How to Write a Killer Resume
Last updated: Sep 7, 2019
Writing a good resume, much like software development itself, is often more art than science. Most people use the limited space in their resume to simply hit the required bullet points of contact information, education history, work experience, and a generic list of skills they purport to possess. This, however, does nothing to make you stand out from the sea of other potential jobseekers who have crafted shockingly similar resumes to your own, and doesn’t get anyone excited about calling you for an interview.
A resume is your chance to tell a story about yourself, and to demonstrate why you, and you alone, are the perfect fit for the position. A list of programming languages you’ve heard of will never accomplish that goal.
Telling Your Story
From top to bottom, the resume should be a story about your experiences, the strengths and skills you built from those experiences, and how those talents you’ve cultivated will be a perfect fit for the job you’re applying for.
An important part of telling your story is your education history, however it is important to go beyond simply listing the school you attended, the year you graduated, and your degree. Think of how many people graduated from the same college, with the exact same degree. Why was your time there different? How do you stand out? Maybe you maintained a high GPA while also serving in a volunteer organization. Maybe you led an extra-curricular development team. Maybe you won some awards. These things set you apart from your peers and need to be represented in your education history.
When listing your work history, a good hiring manager mostly doesn’t care about what your actual job title was. The important thing to highlight for each position you’ve held is how you added value to the company. So, don’t list your specific job responsibilities. Instead, explain for example how a change you implemented saved the company money. Explain how responsibilities you took on allowed the company to increase their revenue. Show that you being involved in an organization is an improvement to the organization as a whole.
skills and Projects
This is the single most important aspect of any resume, and the one that prospect jobhunters often spend the least amount of time on (or leave off entirely). Don’t just tell me that you have a skill, demonstrate it. For example, instead of simply listing “Java” on your resume, tell me about the cool Java application you wrote that uses an API to interact with your smart home devices to start a pot of coffee brewing when your computer boots up in the morning. Whatever the skill may be, tell me a story about how you obtained this knowledge, and demonstrate to me that you truly know it. Bonus points for linking to a website you’ve built or a Github repository containing the source-code of the project. This simple act of having some additional online resources that a hiring manager can reference to support your story of competency and skills will set you above 90% of the other applicants immediately.
Linking to source code or a website is especially important if you have a nontraditional education history. Changing careers and attempting to break into software development is admirable, but this mostly likely means you have less formal relevant education than other candidate that have four year degrees in computer science or software engineering. I’m not saying that you’re less qualified, or less talented, it just means that you have to go the extra mile to truly prove that you know your stuff. This means you need to spend a fair bit of your free time crafting a web-presence that shows you’re a thoughtful, intelligent, driven, talented developer.
Attention to Detail
Finally, your resume (and whatever source-code repositories and websites you link to) is the only representation of you that a company has in order for them to decide if they want to call you in for an interview. You might be amazing at selling yourself once you get your foot in the door, but until then, your written word and the “product” you’ve put together are all that you have. As such, your resume must be flawless.
If I get a resume that has obvious spelling mistakes, I instantly disqualify that candidate. Why should I entrust you to be detail-oriented with your check-ins to our company’s source code if you aren’t even detail-oriented enough to correct the glaring issues with your resume?
Crafting a resume is hard. In extremely limited space you have to convince someone you’ve not met that you’re worth calling, that you’re worth an interview. You have to make your resume float to the top of the pile by telling a convincing, compelling story about why you’re the only candidate for the job.