The Worst Developer Resume in the World, Redux: Best Practices

Last week I published The Worst Developer Résumé in the World, which resulted in three things.

  1. We are not alone – The article resonated with many hiring managers and recruiters who immediately recognized this style of résumé. We’re forming a support group.
  2. RIP Inbox – Readers wondered “Is that my résumé?“, with many reaching out to me or my résumé review/writing side project (Résumé Raiders – shameless plug) for a personal inspection. Some résumés were good. I had to open some reviews with “Are you sitting down? Because you might want to sit down…“.
  3. Thanks…but where is the rest?– A handul of readers asked for details on best practices and tips for résumé writing. “You told us what not to do, now tell us what to do.” OK, I’ll do that.

WARNING: Keep in mind that entire books have been written on résumé writing, which I’m also considering as a future project. I dedicated a full 20 page chapter to résumés in my 2013 ebook, so a few hundred words is only going to scratch the surface of what it takes to craft a résumé that gets results (interviews).

That said, here are some best practices for a good résumé.

A Short, Detailed Summary or Profile

In my opinion, this is the most important piece of a résumé and the section most often overlooked by job seekers.

Why? There are two simple reasons you need a good Summary.

1. Your résumé’s audience. We must assume a human will read your résumé at some point, and we (unfortunately) must also assume that the human is not highly-qualified to assess your background. At many companies the reader will be an HR or recruiting professional who may know little about technology. Startups too small to have dedicated recruiting/HR personnel use administrative or operations staff to review incoming résumés, as dev time is too valuable.

Do you want to miss out on a great job because the résumé screener was an accountant unable to decipher that you have the required five years of Python experience? Or because the reader didn’t understand that the “J” in J2EE is Java? Make it easy for them, which in turnbenefits you.

2. It may be all you need. A well-written Summary can be the only thing a reviewer needs to read before passing your résumé to the next step. In those rare instances where I receive a résumé leading off with a descriptive Summary that includes the skills and experience level we are seeking, I can immediately reply “I like your background. Let’s talk!“. I’ll read the full résumé later as I prepare for our phone conversation, but the powerful Summary got an immediate “Yes” answer from me. The résumé’s purpose is to try and start a conversation, and a Summary alone can do that.

How? A Summary should be written in a way that leaves the reader little room to misinterpret who you are and what you can do/have done. It should be no more than a few sentences. The biggest Summary mistakes, which were detailed in the previous post, are ones that go way too long (and cease to be summaries) or those that contain useless, homogenized, non-descript content.

A Summary that reads “Passionate software engineer with excellent communication / interpersonal skills dedicated to writing elegant code” sounds nice and might be someone I want to talk to, but says nothing about qualifications. Does this Summary make it any easier for the reader to say “yes” to you? No, it doesn’t.

A quick aside: And while we’re talking about self-assessments of communication skills and interpersonal skills on résumés, do you think any hiring manager in history has said, “Did you see this résumé Frank? Says here that Ms. Thomas has excellent communication skills. VERRRRRY INTERESTING… Get her in for an interview at once!” No. Don’t waste this space with self-assessments that every résumé on earth also uses. Show me (don’t tell me) your written communication skills by writing a decent résumé, and we’ll cover speaking in an interview.

Back to the story…

How about “Accomplished software engineer with seven years of experience building SaaS products using a range of technologies including Java, Python, and JavaScript with multiple frameworks.” This quantifies experience and includes more detail on at least some skills that might be required (or requested) for the role.

If you’re thinking “but DAVE, the job spec listed like 50 languages and tools”, let me stop you there. The Summary isn’t the place to test out your ATS-gaming SEO skills. It’s an overview, like a quick plot synopsis for a movie on IMDB. It’s not meant to give every detail and spoiler.

Realistic Skills in a Digestible Format

Why? Long laundry lists of skills gives the reader a few impressions of the applicant. First, we hear the theme song to our favorite game show – let’s play Buzzword Bingo, Résumé Edition!

Recruiters are often accused of just matching keywords, which is a fair assessment at least for the minimum requirements of an initial résumé screening. Development managers are likely to start with the same method. A suitable candidate needs relevant skills and accomplishments. Has this candidate done anything relevant to our job opening? That determination entails scanning for certain required technologies, experiences, etc.

