As the tech hiring market is getting hotter by the day, I thought it might be helpful to share some guiding principles that I've followed over the years when crafting my resume.
A quick disclaimer first: those principles have served me well so far in my career and have allowed me to work for companies in 3 continents, but it is true that even if I would identify as part of an underrepresented group in tech, I do have (unfortunately) a certain amount of privilege by being a man in tech. As such, your millage will definitely vary a lot depending on your situation. Yet, hopefully some of those principles and tips will prove useful to your very own situation!
Let's first look at some overarching principles about the form.
Keep it short
No matter how interesting your life is, limit yourself to one single page. Even though it might seem like a tough constrain, there are multiple benefits to it.
Most importantly, it'll restrict the information that you can put on your resume, and will force you to carefully choose what to include. To borrow Parkinson's law which states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion", by limiting our resume to only one single page we avoid the trap of filling it with irrelevant information. To quote the French author Antoine de Saint Exupéry, "perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away". As such, aim for perfection, keep it short!
Your resume needs not be exhaustive, it just needs to get you through to an interview!
Keep it consistent
Unless your resume is bad, in which case maybe consistency might not be something you should aim for, try to keep everything in your resume consistent.
Things to pay some particular attention are using similar fonts for similar content, using similar formatting for similar content as well, and having similar spacing between sections. If you use a type of bullet point for a list, keep it across your resume. If you are starting some sentences in your work experience with a verb in the past, do so for all of your work experience. Make sure that across your resume, information follows a pattern. In some sense, your resume needs to follow a theme. Ideally nothing should look too out of place.
Lower the cognitive load of scanning your resume by keeping it consistent!
Keep it easily scannable
By keeping your resume short and consistent, you already facilitate the work of recruiters scanning through your resume.
To go one step further, and make your resume as easily scannable as possible, use font size and weight to create hierarchy in your resume. Using font color (I like to play with shades of grey) also help communicate hierarchy. In some cases, it might make sense to highlight some key information. Not getting too creative with the layout also helps make the content more readable.
Make it as easy as possible for people looking at your resume to find the information they are looking for!
Keep it visually pleasing
It doesn't need to be a piece of art, but your resume needs to be visually pleasing.
The people reviewing your resume are (for the most part) humans just like you. As such, there will be inherent biases towards how a resume looks like. The expected formats can greatly differ depending on countries, but aesthetic is most likely equally important across the board. Visually pleasing doesn't mean needing to craft a complex and stunning design, but making conscious choices in regards to fonts, colors, and layout. If possible, put in more thoughts than just copying a template from the Internet.
Unfortunately, resumes are partially judged by their cover, so try to make it as pleasing as possible!
Now, let's look at the content of the resume.
Being extremely minimalist in terms of personal details might be a smart way to circumvent some unconscious bias. I would recommend to only put your name and a professional email address in your resume. Don't give any more chances for people reviewing your resume than necessary to discriminate on any personal details.
If possible, adding a quick summary can help your profile stand-out and be more memorable. As an example, I have been using some variations of the follow summary:
"Multicultural software engineer passionate about building products that empower people".
Now into the most important section of your resume, if you already have some work experience!
Work experience should ideally be listed in anti-chronological order, with your position and the name of the company clearly stated. You can either add the duration of your stay at the company or the dates of employment. A short paragraph giving some quick context about the company and your overall role can help add some more context.
Main achievements should then come below in bullet points. As long as you are consistent, you can start with a verb in the past tense, or the present preterit, or a noun. Try to limit the number of list items to between 3 and 5. Make sure that each bullet point adds value to your profile, and that there are no superfluous words. If you can add any metrics you have improved, the better! You can also either add a list of skills under each work experience, or have them listed in a separate section of your resume.
Limit yourself to the last 3 to 5 relevant work experiences. If you have had more jobs, you can simply state the position you held, the name of the company, and the dates of employment.
Be strategic when listing your skills. Don't add every single technology you've had the chance to try out. Add skills on which you feel comfortable holding an opinionated discussion.
While staying truthy, if possible, match the list of skills with the skills listed in the job ad you are applying for. Avoid trying to quantify your level of expertise in each skill other than maybe in number of years (so, no fancy progress bars or star ratings).
The more advanced you are in your career, the smaller this section should become. Some essentials are your degrees, where you earned them, and when. Try to use the official naming conventions for them, this is not the place you want to get creative!
If you are early on in your career, feel free to also add the key courses you have attended. In some places, the expectation is to also add your grades, but I would personally avoid that elsewhere.
Quick disclaimer: it is totally fine to not have any side projects. Living your life is way more important than building yet another weather app or URL shortener (ahem ...).
If you do enjoy building (or doing) things on the side, that is an asset that you want to put forward on your resume! Keep it as concise as possible though, with just a title, a quick description and maybe a link, as this will mostly serve as hooks during subsequent interviews and make your profile stand-out more.
I personally have a hard time bragging about my achievements (maybe because I don't feel like I have achieved that much?), but if you have, please do add it in your resume!
This section is often absent from most resumes, yet I believe it provides to most value towards making your profile unique. Having common interests with a potential interviewer can also help create a connection easier.
If you are going to list your interests, try to be specific and avoid vague ones like "reading books", "traveling the world", or "watching movies".
Finally, I also wanted to quickly touch on the subject of cover letters.
If you are planning on sending a generic cover letter, I would simply not bother. If you are applying to a big company, that might not matter much at the end, but when applying to smaller companies, a personal well-crafted cover letter might help you get a foot in the door.
Some guidelines (some quite similar to those for resumes) when writing a cover letter:
- Keep it short and go straight to the point
- Make it relevant to the position and company you are applying for
Ultimately, the goal of a cover letter is to show that you understand and align with the company's mission and values, and that you possess the skills to make you successful in the position you are applying for.
And of course, always proof-read anything you send into the wild!
That's all folks!
I hope you at least found one useful piece of information in this post, and all the best for your job search and interviews!