Random Musings About Resumes
- My Resume for reference
My Resume Story
It’s no surprise that drafting a resume can be a daunting task. You’re essentially trying to make a first impression with a piece of paper that needs to be formatted in a specific way using specific language that can’t be too long or too short. If you’ve ever been stressed out by your resume know that you’re not alone. I feel the same way. I’ve read articles, visited resume building centers on university campuses, and even bought a few books on resume and technical writing. While I learned a lot of good information from these resources, I found myself pushing back on some of the recurring patterns I found. Like most university students, I found myself making my first resume in preparation for a job fair. After getting a first draft of my resume finished, I looked it over and was unhappy with it. It was bland, dull, and not a representation of who I was as a person. I took it to Career Services on campus to discuss it with them but was assured that my resume checked all of their boxes and was a successful resume. That didn’t sit right with me and I thought to myself “I’m going to make this the way I want to so that it represents me.” So, I decided to break away from my colleagues at the time and not go with the default resume template in Google Docs and make my own using Latex 1. Once I figured out what I was doing the result was something I was very proud of. I took my resume to the job fair and was complimented by every single recruiter I handed my resume to. Everyone loved the format and the fact that it had color, an element I was explicitly told to avoid. Since then, every single job that I’ve applied to has complimented me on the layout of my resume. When I started speaking at universities to students about their resumes I’ve tried to let them know that it’s ok to deviate from the “standard resume”. Below I’m going to go over the advice that I give students and working professionals regarding resumes.
Mason’s Resume Advice
I will be the first to say that I have very strong opinions about resumes. You may or may not agree with everything that I say here. All of these tips are based of my personal experience and what I’ve witnessed while being on hiring panels 2.
Tip #1 - The Standard Template is Boring. Change It Up
Everyone uses the resume templates in Word or Google Docs. Everyone. And they’re boring templates, devoid of color and any emotion. I dislike them and wish they would go away forever. Try to find a template with accent colors, maybe a two column template, maybe even a Hugo template that can be saved as a 1 page resume. Don’t be afraid of color 3!
Tip #2 - Objectives Are Pointless. Use That Space For Something Else
Get rid of these. Period. Objectives are my biggest pet peeve on resumes. Unless you are legitimately trying to trade me 3 chickens for one of my goats I know you’re trying to get a job! You sent me your resume! You didn’t send it to me so I could frame it and walk by it every day. You sent it because you want a job! Space on a resume is valuable real estate. Anything that doesn’t need to be there is only taking up space from something more important. I prefer to replace this with an About Me section. Tell me who you are. What do you like to work on? What are you passionate about? My About Me says I like backend work, specifically Python, along with teaching and open source. This section is at the top of the page. The goal is for a recruiter or hiring manager to read it and be able to immediately go “This person is/isn’t a good potential candidate for this role” before they ever even get to my experience 4. Tell people who you are up front and save everyone some time.
Tip #3 - Don’t Just List Your Responsibilities. Focus On Their Impact
I always see resumes that list the job and then have a bulleted list of tasks that they completed at that job. While this does inform on what you worked on, it in no way focuses on why you were doing it or what it accomplished.
Example: You worked for a small e-commerce startup and you were responsible for implementing the shopping cart feature. You put this on your resume:
- Wrote a web application using Flask, SQLite, and React for customers to use at checkout.
This tells me nothing other than what technologies you used and the general vicinity of the purpose. Try rewriting it in this format:
- <THING THAT WAS ACCOMPLISHED><HOW YOU DID IT><WHAT YOU USED TO DO IT>
So let’s rewrite the example above
- Provided a seamless and enjoyable checkout experience for customers by implementing a shopping-cart web application using Flask, SQLite, and React.
Immediately this tells me the impact you had, what you did and how you did it. It highlights your accomplishments and allows me to gauge the impact of your work because you told me the impact.
Tip #4 - Brag About Yourself. Resumes Are NOT The Time To Be Humble
Before we go any further, I know I have to address this. Do not put that you’re a 10x engineer or the Superman of programming. When I say brag about yourself, I don’t mean delve into the land of hyperbole. I mean be prideful of your accomplishments. Talk about them. I often see people downplay their contributions and that is a sure way to get passed over in a screening. If you don’t believe in your work how can you convince others to? Don’t be afraid to take credit for your work. When implementing the above tip where you describe the impact, talk about if as if you are a CEO selling the new feature to the board. They aren’t going to say “Ya, it’s alright”. They’re going to act like it’s the swiss army knife of features that’ll mow your lawn, do your taxes, and it’s a hot plate 5.