A long list raises the question as to how much the candidate actually knows these technologies. The barometer for experienced professionals is usually to include something you’ve used (at home or work) enough to answer some questions. When someone posts what is likely an impossible list, the reader may get a sense of some dishonesty which could be verified in a conversation.

The digestible format is also important. If recruiters are playing Buzzword Bingo, they need to know which columns and rows to look in to find their desired words. Again, make it easy for the recruiter in order to maximize your own positive outcomes.

How? Keep the list to a reasonable size based on your overall experience, and remember that listing outdated skills may do more harm than good. If you are now doing Go and Node.js work, listing all the technologies from your days cranking on AS400s might not be a good use of space. You don’t need to be an expert to list something, but show some restraint.

Separate the skills into a few sections. Common categories might be Languages and Platforms, Frameworks, Databases, Operating Systems, and perhaps a catchall like Tools orOther. If you find yourself creating categories for just one or two skill listings (e.g. IDEs: Eclipse, NetBeans), you run the risk of adding unnecessary length to the document and might be better served with using an Other section.

Clearly List and Bullet Accomplishments, Ideally Quantified

Many résumés use the Experience section to bullet multiple responsibilities instead of detailing specific accomplishments. It’s not always easy to point to accomplishments, but it’s important to try.

Why? The reader wants to know what you have done, that you can communicate what you have done, and (most importantly to some managers) that you understand how your accomplishments positively impacted the business. Writing about accomplishments also gives you the opportunity to influence your interview, as projects that are on the résumé are infinitely more likely to be discussed than projects you don’t list.

How? It’s best to list responsibilities before accomplishments, with the responsibilities written in paragraph form and accomplishments bulleted. Just below the employer, title, and dates, you’ll have a few sentences you may use to describe the company’s business (if unknown to most) and how your role helps the business (usually entails either saving the company’s money or making the company money).

Bulleted accomplishments should list your role, some details on the technology used to solve the problem, and outcomes. Quantifying details such as dollars saved, revenue generated, or performance improvement metrics are a nice touch when possible. Accomplishments can be both individual or as part of a team, and it’s important to differentiate so you don’t accidentally claim too much credit.

Trim the Fat, and Optimize For Relevance

Why? There are a few reasons for résumés to be kept as short as possible while still covering the necessary content. First is the signal-to-noise problem, where relevant and impressive accomplishments get lost in a sea of useless bullets. Second, a long résumé intimidates a reader, which is another reason for a lazy recruiter to hit delete. When you see a résumé is seven pages, you may look for reasons to stop reading it on page one or two. Lastly, a long résumé with irrelvant content makes it appear that the writer is overestimating the value of a past accomplishment. Hiring managers mostly want to know what you can do today, not what you did in the 90’s.

How? Most of us can safely eliminate details on jobs from 10+ years ago, as they are usually less relevant to today’s work. Your job title and employer for early jobs is enough to give you credit for the experience without giving the reader the impression that you are clinging to accomplishments that are now distant objects in your rear-view mirror.

Lightning Round

Some other quick tips that didn’t warrant full sections:

  • Email handles shouldn’t sound like they were created by a teenager, and AOL addresses aren’t retro cool (yet). If you need to ask, you should change it.
  • Contact info eats up valuable page space if you stack it (name above address abovephone above email), and it’s the least important thing on the document that ironically gets the most prime real estate. Use a small font (like even 6 or 8) and try to keep all of this to a line or two at most.
  • Personal web pages, blogs, GitHub, and LinkedIn links are nice to have if they are neat. Just remember that if it is listed, it’s fair game.
  • Nobody cares what you got on your SAT/ACT tests 20 years ago. Same with college courses.
  • If you decide to list non-industry positions, consider that the reader may have a hard time thinking of you as “Joe the DevOps engineer” instead of “Joe the former pizza delivery guy“. Most of us have had other jobs, but we don’t need to list full employment histories.
  • Don’t list your references names or email addresses on your résumé, unless you want them to hate you. Some recruiters will try and recruit them even if that recruiter never spoke to you. Provide references when asked for them.
  • Listing graduation dates gives away your age using the formula 22 + (CURRENT YEAR – GRADUATION YEAR) = CURRENT AGE. If you fear possible ageism, deleting graduation dates and removing your earliest experience is one way to prevent discrimination. It’s a résumé, not a full autobiography. In some countries it is popular to list birthdays and even photos on CV’s, but not in the US.

