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Resume Tips

How to write a Technical Resume

One of the most important steps and certainly the step you hold the most control over in the job hunting process is your resume.

RULE #1 – Remember that your resume serves one purpose and one only and that is to get you an interview. Your resume is your marketing tool to get you the job you want.

Your resume needs to be found. This may be you passing it along through an acquaintance, applying to a position online, or being searched out of a database somewhere. I strongly suggest you have two versions of your resume, one that gets you found and another one that gets reviewed. Consider your audience. Who is looking at your resume? If you are posting your resume on a job board, there is a 95% chance it is being reviewed by a non-technical recruiter, trying to match up key words in various searches. In fact, consider that anywhere your resume resides for the long term it is likely being found in a key word search, be it www.linkedin.com, your web page, or a recruiter’s database. I started recruiting just as internet job boards were being adopted. Over this time I have seen a trend for resumes to be written more for recruiters than hiring managers as people struggle to get noticed. Part of this could be solved if recruiters were better at their jobs but sadly MOST recruiters in the industry are making a determination on whether to call you or send your resume to the client based on the frequency and clustering of their target key words or even worse, their understanding of their target key words. This presents a problem because the technical hiring manager who determines if you get an interview is looking for substance, detail, and a believable story of what you’ve done for previous employers. Time and again I hear hiring managers complain about the laundry lists of skills people list on their resume that they can’t effectively interview to. This is symptomatic of the explosion of technologies over the past 10 years but also of candidates writing resumes for the person performing the key word search, not the hiring manager. I’m going to start by discussing the technical resume for the hiring manager and then talk about what can be added in order to get noticed in the market.

So let’s get started.

Length – This is important, I see 5-10 page resumes every day. They are annoying, superfluous, and unnecessary. The hiring manager reviewing the resume feels swamped. He has a hard time finding the information he is looking for and has a hard time understanding what the strengths are since everything under the sun has been listed. The hiring manager is also usually left feeling dubious that the candidates will be able to back up what they write. Rule of thumb is; a Jr candidate – 1 page, Mid level 1-2, Sr. level 2-3. 3 pages should hold enough information for the manager to make a determination as to your candidacy, without exception, as long as it is presented appropriately. If you feel like you can’t fit all of your information onto 3 pages then you are forgetting the purpose of your resume and need to refer back to rule

RULE #1 – Remember that your resume serves one purpose and one only and that is to get you an interview. Your resume is your marketing tool to get you the job you want.

Structure of the Resume

Functional vs. Chronological – Always chronological. The functional resume does not answer the basic questions that a manager is trying to determine (what, when, how and why) and leaves the reviewer feeling duped. Some people will argue that it’s preferable when making a career change or trying to overcome some objectionable issue on your resume. I disagree. The truth will come out and these issues are better addressed straight forward in a cover letter or email introduction than trying to hide the truth in the resume itself. At least the intro won’t feel like deception, which is a major red flag for all employers.

Order & Sections – It is not necessary that a well-written resume display any more than your experience, education and contact information. You may also want to add a skills section to summarize all of your skills, but beware of listing things you aren’t prepared to be tech’d out on. Most skills can effectively be worked into the experience section and if the skills section ends up being superfluous and repetitive; take it out and conserve the space for more meaningful content. As to the order: Contact information goes at the top, then summary if you choose to have one, followed by Experience unless your education sets you apart, for example, a degree from an ivy league school or 4.0 gpa, or magna cum laude from a well respected school may be reason to list that above experience. Your skills section would come last if you choose to add it.

Contact Information – This should be clearly observable, the most important aspect being your name. This is not a legal document, so legal names, middle names, titles, etc., are not necessary and may allow for assumptions to be made about you or your personality. For example, Douglas “Sean” Afton or Michael Van Orr III vs. just Sean Afton or Mike Van Orr. List your name simply as you wish to be called on an everyday basis. If you go by Mike instead of Michael or Ray instead of Raymond, use the short form. Also, you don’t have to list a full address, although you can if you want to, it serves no purpose. Of course you will list the city and state as well as your phone number and email address. URLs and Linked in Profiles are advisable. Take some time to refine and check these sites for errors or inconsistencies when you start your search and send out requests for endorsements whenever possible. These things can really sway a manager towards an interview if you can create enough interest on the resume to get him to research you. Definitely Google yourself before beginning a search and try to get rid of negative content and pictures if possible. Try this site, www.pipl.com

Summary vs. Objective – Personally, I prefer a summary if you chose to use either. Ultimately, it is not necessary to have either at all. Use it if you have information on the 2nd page that it is important to get noticed in conjunction with more recent experience, or for summarizing years (if that is a selling point). You can use the summary as a mini cover letter, since cover letters rarely get read, where you bringing out specifics that qualify you for a certain job, or overcome objections that might come out during review. What you don’t need to do is list generic information that anyone and everyone puts into a summary such as “strong interpersonal skills and attention to detail”. Anyone can say this, but it’s more effective to demonstrate it with examples in the experience section of the resume. The summary should not be more than a paragraph.

Experience – This is the most important section in your resume and the area worthy of devoting the most time and effort.