Tip #5 - Leave Out or Condense Irrelevant Data. Focus On The Data That Shows You Off
Length is usually a hot point of contention regarding resumes. Many people think that a resume should only ever be 1 page and that’s it6. I personally don’t prescribe to this philosophy. If you have 10 years of relevant experience then you should list it. But the key point to that last statement is the relevant experience part. If you’re a traditional student who is attempting to get their first job you don’t need more than 1 page. In fact, I would highly discourage you from going over. If you’ve worked side jobs here and there that doesn’t really show me your skills as a software engineer. I’m not saying you should include them, but 5 list items of the different pizza delivery jobs you had isn’t necessary. Be sure to include any leadership or extra responsibilities here. Condense that down to one and say Various Pizza Delivery Jobs. This will again, save you valuable space on your resume for projects, coursework, volunteer work, etc.
However, if you have previous professional experience in another field I would say that you should definitely include it. You may not need your entire work history, but a list item dedicated to acknowledging your past professions is 100% acceptable. I personally encourage it. I know many educators who are leaving the field to be software engineers. They always ask, “Should I put this?” and I startle them when I shriek “YES! Being an educator is hard. You had a profession that taught you skills that will be relevant to any job. Include it!”7. I have another friend who was the creative director of Cirque de Solei for near of a decade and was one of the premier jazz trombonists in the world who recently decided he wanted to go into programming. He also asked if he should include that and I was baffled. Like, you were (and still are) a famous musician. Of course you put that! There are a lot of second career people joining tech now. Your journey is a part of you and you should embrace and include that. I personally, want to know all about it.
Tip #6 - Ordering Matters. You Probably Shouldn’t Lead With Your Education/University
This one I’m mostly putting because I want to rant about it. Your About Me (if you have one) and experience should always be the most prominent thing on your resume. Next you can maybe have a section dedicated to your skills, volunteer work, outside projects, awards, etc. Notice how I don’t list education there. Education is important. It should be on the page. It does not need to be anywhere near the top. I have heard some resume reviewers at “prestigious” schools say that it should be at the very top and even some recruiters from some companies. The next thing I’m going to say is very important so I’m going to emphasize it for effect
This is utter bull shit.
There are some companies that care greatly about where you got your education8. And they have the audacity to publicly muse “Why don’t we get more diverse candidates?”. Well when you only focus on a handful of schools that also have diversity problems you don’t get to play the surprised card when your workforce all identify within the same demographic. Personally, I refuse to put my education high up on my resume. After your first job it is old, irrelevant data. After I got my first job I immediately removed my GPA. Who the hell cares?
Unfortunately, me being pissed about this won’t change these company’s practices. I personally refuse to work for companies that think the school that I attended mandates my professional destiny, but they do pay a lot of money. If you want to play their games I can’t stop you and you may want to include your education as the first thing.
Things I Didn’t Cover
No doubtedly there are things that I didn’t cover that may have some of you going “But You Forgot to Talk About ___“. The reason I left your favorite resume pet peeve is because :
- I don’t think it matters as much as others think it does.
- It wouldn’t apply in a broad sense. There are definitely tips I can give that are more targeted towards specific fields, but I wanted this article to be generalized.
- I forgot ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
At the end of the day, your resume is an opportunity to express yourself. We want to know who you are and your resume is our first glimpse into that. While experience matters, you’d be surprised how often “Would this person vibe with the team” has a large part to play in hiring decisions. You can teach someone to do almost anything, it’s really hard to teach them to not be a jerk.
- While some of you may be sitting here thinking “Wow, that sounds like a terrible idea.” let me assure you, it is way worse than you can possibly imagine. I currently have one laptop that I managed to install all of the packages correctly on that can compile my resume. I have tried to recreate it elsewhere and have failed. That laptop is forever more my “Resume Generating” laptop. One day it’ll die and I’ll have to change formats. But until then I just hold out against hope.
- If you read this article and think to yourself “He’s completely wrong, I absolutely disagree with all of this” that’s fine. My feelings won’t be hurt. Don’t implement these tips then.
- This is the biggest tip I get the most pushback on and I don’t understand it. People always tell me “Avoid color! All you need is headers and bulleted lists!”. While I can see how using colors may be difficult for someone who is visually impaired (hint: there are color schemes that address this), more often than not people who hold this bland ass opinion are trying to jam way too much into their resume and need every spare millimeter to put another irrelevant piece of information. ^
- It’s also a great conversation starter for recruiters/hiring managers. They already know something about me that’s true because I told them. They didn’t have to extrapolate it. ^
- “And a hot plate!” ^
- I feel this is a leftover vestige of when every resume was printed out and had to be distributed physically to be reviewed. Multiple pages probably meant staples and a stack of resumes to sift through makes length an issue. But now that we do most things digitally and we have auto screening programs9 that filter a lot of resumes out now. ^
- This is usually when they take my caffeinee away from me and make me sit down. ^
- Looking at you FAANG. ^
- 10I have my own thoughts on these but that’s a rant for another day. ^
- Oooh, a footnote in a footnote. That’s nifty. Ok. I’ll stop now. ^