RECONSIDER, Startups, and Hiring Stigma

If you are in the technology industry and haven’t read the recent blog post RECONSIDER, you should. As I’m most interested in hiring-related issues in the industry, I’ll get to my point once we get through a bit of background.


In RECONSIDER, Basecamp founder and Rails creator DHH describes how the term startup is becoming synonymous with the unicorn phenomenon and the potential dangers of this intersection for entrepreneurs and the industry as a whole. He writes “nobody these days is content to merely put their dent in the universe. No, they have to f*&%ing own the universe.” Much of what is written about startups reflects the attitude DHH describes, and he asks readers to reconsider that there may be motivations beyond billion dollar valuations for starting a company.

DHH reports that he co-founded his company over ten years ago and they’ve grown to a modest 50 mostly remote employees without a presence in the Bay Area. Clearly Basecamp never fit the unicorn profile and their maturity may preclude them from being defined as a startup today, but it’s hard to say they haven’t been successful. Few get to commission a special edition race car. The path of Basecamp might not be what the stereotypical startup founder sets out to replicate, and DHH seems to wonder “Why not?“.

What’s a Startup?

One part of the problem is which definition of “startup” is used. Startup is popular shorthand for new and (usually) tech, but some definitions require ambition of fast growth. DHH writes that the term startup has been “narrowed to describe the pursuit of total business domination“. He leads off by identifying Basecamp as a startup upon its founding and later describes it as “a company that doesn’t even have a pretense of an ambition for Eating The World™”. If their intent was never for quick growth or (dare I say) “disruption”, Basecamp may meet DHH’s (and others) definition of startup but doesn’t really meet the definition used most famously by Paul Graham.

Being that there are companies self-identifying as startups of varied age/size/ambition, and some nuance as to how those within the industry define the term, there is opportunity for misinterpretation.

One issue that DHH doesn’t really touch upon is how the somewhat hijacked redefinition of the term startup impacts careers and hiring, or more accurately, how some job seekers may be averse to any company that describes itself as a startup.

Hiring and Stigma

The term startup alone may conjure images of programmers (probably young and male) logging 70 hour weeks for pay well below market salary, poor benefits, and insignificant amounts of equity. These images may be a holdover from the first dotcom boom if you’re over 35.

Startups in many markets across the US today may bear almost no resemblance to that image, and unfortunately thousands of firms need to overcome a stigma with job seekers due to the ubiquity of the meme. It is assumed by some that a startup in Philadelphia or Boulder, solely because of their self-identification as a startup, is likely to expect employees to accept significant cuts in compensation and benefits as well as increased hours. It’s this often false expectation that leads some to stop listening about potential new job opportunities once the word startup is introduced into conversation.

What if I told you there were many fairly new and relatively small software firms solving complex problems that pay engineers at or above market rates, offer work/life balance, provide comprehensive benefits, grant options, promote diverse work environments, and never describe themselves as “we’re like $UNICORN for $PROBLEM“? Because of the popular startup stereotypes, I often feel obligated to lead off conversations by defensively telling candidates about a company’s highly-realistic hours expectations and competitive salaries before describing the interesting technical challenges that should be the focus of the conversation.

RECONSIDER hopefully has shined a light on the fact that there may be thousands of startups like Basecamp that never get huge (perhaps never sought to get huge), yet still created great products that impacted users’ lives while providing opportunities and financial stability for both employees and founders alike. Maybe these are the real unicorns.

The Worst Developer Resume in the World

As someone who has been recruiting in the software industry for nearly 20 years, I’ve read perhaps tens of thousands of résumés. Good and bad. My experience prompted me to launch a part-time résumé review and writing business (Résumé Raiders if you must know), as I found that résumé services were both grossly overpriced and of poor quality.

There is one résumé type that I get at least once a day, and it’s unreadable. It is immediately recognizable once I open the document and see the first page, and my suspicions are confirmed when my eyes wander to the bottom and see the dreaded “Page 1 of 7”.