Here is an example of the structure I prefer for the experience section:
Company Name Date

Descriptive overview (either company or dept, depending on relevancy) – this is your chance to give a picture of the environment that plays into your work)

Detailed Descriptions (either bulleted or paragraphed) – this should all revolve around your individual contributions)

i) No one should have to search to find the company name, date and title of your previous positions, make sure they are clearly visible. If the position was a contract vs. a permanent position also clearly mark that after the company name. I have seen a lot of people rejected for “job hopping” because they failed to identify clearly their contract vs. permanent positions. Title is a subjective issue. Many official titles don’t match well with market standard titles and ultimately don’t mean anything to the reader. Remember RULE #1. The title doesn’t have to be accurate; it should reflect your responsibilities and the level of your position in the general market. Consider the size of the company you worked for and compare that with the market in general. A director at a small start-up may really just be a tech lead for a large company. Make sure the title reflects your responsibilities, but don’t put yourself out of the running for a good individual contributor role that you’d be happy to take in an attempt to be accurate. Also, be careful about overbuilding yourself with Sr. Titles, where you have set an expectation later with the interviewer that you will be at a higher level than you actually are. Always better to over impress than under impress in the interview. Also, it is better to show off your skills in the body of the experience, rather than in the title.

ii) Too often I see a cut and paste from a website in the descriptive overview section, even from well known companies, such as Citicorp. This is unnecessary filler, make this section mean something by describing what the reader might not know about Citicorp and things that directly relate or give interest to the work that you did. E.g. “Worked in the credit card department of this Fortune 500 Company which was responsible for 8Bil in quarterly revenue and over 200 Million customers. Our Department was comprised of 30 developers in 5 teams. My role was Technical Lead on a team of 5 developers who were supporting the business unit responsible for marketing of student credit cards. Hired as a developer to supplement the team and was promoted to a technical lead after 8 months.”

iii) Next we get into the experience portion of your resume. This is the make it or break it section of your resume. Every line should be carefully reviewed and thought through with your audience in mind. The manager reviewing the resume is looking at a two dimensional sheet of paper trying to conjure up an image of a three dimensional person. “Facts tell but stories sell”. This section should tell a compelling, true story of your career and abilities. It should be clear, believable and it should demonstrate understanding, ability, and all of the other traits you feel you posses that make you employable. It should not leave you asking questions, or reading filler lines. It doesn’t have to be “accurate” Accurate is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t matter that you don’t list everything you did while you were there. Was the information you did provide well-delivered and meaningful to the person reading it?

iv) What kinds of questions are we answering on the resume? Why was he hired? What did the company do? What was his group or department responsible for within that company? Was he working independently or in a team? Where did he fall within his team? What was he primarily responsible for? Where did he spend the majority of his time? What challenging and interesting technical accomplishments did he make and what were the benefits to the organization overall? What was his understanding of what he was doing and why and how that fit into the broader organization? What were the technologies used? Why and how were they used? What worked and what didn’t? What was he proud of? Why did he leave? Throughout the answering of these questions you should be able to demonstrate, things you made, saved, and achieved as well as key personality traits, such as attention to detail, creativity, team work, etc.

Building believability – details and specifics build believability. Consider these opposing sentences:

“Used SQL to query the database” OR “Utilized aggregate functions and inner joins to create complex SQL queries, across 10 Oracle databases and 3 terabytes of data, resulting in valuable and actionable reporting that ultimately increase ROI for the marketing dept.”

“Refactored various components for our application in Java 5.” OR “Making use of the new features in the collections framework, concurrency packages, and annotations in Java 5, was able to redevelop key components handling real-time financial transactions resulting in improved exceptions handling and a 30% performance increase.

The majority of candidates over generalize. In such cases you have not only told him nothing, but actually done damage to yourself. The hiring manager may be thinking you didn’t elaborate because they don’t actually have the experience, and if that’s the case, take it off your resume. Or maybe he’s thinking you just don’t know how to write a resume, regardless, if most of the resume is this generic, it will likely go straight to the trash.

Things to avoid:

As we’ve just discussed – BE SPECIFIC, GIVE GOOD DETAILS. Additionally, consider that what makes sense to you may not make sense to the reader. Heavy use of proprietary acronyms is a common problem that can be hard to follow and confusing to the reader. EG. “SAMS was a proprietary CRM developed in C# .Net”. Another thing I see quite often is people arranging their bullets according a methodology, such as SDLC.

For Example:
  • Analysis of the Use Cases and Case Specs provided by the client.
  • Design of Technical Design Documents from Requirement Document.
  • Coding using JSF, Seam Components, and Hibernate.
  • Testing – unit testing & integration testing.
  • Wrote Ant build scripts.
  • Performed maintenance and upgrades.

This structure is so common it makes my eyes bleed. What information have you given me other than you know the basic steps of SDLC? What was your contribution? What is your specialty? What were you trying to accomplish? What was the result?

Probably one-half of the resumes I receive have spelling and grammar mistakes and poorly written gibberish that makes the candidate look foolish. Have your resume peer reviewed by someone with excellent spelling and grammar. Also use your word processor spell check. If you think you don’t have any mistakes in your resume, check, check again, and then have someone else check it.

Fate – There are so many things that are out of your control in the hiring process it is important to do your utmost in the areas where you can exercise some control. Consider some of the factors in which fate will play a role. Your obtaining an interview may rest on what the resume before you looked like, how many other candidates were reviewed before and after you, what kind of mood the hiring manager is in, the urgency with which he needs to fill the job and very often nuances from other interviews or hires gone awry that influence mind set. In my experience, managers that review a lot of resumes are probably first looking for a reason to reject you, and then looking for a reason to interview you. It is very important to limit the reasons they will find to reject you as much as possible. You can gain control by making your resume stand out from the crowd, don’t try to make it look like something “standard”. Also, keep track of where your resume has been submitted. Don’t be the resume that everyone has seen 5 times from different recruiters or the resume that gets sent in every six months. Know the recruiters you are working with and don’t work with recruiters that send out your resume without your permission.