Between my “Worst Resume of the Week” series being published over the past couple months and my continuing work reviewing and rewriting resumes at Resume Raiders, I’ve been too focused on the negative lately. Let’s change that, if only for a day. I thought I’d take the opposite approach and provide a guideline for what I’d consider the perfect resume.
Let’s jump right in.
Contact info – First and last name, bold and in a bit larger font than the rest of the resume. Address, phone, and email address in a smaller font to save space.
Links – Links to LinkedIn, GitHub/Bitbucket, Stack Overflow, and similar sites are often a nice touch. Even if you don’t have a ton of material on those sites, their presence helps create a three-dimensional person beyond just the resume. A link to a personal website or technical blog is also helpful if the content has some relevance or demonstrates a skill.
Summary – Two or three sentences that encapsulate you as a candidate. If we crossed paths at a conference and you had 15 seconds to explain why I should interview you, what would you say? Spare me the self-assessments about being a hard worker, team player, and having a great attitude. Everybody says those things. Instead, tell me what you do and how long you’ve done it, and areas of specialty or interest.
Let’s say you’re a full-stack web developer with seven years of Python experience primarily working in the healthcare space. Let’s also say that you are applying for my listed full-stack Python developer position at my healthcare startup; you could let the resume reader work his/her way through the resume, put together the clues, and eventually (hopefully) discover, “Hey, this candidate looks like a full-stack Python dev with healthcare experience!” Or you could just tell us that right away and eliminate the very realistic chance that the reader won’t pick that up.
Experience – Include job title, company, and dates. If you’re unemployed, don’t list the dates as ‘2010 – present’ and then play the “Oh, I didn’t update my resume yet with the end date” card. It comes across as deceptive. Update the resume before you send it out.
If it’s likely someone wouldn’t have heard of the company, a single line in small font to describe the employer can be helpful to provide context.
The experience details under each job could include a few sentences in paragraph form about your responsibilities, and then have unique and novel accomplishments listed below that in bullets. Quantifying things is usually helpful. How large was the team you lead? Do you have metrics on the performance improvements, lines of code, other factors?
Include at least the most relevant technolgies you used during the projects or overall job; languages, frameworks, and databases are usually enough here. It’s often redundant to list things like IDE’s or version control tools under experience, since we’ll list them as skills and hiring firms aren’t likely to require n years of experience with Eclipse and Git.
Skills – This section is somewhat for the benefit of an automated scanning software (see ATS) and somewhat for the benefits of human reviewers who may be looking for certain skills required for the role. Separating skills into categories will make it easier for readers to find what they are seeking. Categories may include languages, frameworks, databases, operating systems, and usually some type of catch-all (tools or other). When it comes to communication and soft skills, show me, don’t tell me. “Hard worker” isn’t a skill.
Education/Certification – It should be clear how much education you have and whether or not you completed the program or earned the degree/certification. The name of the school and course of study should also be included. Unless you are a fresh grad, don’t waste space on specific classes towards a degree.
Other – Any other information that might indicate your experience and ability will usually be included at the end. This could include publications, users’ groups and Meetups, conferences, presentations, volunteering, community leadership, or a host of other things. Don’t include lists of references.
That’s it. Any questions?
Thank You notes have been part of the job search tradition for many years, and although the typical delivery format has been updated (email is fine), I tend to find that candidates still primarily view the note as a gesture of gratitude or a formality. I suggest that job seekers instead view the Thank You note as an opportunity to maximize their chances of an offer.
Sending a Thank You note does allow a candidate to check off the “Meets Minimal Social Obligations” box that an employer may wish for in potential employees. We will lead the note with an expression of appreciation, but an effective Thank You note will go farther than just a show of gratitude for an hour of someone’s time.
What other mileage can we get out of the note?
Perhaps the most important potential use of the Thank You note is as a reminder to the interviewer. This is your “Don’t You Forget About Me” moment. An interviewer might meet with a handful of candidates in a day and as many as 20 in a week during active hiring binges, which can make it more challenging to stand out from the pack (particularly if your interview falls somewhere in the middle of those 20).
