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How to write a great tech resume

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You have probably spent hours, days, maybe even weeks poring over and perfecting your resume. But the reality is, on average, recruiters only spend 6 seconds looking at it. Sounds harsh, right? Remember that recruiters receive hundreds of resumes a week, and reviewing resumes is just a sliver of our primary responsibility: hiring the right person.

The point of this blog is to help you refine and edit the content of your technical resume. Your resume is more than a comprehensive list of your work history. It represents you on a piece of paper. Are you a template? If not, then your resume shouldn’t be either. A great resume tells a compelling story of where you’ve been and ultimately why you’re a good fit for the role. Think of it as a marketing document that sells you as the perfect person for the job.

There is no single best way to write a tech resume, but there are definitely qualities that distinguish a great resume from those that do not receive a follow-up call. In order to be succinct, you cannot (and should not) include every experience that made you the person you are today. Your resume, like mobile apps or any product, really, serves a purpose and should be designed with your end users in mind. It’s important to step back and understand how you will be perceived by others who don’t know anything about you. What information, or lack thereof, will be confusing or need context? Does every data point serve a purpose or is it added fluff? Is it intuitive, visually pleasing, and organized in a way that’s easy to consume? Just like downloading an app for the first time, there are features that you expect to see, features that you unfortunately don’t, and then features that delightfully surprise you! I have broken the technical resume down in a Kano Model-esque way that will hopefully provide help you create a resume that will satisfy recruiters.

Must-Have’s: “I expect this.”

These are basic expectations for a resume. Make sure to include the following:

  • Name and contact information. Otherwise, how will we contact you?
  • Recent work history including the company, your role, and tenure.
  • Educational history. Education goes far beyond the classroom. You don’t necessarily have to hold a 4-year CS degree, but I want to be able to contextualize how you entered into the field. Are you self-taught? Did you complete Udacity training, a dev bootcamp, etc.?
  • When curating your bullet points, focus on the “big,” and save the “little” for the interview. Detail accomplishments (i.e. ROI) such as products and technologies that you helped to develop, major clients with whom you interacted, and any significant contributions, rather than a list of duties.
  • Ensure that everything you list adds color to your candidacy or at least helps us to connect the dots of your story.
  • Strong communication skills. Engineers who can communicate their ideas clearly are going to be more effective than those who can only communicate with the compiler. This is invaluable for the collaborative nature of many companies, just as much as documenting code and technical designs. During the hiring process, we often ask ourselves, “Would we want to whiteboard solutions with this person?”

Delights: “I like it.”

It doesn’t have to be this amazing resume. Even just an “Ah, that’s nice.”

  • A visually appealing and succinct 1-page resume. I love resumes designed to be skimmed!
  • Interesting and complex problems that you have solved.
  • A varied or deep understanding of various technologies and how they all work together. If you don’t have breadth, do you have depth? If you have proven your ability to master one thing, it often signifies that you have the aptitude to learn other languages and platforms.
  • Extracurriculars that reveal passion for the craft beyond one’s day job:
    • Side projects or contributions to open source (Include a link to your GitHub)
    • Speaking gigs at tech conferences or thought leadership (even well-formulated opinions) via podcasts, blog posts, Reddit, whatever!
    • Mentorship or participation at hackathons
  • Positive client and team interaction
  • Context - If you are not coming from a company like Amazon or Facebook, don’t assume that the world understands the big picture of the product(s) you worked on.
  • Progression as an engineer - I like to see increasing responsibility and more in-depth understanding of technology as you progress through your career.
    • Taking on more complex challenges
    • Mentoring others
    • Spearheading internal initiatives like improved code reviews
    • Being a part of the interview process for new team members
    • Creating a library that adds value

Indifferent: “Meh.

The presence or absence of these features is not necessarily a deal breaker, but they can usually be enhanced, or risk creating a negative impression.

  • Objectives - If you write a generic objective that looks anything like this,“I’m a hard-working individual with 6 years of experience seeking to use my skills at XYZ company,” please just save the space! Instead of an objective, I recommend a summary, particularly for career-changers. This is a great way to contextualize why you are applying and often ensures recruiters will continue to read on.
  • Cover letter - If you take the time to write a cover letter, make sure it is targeted to the company and role and reveals some personality. 90% of hiring managers don’t read cover letters, but they could mean the difference between a yes or a no. I prefer them to be conversationally-written and intriguing enough that I want to talk to this person IRL. However, know your audience! Do your research and tailor your tone to the company.
  • Recommendations on the resume - Don’t get me wrong, these are excellent to have, but these are typically addressed later in the interview process. Having them on a resume carries no weight for me because they are typically all glowing – otherwise why would you put them on your resume? Instead, include them on your LinkedIn profile. Remember, space is limited on a resume!

Dislikes: “Ugh, why?

These represent some of the frustrations I experience when reviewing resumes.

  • Very generic responsibilities. I have seen resumes with the exact same bullets copied & pasted for each job. Let’s be real, every tech company’s product or services are unique and the problems you solve are, too. If you’ve worked on a 30-person team, what were your individual accomplishments and contributions?
  • A laundry list of every technology that you’ve ever heard of. If you list it on your resume, be prepared to talk about it in-depth during the interview. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t list it! Being able to distinguish the technologies you know very well and those that you don’t is a sign of maturity.
  • Things change quickly in the tech world. The technologies you were working with in 1992 may not be relevant today. It’s okay if your company still uses ColdFusion, but make sure that even if you have been working with ColdFusion at the same job for 20+ years, that you are remaining current by learning new technologies through side projects, courses, etc., particularly if you’re applying for a position that uses cutting-edge technologies.
  • Job hopping or unexplained gaps - Unfortunately, recruiters make assumptions, especially in an industry where the unemployment rate is significantly low. Life happens; we are human. If you have unexplained gaps, short stints, or enjoy the contract world, use a cover letter to provide background (e.g. took time to travel, had a baby, etc.)
  • Eye sore of a resume - This includes typos, inconsistent fonts, lack of formatting, and no white space. I’m not one to toss a resume because of a single typo, but recruiters often see errors/typos as warning signs of disorganization, lack of attention to detail, and general sloppiness. If your resume is difficult to digest, what does your code look like?
  • Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, always use a PDF version to ensure the integrity of your resume when parsed into an applicant tracking system or opened in a different program.
  • Very obscure titles - yes, every company has unique job titles (e.g. Digital Prophet or IT Evangelist II), but I’ve learned that titles don’t mean anything. I’m more interested in knowing what you actually do.

Your resume, alone, will not land you the job, but creating a great resume is the first obstacle to overcome. Ultimately, we’re looking to hire smart and creative engineers who enjoy problem solving. Although WillowTree builds primarily mobile and web apps, some of our best engineers joined us from other areas (e.g., game development, nuclear engineering, education, or embedded systems). Mobile is a relatively new field, and I can’t expect that every candidate has substantial experience building iOS apps. I do expect, however, that the person is curious, capable, excited to dive in and learn new things, and can apply craftsmanship and thoughtfulness to whatever they’re building. And the first sign of that commitment to quality is your resume.

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