We Asked Hiring Experts What They Look for in a Resume. Here’s What They Told Us
If you have made several applications for software engineer jobs but haven’t received an invite to interview – despite your experience, qualifications, and skills being a perfect match – it’s almost certain that your resume is letting you down.
In this article, we share resume tips from Weronika Pajdak, Head of Talent at Mighty and Board Member for ‘Girls in Tech New York’, Dayna Wu, Sr. Recruiter who has worked for companies like NVIDIA, Zynga, and Bloomreach, and Dr Geeta Chaudhry, who is a Tech Career Coach and ex-Google Software Engineer.
Read, digest, and put these tips in action, and you should compose a resume that stands out from your competition for the next software engineer job application you make.
How Can You Excite a Hiring Manager with Your Resume?
Among resume stats published by The Motley Fool, one that stands out is that 40% of hiring managers spend less than a minute reviewing a resume. Shocking, we know. To avoid the same fate, it’s critical to excite the hiring manager – make them so excited that they not only want to read your resume, but want to find out more in an interview.
Dayna Wu shares these tips:
- Ensure your resume has clear sections for employment, projects, and technical skills, and has a bulleted list of what you have developed, built, and what tools you used. She says that “built-from-scratch type of work is also very appealing, particularly for startups.”
- Highlight if you built software alone, with a team, and who you worked with (product, QA, marketing, etc.).
- Ensure that you personalize your resume to the employer – highlighting “projects that were similar/aligned with the employer’s industry and which show clear passion for the type of work the company is doing.”
Weronika provides a little more detail on some of the above advice, recommending that you:
- Don’tuse bullet points that are too wordy (or worse, paragraphs) to describe what you do.
- Do make sure your resume is in chronological order, with your most recent role first.
- Do make sure to list your title, the company, and the month/year start and end dates for each role, and that they are easily found on your resume.
- Do focus on making your skills shine through – if you’re listing a project you worked on, also include the language it was written in and what the outcome of that project was.
Formatting your resume
While a shoddily formatted resume will not look good to the eye, you don’t need to spend hours trying to make it look stunning. Providing it is presentable and enables easy reading of the information that you want to highlight, then it will do its job.
Weronika says, “Don’t waste your time making your resume look ‘pretty’. Make it clean instead. I see a lot of applicants getting creative with using different types of visuals on their resumes. While that looks nice, a lot of recruiters use applicant tracking software that helps parse the resume, and that additional content makes it very hard for the software to parse and, sometimes, for the recruiter to open (and for larger companies, might reject you from even getting in the hands of a recruiter). Focus on making your resume easy to read.”
Weronika also advises that some job seekers should ignore the ‘one-page resume rule’. If your experience warrants extra space, then use it. “Having a two-page resume is not taboo,” she says. “At the same time, if you’re still fairly junior, make sure you don’t overembellish and stick to the one-page rule.”
Personalizing Your Resume
No two jobs are exactly alike. No two employers are the same. So why would you send the same resume for two applications? Your standard resume does not resonate with an employer. They want to know that you want to work for them. They want to know that you’ve done some research. And they want to know that your experience dovetails with the role they need filled.
“Do customize your resume for the role you’re applying for,” advises Weronika. “A well-crafted job description will tell you exactly what skills and past experience the company is looking for. The one-resume-fits-all approach is not going to work for you.
“While having to spend more time on making adjustments to your resume and deep diving more into job descriptions will take more time, you’ll for sure increase your chances of getting a call back if you curtail your experience to better match the role you’re applying to.”
Weronika also says that you should customize your cover letters. “Cover letters have a pretty bad rap because of the outdated and, frankly, poor advice that is out there when you Google ‘How to write a cover letter’.
“In reality, that extra message (and I say ‘message’, because it doesn’t need to be an actual cover letter, it can be a message on LinkedIn, or a note in the ‘Additional information’ section of an application) can make you stand out from the pack, but it has to be personal.
“You should put together a few quick sentences that show you’ve: one, done your homework on the company; two, explained why the job is exciting to you because of what you know about the company; three, highlighted a project you’ve worked on that is relevant to what the job description is highlighting in a holistic way; and four, addressed anything that your resume hasn’t (gaps, additional interests, etc.).”
Dayna also recommends that you connect personally. “Send a brief, personalized message to the hiring manager and/or recruiter on LinkedIn and highlight the skills you have that the requisition is looking for. Send a follow-up message 3-5 days later (again, brief, polite, and personalized) that you’re still very interested and would like to be considered. If you don’t get a response, try and track down network referrals (you can also do this simultaneously) and be sure to send a follow-up message when someone responds.
“In your messages, let the people know which requisition, a requisition number (if applicable), and also why you’d like to be considered.
“An example is: ‘I’ve been following your company and I did my PhD thesis on a problem similar to what your company is doing – I’d love to share my work and I also have some code on GitHub.’ Let them know you’ve also applied online and include a copy of your resume.”
Make Your Resume Detailed but Easy to Read
It’s easy to fall into the trap of using jargon and technical language. You should remember that not all resume reviewers will understand the language that you use in your daily life. When discussing resumes with job seekers composing them, Dayna says:
“I talk out loud with them. What does this acronym mean? What is this tool (I’ve never heard of this)? It gives the person a clear example of what a stranger sees when they read their resume. Most people assume or don’t realize that another person isn’t going to understand what this/that is. Recruiters don’t always have the time to look things up, so it’s best to not take a chance that your resume gets overlooked because someone doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”
However, Dayna also says that you should “give me more detail. Instead of ‘I participated in the team that helped to build an e-commerce platform that was implemented into customers all around the world’, say this instead: ‘One of five Sr. engineers that built a world-class e-commerce platform tool using Java and Python on AWS in XX timeframe from the ground up to be deployed on Fortune 500 customers websites such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Gap Inc.’”
Let Your Personal Brand Stand Out
Personalization, producing an easy-to-read resume, using a simple and clear format, and including the detail that matters are keys to making your resume stand out from the crowd.
“I get my clients to think about their personal brands, what they value and what their strengths and aspirations are.”, Dr. Geeta Chaudhry says.
“I have nothing against studying how companies read a resume and teach people how to fit their resumes accordingly. My real work, however, is figuring out what the personal brand of an engineering professional is and demanding that the resume reflects that. For everything you put in your resume, ask yourself if it aligns with your brand and if it reflects something central about your brand. There is integrity and power in that alignment.”
Finally, Dr. Chaudhry says, “I would suggest approaching networking and communication from first principles. Your resume represents the professional that you are. It cannot do it in completeness, but it must do an authentic job of it.”