Once we’ve shown the obligatory gratitude, we want to somewhat tacitly remind them of both who we are and what we want them to remember about our interview. As opposed to writing “In case you forgot, I was the chubby guy in the Uber t-shirt,” we want to refresh the interviewer’s memory by conjuring up a part of the interview that seemed to go particularly well. Good examples could be a project that had specific relevance to the employer, an interesting solution to an interview exercise, or even some shared professionally painful experience broached during the conversation. Think about what was memorable and make a comment about that moment, and hopefully the interviewer will have felt the same way.
Follow Through and Continuation
The Thank You is also a chance to provide a bit more information that might bolster your candidacy or demonstrate that you’ve given more thought to the interview since it ended. Maybe you mentioned a language/tool you’ve used that the interviewer was unfamiliar with. Sending a link with further reading material related to a discussed topic could show thoughtfulness, prove that you are someone who follows through, and can also start a continued dialogue with the interviewer that can serve as a type of bonding.
Lastly, the Thank You is a way to summarize your interest in a more eloquent manner. Interviews often end rather quickly and abruptly, and even the most skilled candidates may not find an opportune time to express their interest clearly and effectively. The close of the Thank You can relay both your level of interest and the reasons.
Instead of just viewing a Thank You note as an obligation, use it as a tool to highlight and revisit the best parts of your interview.
As much as LinkedIn seems to be turning into the worst parts of Facebook, flooded with tired memes that include phrases like “Only geniuses will get this math problem correct” or “Don’t scroll past without saying AMEN!“, having a LinkedIn profile is still generally considered a good idea for technologists. It can store business contacts in one convenient place, help you get found if you are open to new opportunities, come in handy if you are actively seeking work, and even double as a resume in a pinch.
As a technologist, you probably spend much less time on LinkedIn than I do in my recruiting work and for Resume Raiders (which added LinkedIn review services last year). In talking to clients about their LinkedIn profiles, I’ve learned there are a handful of things that aren’t obvious to most users. Here are a few common misconceptions or unknown features:
- A picture is worth 1,000 clicks (but sadly, no Amens) – LinkedIn’s search algorithm includes “Profile Completeness”, so profiles that are more complete should rank higher. If you click on Profile>Edit Profile from the dropdown menu, the Profile Strength meter should be in the upper-right of your screen. A full circle means your profile is complete, and filling out sections and adding a photo will help improve your completeness ranking and visibility.
- Vanity URLs – By default, your LinkedIn profile might look something like http://www.linkedin.com/in/guido-van-rossum-8a35124z. That’s not a big deal for most people, but try putting that monster URL on a resume (which I do recommend to my resume clients) and it takes up a whole line – so now you have to decide whether to delete your PhD or your Nobel Prize to keep it one page. To set a vanity URL, go to Profile>Edit Profile and you should see the current URL under your photo (or where your photo should be). If you hover over the URL, a gear icon will appear to the right of the URL. Click the gear and on the right side of the screen you will see a “Your public profile URL” section, with your current URL and a pen icon. Click the pen and you can edit this URL to make it shorter. Just don’t forget to update any sites where you listed the previous URL (I am not aware of any forwarding for changed URLs). Take my advice, and don’t be like Guido van Rossum (who didn’t take my advice).
- Drag and drop – Sections on your LinkedIn profile can be reordered to highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. For recent grads we usually put Educationsections near the top of resumes, so why should a LinkedIn profile be any different? While in the profile edit mode, hovering over any section will bring up an arrow on the right side which allows you to drag and drop sections.
- Direct Contact – Recruiters who use LinkedIn may not have the most expensive accounts, which (to simplify) may limit how often they can invite people to connect. If you’d like people who see you on LinkedIn to reach out and rather they didn’t send a connection request every time, why not include your email address in the Additional Info section?