I’m not sure as to why, but I belive this style is more common among Java developers – although admittedly my sample size for Java is larger than for other language communities.

The Résumé

It starts with a “summary”…

Image title

So the résumé’sImage title summary is a half page long? The writer regurgitates every single technology they’ve ever used, puts them into bullet points, and has the audacity to call it a summary? This creates what we call a signal-to-noise problem, where the sheer volume of content makes it impossible for a reader to decipher what is important information and what is not.

I preach to all my résumé clients that a summary is the most important part. Why? Résumés are often initially reviewed by recruiters, many of whom are inexperienced and not the best at identifying talent. The summary is an opportunity to tell the reader exactly who you are without having to let the reader interpret your experience.

You want to hire a Python developer with at least five years of experience? If a summary starts with “Python Developer with five years of experience…”, that doesn’t give even the most incompetent recruiter the chance of missing the qualification. Keeping the summary clear and concise is the key.

So what’s next?

Image title

Thanks…but didn’t we just do this??? We’ve now read the first page of the résumé, and the applicant has mentioned every technical skill at least twice. I know what you’re thinking. This is an attempt to get the attention of those ATS’s (applicant tracking system) we keep hearing about. When it is assumed that the reader is not human, some may choose to repeat keywords in an SEO-like attempt to game the system. Does it work? Probably not, but I don’t think that is the reason behind this.

But let’s keep reading…

Image title

After starting off with a summary which was really a set of bulleted lists containing buzzwords, followed by a skills section which was just a categorized list of the same buzzwords, we come to the experience section which is the same list of buzzwords accompanied by a short description of what those buzzwords do.

The Problems

There are a couple problems here.

The first is that the reader is looking to quickly qualify or disqualify an applicant. When the reader discovers that the résumé is seven pages that seems to mostly be lists of buzzwords, that doesn’t provide much incentive to read it. The size is intimidating to a reader, which gives a negative instinctual reaction. Imagine a friend is relocating and asks if you can help with the move, and on arrival you see a garage full of barbells and bags of sand.

Even if it’s part of the recruiter’s job to review résumés and make a yes/no decision, this style résumé is a lazy excuse to just say “no”.

The biggest problem, for both the applicants and the industry at large, is that these résumés sometimes belong to good developers. I’m a strong résumé writer but a weak coder, and there are likely thousands of people who are strong coders that have no idea about résumés.

If your résumé bears any resemblance to what I’ve described above, do yourself a favor and fix it ASAP.

Teach Something You Haven’t Learned Yet

Last week I started training a new employee. I’ve been working solo for the past few years and hadn’t trained anyone recently, so having to thoroughly explain the fundamentals of my industry has helped reintroduce me to some concepts that I hadn’t thought about lately.

The training process got me thinking about the best speakers I’ve had in 15 years managing the Philadelphia Java Users Group, and how well some presenters were able to explain concepts that were entirely new to audiences. Even as someone who doesn’t write code at a high level, I left some presentations with a firm grasp of the concepts because of the speaker’s performance.

There were a handful of instances over the years where speakers volunteered to present a topic unfamiliar to them, adding that the task of creating a slide deck and preparing to answer audience questions was a good excuse for learning something new. These were situations where a speaker decided to learn a technology just so they could immediately teach it to others.

Image titleWhen I give advice on public forums like Reddit’s /r/cscareerquestions, in blog posts, or in private conversations, I typically encourage people to learn new technologies by building something they can then showcase to demonstrate proficiency to potential employers. I still feel this is sound advice, particularly for job seekers who may need a bit of extra material to get their credentials to the level of their peers.

I’ve never suggested that someone learn a technology with the end goal of then teaching it to someone else. Those who learn by building have a safety net in that they can “release” their demo when it’s ready. Studying a technology in order to teach it in a group setting usually provides a strict deadline, and also gives an added incentive with the desire to appear knowledgeable and professional during the presentation and Q&A that typically follows.

Next time you are looking to learn a new skill, consider lining yourself up to present to a local user group or even offer a company lunch and learn event. You may find the additional pressure may be the extra incentive you need to dive in.

