App Development

Pro Tips for Writing a Great Resume

Woman holding a pen in her right hand and a legal document in her left hand

As one of the Lead Software Engineers at WillowTree, I read resumes every day. It’s hard to gauge a candidate’s ability through a resume alone, but that’s what I have to do. And it’s something that’s made even more difficult when the vast majority of resumes are so mediocre. That said, I thought I’d provide some insight into what I look for when reading a CV, and what I think can help you stand out from the crowd.

At the end of the day, there are really only two pro tips you need to keep in mind:

Pro Tip One Your resume alone is not going to get you a job offer, it’s meant to get you an interview. As a result, you do not have to detail every project you’ve worked on and every job you’ve had. Showcase your best work so that we’ll want to bring you in to learn more about who you are and your abilities.

Pro Tip Two Remember, you are in competition with every other person that is applying for the same job. All companies only have a set number of people they’re going to hire, and at every stage you need to stand out as a better fit than everyone else.

If you keep these two rules in mind, you’ll usually end up writing a solid resume. It’s important to remember, however, that what companies like to see in resumes can vary greatly. That said, these are a few things we like to see in candidates’ resumes, as well as a few things we don’t.

Things We Like

One Page - Please hear me when I say your resume should never require a staple. I don’t care what you’ve heard from recruiters. One page only. Why? Because that should be enough space for you to highlight your most interesting projects and outside interests. Trim out the fluff because, honestly, we won’t look at the second page.

Scannable - Use bullet points over prose and make good use of whitespace to separate sections. This makes it easier for us to pull out the key information about your expertise and experience. Even when we take the time to read a resume (instead of scanning it), it’s easy to miss key points when things are written in paragraphs, especially unformatted paragraphs.

Highlight Your Best Work - We want to know what you’ve done. Every point should show us what you did, how you did it, and what was accomplished. We often see points that focus on a candidate’s company or an end product, but not that candidate’s individual role.

Here are some examples of what I mean, and what you should not do.

  • Worked at a company that performs automated-equipment checking on device synergies.
  • Worked on a team of 5 implementing FooFuzzles, an app that makes Foos fuzzle.
  • Project manager for a team of 8 that made the BollyWalk app for iOS and Android.

Notice in the first example there’s no information about what the candidate actually did, only about their company. In the next 2 examples, the candidate overemphasized the team they worked on as opposed to their individual contributions. These can be fine as initial bullet points, but only if you expand on what it was you specifically did.

Here are some examples of what you should do.

  • Optimized automated-equipment checking using python and MySQL code, increasing synergy detection speeds from 35 / second to 80 / second.
  • Implemented the fuzzling algorithm in Swift for the FooFuzzles app, which allowed 500 foos to fuzzle simultaneously.
  • Managed a team of 8 working on the BollyWalk app, resulting in the successful delivery of all high-priority features within our 4-month schedule.

Notice things were done differently in these bullet points. First, the candidate focused on their individual accomplishments on a team. Second, they added numerical values to their bullet points to paint a better picture for us of what it was they accomplished.

Include Side Projects - We like to see that you’re doing stuff outside of your courses and your work. If you don’t have any, you probably want to get started on that. We hire people that are passionate about their work, but we also want to know what you are doing beyond what’s required. The geekier the better.

Include A Link To Your GitHub, BitBucket, Website, or Portfolio - And that should be the only link on your resume.

Things We Do Not Like

Relevant Coursework - Just leave this section out. It is completely wasted space that you could be using to highlight things that make you stand out from your peers. First, course numbers and titles don’t tell us anything about what you actually did in that class. Second, every person applying from your school probably also took that course. That means that even if the section itself meant anything to us (which it doesn’t) there’s still nothing there that helps you stand out from your classmates.

Objective Statements - I don’t know why anyone still recommends objective statements, especially when most objective statements boil down to, “I want to get a job.” So unless you have something very interesting to say in your objective statement about the goals you hope to accomplish working at company __________, just leave it off. No one will miss it. I promise.

Long Links in Printed Resumes - Even if you’re delivering your resume digitally to a company, assume it will be printed out by someone at some point (especially if you’re a new grad). As we said above, you should include a link to a relevant site where we can go for information (e.g. a code-hosting site or your personal website). That said, don’t include a link for every single project you worked on, they will be ignored. We won’t type them in, and we likely won’t click past the first during the resume scan.

Information Irrelevant to the Job - Leave off stuff that’s just not relevant to the position you’re applying for. Please. If you’re applying to be a software engineer, make sure your resume has lots of examples of you designing and implementing software, and solving hard problems. If you’re applying to be a project manager, make sure that your resume has lots of examples of you managing clients and technical teams. If you’re applying to be a UX designer, make sure to include an online portfolio site with examples of your best work.

If you want to show you’re a well-rounded person, great! But make sure to stay focused. One bullet point of work in other fields is enough to get that point across to us. Including multiple bullets about your project management credentials on every school project doesn’t help us determine if you’d be a good fit as a software engineer.

Things We REALLY Don’t Care About

  • We really don’t care where you went to high school.
  • We really don’t care what your SAT scores were.
  • We really don’t care what your college GPA was.
  • We really don’t care what your high school GPA was

Remember, in most cases when it comes to resume writing, less is ALWAYS more.

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