- Got something to say? – If you have things you want to write about but aren’t interested in setting up and maintaining a dedicated blog, LinkedIn gives you the option to write posts that can be read by your professional network without having to go through all the hassle a blog can bring. It automatically broadcasts the content, allows you to tag articles to be found by people you aren’t connected to, and maybe your content will get you found. After logging in you should see the option to “Publish a post” on the right side above your feed. The editor is clean (though you’ll probably use Emacs), it allows comments, and you can even access some metrics on views and likes – though sadly, no metric on Amens.
LinkedIn isn’t always the most useful platform, and most tend to agree that it’s getting worse. However, spending a few minutes to optimize is probably a wise investment. And change your password.
This week we have a four page Java developer resume that needs help in a bunch of places. Again, I’ve redacted the content to protect the innocent.
The resume started with a SUMMARY. If you read my resume articles, I greatly appreciate summaries.
- I am a Sr. Java Developer with experience directly managing developers.
- He has extensive experience in the design and development of multi-tier applications using Java, J2EE, $LISTOF15TECHNOLOGIES.
I advise my Resume Raiders clients to avoid the use of first person (“I”), and I further advise any and all humans to never refer to themselves in third person. Using both within adjacent bullets highlights the issue.
As I’ve stated before, we can use implied first person on a resume, where “I am a Sr. Java Developer with…” becomes “Sr. Java Developer with…” and “He has extensive experience in…” becomes “Extensive experience in…“. These types of errors will be forgiven by many screeners and wouldn’t alone be an offense resulting in a deleted resume, but they get the reader to start leaning that way.
The second bullet listing of 15 technologies is another poor choice, particularly when many of these technologies were somewhat specific and rather niche. To say someone has extensive developing apps using Java, Spring, and Hibernate might be easy to believe. When you throw obscure technologies like R or Lisp into the mix (as this person did), it starts to sound like a bit of Buzzword Bingo.
The summary continues…
- Responsible for leading a team of four developers in developing Java based applications.
- Developed web application using $SERVERPRODUCT and $STANDARD compliant $COMPONENT using Java.
- Used $IDE as IDE tool to develop the application and $BUGTOOL for bug and issue tracking
We’ve quickly gone from a proper SUMMARY into a list of specific individual accomplishments more suited for the EXPERIENCE section. The intent of the SUMMARY isn’t to list several details so much as to provide an overview of what is to come.
The first bullet listing leadership is appropriate for a summary, but it should be generalized. We could take the top three bullets and write a pretty good summary: “Senior Java Developer experienced in both building web applications and leading teams of up to four developers.”
You certainly don’t need to reference an IDE in a summary, and it’s a bit redundant to mention that you used an IDE as an IDE or a bug tracking tool as a bug tracking to0l. That’s what the tools do – we know that already.
Next comes a list of 48 technologies divided into three columns of 16, bulleted and in alphabetical order. There are several problems with this.
For one, the bulleting and use of three columns makes it take up about a half page where five lines would suffice if listed using commas. Let’s assume we’re not grading our resume on space efficiency. What else is wrong?
Listing things alphabetically tells the reader absolutely nothing about your skills, because this method places no weight on any individual skill. You could be the world’s most prominent expert on XML, but if you list things alphabetically the reader might never even see that term. Writers should list technologies based on expertise and knowledge from most to least, where the first technologies listed would be considered primary skills and the last ones might be things you’ve been exposed to infrequently.
The sad part is that the rest of this resume was actually pretty good. The experience section had some solid accomplishments and a somewhat impressive work history. Hopefully the first impression wouldn’t cause a screener to jump to a conclusion and reject a candidate before getting to the good parts.
The lesson for resume screeners is to try and give the benefit of the doubt with the early material so you don’t miss any positive signals hidden in the end. The lesson for resume writers is to remember that screeners are reading top down, so make sure the material at the beginning is effective in keeping our attention.
Anyone who has either been a client of Resume Raiders or has read my articles about resumes knows that I am a firm believer in powerful summary/profile statements. There are many who feel a summary is not necessary, and in some cases that may be true, but I see an increasing number of resumes that either include a somewhat cryptic profile section or exclude a summary altogether (sometimes including an objective instead, which is worse).