The “Big 4”, GitHub, Bootcamps, and Rants – Conversations Overheard From the Kids’ Table

I’ve been on Reddit for the past few years, mostly giving advice in a subreddit (or “sub”) called CS Career Questions. The participants run the gamut of technologists, and on any given day you can see questions from high school sophomores asking which math class would better prepare them for a programming career to programmers in their fifties seeking input on how to keep skills fresh.

After participating in /r/cscareerquestions for about a year and doing a couple popular AMAs, I was asked to be a moderator. Mods have the enviable job of keeping content on topic, deleting offensive comments, and banning users (not to mention bots) who don’t play nice. As a mod, I’m now obligated to pay closer attention to the activity in the sub.table

I thought I’d share some observations on what I’ve noticed over the years, which may shed light on the thoughts of at least some in the next generation of engineers.

The Big 4, the Second Tier, and The Untouchables – When I entered tech in the late 90’s, the Big 5 was shorthand for the accounting firms (Price Waterhouse, KPMG, etc.) that had branched into tech consulting. Today the term Big 4 is used to signify the companies deemed to be the most select in the industry, and consists of some mix of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple. Every college student seems to aspire to work for one of these.

Then there is a second tier of companies that are considered a half step down. Names in this tier tend to be newer companies like Palantir, Twitter, Netflix, SpaceX, LinkedIn, and perhaps one or two dozen other companies that most in technology will recognize.

If you listen to the conversations happening, these groups are the only acceptable employers to target. The second tier, which most in the industry would consider “elite” employers, are sometimes considered a fallback. Highly-selective firms have become safety schools, and many of these students don’t realize that the chances of being hired by even the second tier is not realistic for most of the population.

Industry veterans realize that most won’t end up in these 30 or so companies, but instead will work for companies their parents and peers won’t recognize. There is nothing wrong with aspirations, but it’s a problem when a high percentage of graduates feel they’ve failed.

Language/Platform Fascination – Because the group knows I recruit engineers for startups, I get many private messages asking me “Should I learn Node.js or Android?” or “Which pays more, Python or Ruby?“. I’m generally reluctant to try and answer these questions without some additional context. New engineers may not realize that they probably won’t be using the same tools or languages in five or ten years and how quickly supply and demand can change.

Self-learning, GitHub, and MOOCs – Many of the questions in the sub come from users who have a non-CS degree (or no degree) and are looking for a way into the industry. It reminds me of the push in the early 2000s for those without college degrees to get certifications in technology careers such as network administration or help desk. Today, programming is considered approachable.

The topic of self-learning comes from both those in the industry and those seeking entry. The value of personal projects is a constant conversation, although it’s hard to distinguish whether the newer engineers understand that the value of these projects should diminish as experience is gained. Bootcamps and MOOCs are relatively new concepts as methods to mint new engineers, and both seem to be considered as reasonable economic alternatives to a CS degree.

Recruiters, Resumes, and Networking – Based on the number of questions about recruiter interactions, resumes, etiquette, and professional networking, it seems universities might want to consider adding a course on these topics to the curriculum. Careers in technology have unique characteristics that are completely foreign to those outside the industry, and teaching some of these concepts before graduation would be helpful to students who clearly receive conflicting information from peers and family. Career advice for teachers and policemen isn’t applicable to technologists.

Expectations and Rants – When we have college graduates and rather inexperienced professionals being courted by multiple employers, it has the potential to create a class with unrealistically high expectations as to how they should be treated. If a recruiter from a Big 4 doesn’t reply to a job application or an email in a day or two, it isn’t unusual to see a rant. It’s a mix of legitimate complaints about industry hiring practices and concerns that they “heard during an interview that one engineer worked past 6PM” the night before.

How Engineers Get Found on LinkedIn (and how to hide)

There are two types of software engineers on LinkedIn: those aggravated by the large volume and poor content of incoming recruiter email, and those who wonder where all those recruiters are that are offering jobs to friends and co-workers. This post was originally intended solely for the latter group, which is either the minority or just less vocal. But being that I try to write for the benefit of everyone, if you are looking to reduce the amount of recruiter mail attributable to LinkedIn just do the opposite of the tips given here.


Based on the vast number of recruiters who regularly use LinkedIn, it should be simple to get on their radar. It is in fact easy and only takes a few minutes, and some of the concepts are probably obvious while others are a bit more obscure.

