value did you create?
Hiring managers and team leads want to know what you can do for them. Make sure you communicate that clearly.
3. Use Actual Metrics
When highlighting the impact and value your work brought to each organization (team, product, etc.), you’ve got to provide real numbers whenever you can. Think about the last time you got a raise. Both the dollar amount and percentage increase are real values your brain can latch on to and determine if you’re getting shafted or not. 5% raise? 7%? 1.2%? Which one of those metrics would be the best result for you?
Likewise, if you wrote some software that automated something, you’re saving time for actual humans. Put a number to that. If you cut out unnecessary spending on redundant services (I once learned my job at the time had websites spread across three different hosting companies for no reason other than “why not,” so I consolidated and saved money), write down the savings.
Don’t exaggerate your metrics, because that’s dumb, but make sure you put as much relevant data into your resume as makes sense. Numbers are a good way to show people you’ll be a good hire.
4. Drill Down to Exact Version Details
How many differences are there between the first version of MS SQL Server, and SQL Server 2017? What about PHP 4 to PHP 7? If you built websites with classic asp 17 years ago, can you build one using .NET Core 2.1 today?
Versions matter in our profession. Specificity matters. Software engineering is a career of precision, so be precise with your tool versions. Team leaders like to know if you’re versed in the same version of Oracle being used in production.
If you don’t put it on your resume, they may ask if you can use something. Or… they might just skip over you completely and move on to the first resume that lists Ruby 5.2.1.
5. Benefits vs. Features
If you’ve taken a sales course, you know the importance of communicating benefits instead of features. A person buys something because of what it can do for them, or maybe because of the emotional response it triggered when they first saw whatever it was. Features of a thing might play a part in the buying decision — think specs on your next laptop — but you’re buying it for the benefits it will provide you.
A feature of you might be, “I know Node.js,” but that might not communicate much to a prospective employer. You can say that you know Node, but do so in a way that shows the reader how it will benefit them. A benefit solves a problem. A benefit is a solution.
How will one of your features solve a problem, or improve a process, or be used to create a new product that will earn the organization money, time, or even mindshare? Sell your benefits, and communicate your features along the way.
This might seem obvious, but make sure you don’t skip this part. You have to proofread like a maniac. Write your resume, read it, fix the mistakes, read it again, fix the mistakes you missed on the first fix run, and then give it to someone else to proofread. Then read it out loud to make sure the words flow and sound natural.
Imagine you owned a blender company, and a copywriter gave you a business card offering their services to help you sell your blenders. When you look at it, you notice the business card has a spelling error on it. Your next step is to throw that card in the trash and find another writer who cares enough to check their work to help you sell your blenders.
Don’t be that individual with a bad business card. Proofread your resume and make sure it’s perfect. Communicating that you care enough to do a good job and deliver a quality product is vital to your success.
You are Selling Yourself to Both a Person and a Machine
Many years ago I worked a job with PowerBuilder, which is an old development tool used to make database applications. I haven’t heard of anyone using it in the real world since I left that job, but it’s on some copy of my resume floating around out there. To this day, I will occasionally get hit up by a recruiter for a PowerBuilder job. The recruiter clearly hasn’t read my resume, because if they had they would see that I haven’t used it since 2006.
When you upload your resume to some job websites, a machine crawls through it looking for keywords to match to jobs. That’s where tip #4 can come in handy. You’ll match tools, languages, and even specific versions to jobs in the database, and that can get you talking to a real person.
A good job recruiter will look at the resume the system found and determine if you are an actual potential candidate for the position in question. Once you make it past the machine screener, you have to be selected by the human recruiter. That will take a great resume. That will take impact and a clear expression of your effectiveness.
If you’ve got the keywords for the system to match you to a job, do you also have compelling benefits and a great career story to impress a job recruiter?
Take a look at your resume and give it a solid rewrite. You never know when you might need it.
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