This Week’s Resume
The inspiration for this post was a resume that led off with a somewhat long summary that I won’t include to protect the innocent, but here are some highlights:
Quick learner…motivated…team player…self-driven…solutions-focused
After reading the summary, even the most experienced technical professionals would have a hard time guessing
- What this person actually does for a living
- Whether this person is entry-level or senior
- Why this person might be a fit for almost any position imaginable
Although the claims being made are considered positive attributes, they could apply to candidates in virtually any profession with any range of experience. When the introduction doesn’t bring the reader any closer to a decision, we may wonder how patient the reader will be before abandoning the task. In the case of this resume, omitting a summary (and getting right into the experience) may have yielded better results, as at least the reader would not have wasted any amount of time on material that doesn’t help solve the problem.
If you choose to exclude a summary statement, what is the result? It forces the resume screener (let’s assume it’s a human) to go through your document and arrive at their own interpretation of who you are. If the reader’s interpretation does not match the job requirement the resume is trashed. What could possibly go wrong?
The choice to omit a summary is equivalent to blindly trusting an unknown person to read a document and arrive at the same conclusions as the writer intended. From experience, I can tell you that the aforementioned “unknown person” can be almost anybody. At best, it’s a highly technical person with an open mind who understands your experience and is interested in learning more. However, it is almost as likely that the person is a temp six months out of school that doesn’t know the difference between CoffeeScript and COBOL who was tasked with managing the jobs@ email inbox simply because nobody his time is considered the least valuable to the company.
A poorly-written summary can potentially do even more damage than a blank space. Most summaries are only guilty of being a waste of space, with lists of trite phrases, corporate-speak, and self-assessments that mean absolutely nothing to the reader. These don’t necessarily hurt the candidate’s chances of interview, but they require the screener to both read further and interpret correctly. It’s a missed opportunity.
Being that the summary is essentially the tl;dr of a resume, if a summary seems to indicate that the resume belongs to someone lacking the experience sought (to include relevant skills at the appropriate career level), why would anyone bother reading further? Even resumes of candidates who are highly-qualified for a job can lose their reader if they overshoot on the summary (emphasizing inapplicable expertise, overstating management vs hands-on experience, et al).
Include a summary and use the space to clearly lay out what you do and the amount of experience you have doing it. If a stranger can’t easily determine these things after reading your summary, you are better off removing the summary entirely.
It’s not surprising to see the increased use of resume templates by technology professionals, as the industry avoids the need for reinventing the wheel by creating new frameworks and templates. I would imagine that perhaps 50% of the resumes I see in my recruiting work and my resume business were built using a template.
So far I have never used any templates when writing resumes for Resume Raiders, but I understand the temptation. The problem with resume templates should be obvious to anyone who has been forced into using a framework/language/tool that was unfit for the task at hand. The resume template has to somehow work with the material that is to be showcased – otherwise the resulting document will have issues.
Our inaugural Worst Resume of the Week candidate, Template of Doom, is a fine example of a template gone wrong.
This is a relatively common two-column template that I see frequently used by developers and designers with varying levels of success. I’ve deleted the actual content to protect the guilty party, but does anyone see the problem?
The person who selected this resume surely had the option to include some text fields or other blocks in the left column, but didn’t take advantage. In this case, one can only surmise that the template user simply liked the color red. Unfortunately, now a one page resume has turned into a three page resume because most of the page is just a block of red.
A two-column resume can work for some people, but that format is rarely effective with for resumes longer than one page. This user included name, contact info, and links (GitHub, LinkedIn, blog) in the marked white box. The space below that box could have been used for relatively short bits of information, which might include education, certifications, or technical skills.
If you choose to go with two columns, make sure you actually need (and will use) the second column – otherwise it looks ridiculous.
The content has been deleted for obvious reasons, but this resume included the words “I/me/my”over 20 times. The use of first person is not generally recommended, but the repetitive use of first person starts to sound like someone taking full responsibility for tasks that may have been a team effort.
Use the first person, but avoid the pronoun. “I developed a…” becomes “Developed a…“, and so on.