There are only a handful of items to adjust.

Completed profile – Incomplete profiles are apparently ranked lower by LinkedIn’s search algorithms and filters. There may be hundreds of profiles that match a recruiter’s specific search criteria, but the recruiter won’t see profiles that have incomplete sections.

While editing profiles, users see a profile strength meter on the right of the screen. If you are not at All-Star level, add additional information (photo, location, past jobs, education, skills, etc.) and follow LinkedIn’s prompts to reach completion.

Headline – The professional headline is the blurb below the name, which makes up most of what recruiters see in a search result. A relevant headline may be the difference between a profile view and a pass. Referencing a language or other primary current skill might catch a recruiter’s eye, and a short objective statement for active job seekers (Python developer seeking new opportunities in…) should get results.

Summary – Although users have the ability to move sections up or down the page, most list a summary at the top. If we think of the LinkedIn profile as a résumé, consider what I’ve written in the past about the importance of the summary appearing first (spoiler: because recruiters are dumb). The summary is an opportunity to freely describe yourself, and when used properly this section should be all a recruiter needs to read before attempting contact. Quantified skills experience (5 years with Python and Django) makes it easy for a recruiter to qualify you.

Keywords/SEO – What search terms do recruiters use to find potentially qualified candidates? Recruiters know that searches for popular terms (Java) or technologies that share a name with common words/letters (Go, C) will create false positives and yield questionable results. In these cases recruiters will use the advanced search capabilities of LinkedIn, where search terms may include a language as well as a framework or other complimentary tool to narrow the results.

Consider listing the most relevant technology terms in more than one of the following sections

  • headline Software Developer with extensive Python experience
  • summary Software professional with five years of experience using Python and Django…
  • experience Used Python and Django to build web-based…
  • skills

Connections – The number of connections is the key difference to being discovered for many. Profiles with fewer connections will rank lower in results, as the degree (1st, 2nd, etc.) of contact matters. Invest some time connecting with former colleagues or classmates, and particularly those with many connections.

Inviting tone/instructions – Some summary or additional info sections lay out instructions for recruiters on what types of contact they accept. This should prevent at least some recruiters from sending non-targeted messages. For users that are most interested in being contacted, listing some preferences (location, type of work, industry, stack) and deal breakers (remote only, contract only, no banks) helps guide the recruiter.

Contact information – There are different types of LinkedIn accounts, and a recruiter’s ability to make contact can vary based on subscription levels. If you ever wondered why a recruiter sent you a connection invite (which seems forward) instead of a simple message (which may be welcomed), the recruiter may have reached a limit based on their account.

If users aren’t connected, email addresses are typically not available. Some users will include an email address on their profile to make themselves easy to reach, while others have admitted that leaving even a small barrier in place (such as a Google search, a visit to a personal website, a GitHub hack) helps keep the laziest recruiters away.

How I Read a Technical Resume

I have spent many hours discussing and writing about how résumés are written, but I’ve never shared much regarding the way résumés are read. I’ve reviewed thousands of résumés, and my process has changed with the times. The description here describes how I read a résumé upon arrival in my inbox, with the only decision being whether I will schedule an initial conversation (with me).

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a piece on résumés as a hiring tool. I hope to provide insight regarding details that trigger responses in an agency recruiter’s mind. I try to err on the side of “let’s talk” and not “no thanks”.

Keep in mind that (as an agency recruiter) my goal is to first determine whether my client would interview, and to potentially save everyone’s time (client, candidate, me). I’m looking for some number of positives where I’m convinced that we should speak, or a combination of negative flags that make it apparent that an interview (much less a hire) is unlikely. Technology has provided candidates the ability to shotgun résumés even when they are grossly unqualified/overqualified or would almost certainly not accept the job if offered.

The top of most résumés I see:

reztop copy

Location The only data point I retain on the first pass is location. Remember that I have to consider whether my client’s offer would even be entertained, which location can influence. Even if a candidate is not local, I continue reading.

A non-local location becomes a possible flag if the candidate seems rooted in their home city. If Jane’s résumé shows that she has worked in San Francisco for 15 years, the likelihood of a move to my client’s city should be lower. Assuming Jane later appears qualified, I would want to inquire about her thoughts on relocation before potentially getting too far along. Maybe she has a move planned already.

Email/Domain For certain positions I will visit a candidate’s domain to see if there are any items (work samples, technical blog posts) that might reveal something worth highlighting to my client.

GitHub I don’t read code, and I don’t click GitHub links on the first pass. Generally I won’t bother clicking it at all unless the experience section is lacking, in which case I check for personal projects or activity that might help get the candidate in the door.

LinkedIn Again, I don’t click it on the first pass. If I have difficulty understanding any of the résumé material or career history I may visit their LinkedIn for possible clarification.

What follows that top section varies, but I hope for a profile/summary:

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Summary/Profile A well-written summary or profile statement is enough to prompt my decision to initiate dialogue without reading much further. I encourage my candidates and résumé customers to include one. Even if the profile isn’t strong enough to get an immediate “let’s talk” response, it should help steer the reader to which content is relevant.

One can sometimes predict a candidate’s level of confidence/overconfidence or even a blatant lack of industry knowledge from a summary. Entry-level candidates using terms like expert or master to describe themselves are a slight flag.

There is a trend for candidates to create summaries consisting of several bullets (5-15) of information. A summary is intended to be shorter by definition, and these summaries indicate someone who may not understand what is relevant.

Experience is usually next (education for entry-level):

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Experience I’m obviously looking for accomplishments and the candidate’s ability to put them into clear and concise terms. Were projects completed? For more experienced candidates, I’m looking for consistency with respect to responsibility and role. An abundance of internal acronyms and company-specific jargon without context is a flag, indicating the candidate may be insulated. Is it clear what the candidate has done?

I’m also observing how the candidate weighs details of their own work history. Candidates tend to lead with and highlight the experience they feel is most important and valuable, which provides insight as to their objective. Those looking to distance themselves from code may list leadership and management responsibilities (project management, mentoring, training, hiring, etc.) before more hands-on duties (architecture, development, etc.), whereas someone disinterested in management will likely emphasize and quantitatively detail a challenging technical problem and the solution.

Dates I look at dates to see if there is a pattern of large employment gaps, but I won’t discount a candidate based on gaps alone. I pay attention to long tenures at organizations and whether someone was able to accomplish several things over years.

Employer Names These are particularly useful when I am familiar with a company’s technically rigorous interview process, as a candidate’s hire by such a firm should at least indicate interview ability (though admittedly not job performance). If I have knowledge regarding how well/poorly a company compensates their employees relative to my client, employer name reveals a high price tag or perhaps an ability to give a significant increase.

Locations As referenced earlier, I notice non-local cities (if listed) and assess the probability that someone would relocate if necessary. When a résumé lists different geographic regions for every job, it can be indicate a candidate willing to go anywhere for an interesting job or someone that chases the highest bidder. If someone is likely to be interviewing nationwide, the odds of any individual joining my client fade.

A skills section often follows:

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Skills Obviously I scan to see if the list remotely resembles the job description, particularly if the client has any strict must haves. Hopefully by now I’ve determined what the candidate has done by reading the experience and not buzzword searching. I gauge whether the overall skill set resembles the typical preferred profile of my client based on past hires. Listing a clearly unrealistic number of languages or skills is a flag, with the judgment of “realistic” based upon overall experience while allowing for a degree of self-study.

Last (first for entry-level) is usually education:

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Once I’ve come this far the decision is made and the information here is unlikely to make me reconsider. I’ll glance to see if it’s a school I recognize as having a good or bad reputation, whether overall or for the program completed. I check if the graduation year matches with the earliest listed experience experience, as that may expose internships or a past career change. I don’t pay much attention to GPA for experienced candidates, and certifications tend to be ignored with few exceptions.

There may be other details on the résumé that don’t fall into these categories.

Personal Projects/Meetups/Hobbies Some candidates will dedicate a section to these or list them under experience. These don’t matter much for those with interesting professional experience, but can help push a questionable candidate into the let’s talk group.

References I’d never encourage a candidate to list the names of references on a résumé, as I think it’s disrespectful to the reference. Unless the reader recognizes a name, the information is useless at this point and unnecessary. References will be requested when necessary.