Most templates include default section headings, and it’s assumed almost all users will want to include details for common default sections such as Experience or Skills. The issue is when the default headings are kept from the template but don’t apply to the individual user’s career history.
In these situations the headings may actually highlight an area of weakness instead of a strength. Job seekers without certifications, formalized education, or volunteer experience are better off deleting those sections entirely instead of listing “NONE” or trying to force an entry that may shine a light on a shortcoming. Just because a template includes a section doesn’t mean you should list that section on your resume.
Many templates will also include an objective section, which is now considered a bit passé.
Use templates with caution. Two-column templates are almost exclusively beneficial to single page resumes. Avoid using first person pronouns. Don’t think you need to keep every section recommended by the template.
Being terminated from a job unexpectedly can launch a flurry of emotions that may cause the newly unemployed to act irrationally or erratically as they begin their search for the next job. Within hours a fired individual might experience combinations of shame, anger, rage, regret, and loss. This is natural.
In this situation, a clearly defined plan will be instrumental in transitioning from the emotional responses to taking action for your future. A plan can also prevent many common and easily-avoidable mistakes that can have a negative impact on a job search and even a career.
Below is a checklist for what to do and activities to avoid at this critical juncture.
What to Do
- Breathe — This is first for a reason. Millions and millions of other people have experienced this process and gone on to great things. This not a time to panic.
- Gather — Access to documentation related to your employment may become difficult, so get it early. Employment contracts that typically contain details or restrictions regarding IP rights, NDA’s, and non-compete agreements may be critical to the job search. Information about benefits or perks tied to employment that will now expire should also be found.
- Solidify references — Although employers in the industry seem to be less and less concerned with references, that lax attitude may not apply to the unemployed. Having even one or two people from the employer can mitigate the negative implications of termination. Touch base with former co-workers who are likely to have positive impressions of your work, and just find out if they are willing to provide a reference if and when you ask.
- Define a target — Many job seekers start randomly applying for jobs without first considering the type of work they would ideally like to do, resulting in unattractive job offers which are often accepted due to the added pressures of unemployment. When you go to the grocery store while hungry, you may be more likely to buy things you normally wouldn’t. Having a defined target for the type of job you want acts as a shopping list, and you may be more disciplined in your selection process.
- Update — Once the target job is defined it’s time to update the resume and public profiles with the end goal in mind. Tailor the material towards the type of role you will be seeking, and be sure that employment details match across all profiles (particularly for the most recent job).
- Prepare an explanation — When you are an unemployed job seeker, the reason for your unemployment may be the elephant in the room. It is likely that you will be asked about your departure from the most recent employer, so having a somewhat prepared response (without sounding overprepared) may be preferable to improvisation. Practice the expanation, and the repetition should help remove any emotional connection from the words.
- Reach out — Many people send blasts or personal messages to connections before completing the steps listed above, resulting in out-of-date materials being used to qualify you for jobs that you may not even want or be able to accept. There is a natural tendency to want to start the search process ASAP, but approaching the job search only after full preparation will prevent many potential hiccups. Former colleagues, friends, and recruiters may all be helpful in identifying opportunities and helping determine whether your expectations for the search are realistic.
What NOT to Do
Go on a public rant/burn bridges — Public statements (or even private ones that may become public) about your departure often come back to haunt you later. Cooperation from your previous employer can be important based on the steps listed above, so keeping that relationship intact is necessary.
Blast the news — Although reaching a wide audience is effective to save time, the act of a blast can make job seekers sound desperate. Make communications of your availability private when possible.
Rust — Being that it’s difficult to predict how long the period of unemployment may last, it’s possible that skills may being to atrophy over time. There can be some stigma towards unemployed candidates that haven’t touched technology since their termination. Be mindful of these facts as your job search continues, and using the downtime to investigate new technologies can demonstrate intellectual curiosity and interests.
Having a termination in your job history will be a small blip that can be unrecognizable to others if it is handled professionally. There is no reason a firing should have any lasting impact on employability or marketability if you take the proper steps.