June 18, 2019 · resume

How to write a great resume: Content

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Forget everything you know about the “traditional” resume. Technical resumes have a very specific set of content recruiters generally look for. These include your name and contact information (of course!), work experience, personal projects, education, skills, and any other technically relevant things that make you stand out (think: technical volunteer work, speaking at meetups, organizing tech events).

There are a few sections that shouldn't be included, as they take away valuable space on your resume without providing much value. The biggest of these is the objective section. These tend to come across as very generic, obvious, and (ironically) subjective. Yes, of course you’re looking for a challenging new role in . Yes, I’m sure you’re a very hardworking, responsible team player. Skip this and show your passion and skills and concrete ways.

In the rest of this post, I'll cover the do's and don't of each section in depth. I'll also call out differences between student, new in industry, and industry resumes.

Name


Do:
Your name should be clearly shown at the top of your resume. Generally, first and last name is enough (as an example, I don’t include my middle name since it can get quite long). If your preferred name isn’t your legal name, it’s generally fine to use your preferred name instead. This is how recruiters and interviewers will address you and you want to feel comfortable and confident!

Your legal name will eventually come into play during any background checks and official offer letters, but that’s not something you should worry about at this stage. Focus on what will make you feel most comfortable for this initial interaction.

Contact info


Do:
Your contact info should be placed near your name. Remember to include a phone number and (professional!) email address. I’ve come across so many resumes for outstanding candidates, only to not find any contact information!

This area is also a great place to include links to your personal website, portfolio, GitHub, etc. I’d recommend only providing 2-3 links so it’s not overwhelming for someone reading your resume. If you have a lot of links you want to highlight, you can list them on a personal website (or GitHub ReadMe) and include the single link to that collection on your resume.

Don’t:
Don’t supply your work email address on your resume. It comes off as out of place and unprofessional. There’s also no need to supply your full address. If you’re concerned about applying for positions outside your current area, you can choose to provide a city and state (or city and country for those outside the US), but by default, it’s recommended to leave that information out. Potential employers will assume that you live in the same city as your current role, unless stated otherwise.

Don’t include a picture of yourself if sending your resume to companies in the US. This has the potential to skirt the line for discrimination based on gender, age, nationality, etc and companies will usually discard these resumes to reduce this risk.

Don’t include QR codes, super long URLs, or things of that nature. Recruiters won’t have time to navigate to these resources and they’ll end up cluttering your resume and taking up precious real estate.

Work experience


Do:
The number of items in this section will heavily depend on how long you’ve been in the workforce. This is where things get a little more subjective (and I encourage you to play around with what feels right for you!), but I recommend starting with 2-4 current and/or previous roles. These don’t necessarily need to be your most recent roles. Remember, you’re trying to showcase the best of the best!

Aside: What if I’m new to the industry and don’t have work experience yet?
My suggestion would be include personal projects that you’re proud of to demonstrate your skills until you’re able to replace them with work experience bullets. If those are also a bit sparse but you have work experience in areas outside of tech, lean on those! These non-technical roles are still extremely valuable and can demonstrate a variety of “soft skills” (I hate that phrase, but you know what I mean) such as leadership, team work, working under pressure / a deadline, managing costs and deliverables, etc. These non-technical roles still benefit from the format described below, and can slowly be replaced with technical work experience as you get it!

For each of your work experience roles, I recommend 2-4 bullet points each. These bullet points should be short (ideally no more than one line) and should use active language that quantifies the work you did. For example, instead of writing “I was responsible for X, Y, and Z”, you should follow this easy formula for writing these bullet points: “ X, using , resulting in ”. A great example of a bullet point using the formula is: “Refactored product list component for e-commerce app using React and GraphQL, increasing performance by 10%”. These numbers don’t have to be official and precise. They can be your best measurement that you take on your own after completing some feature work.

If you find yourself struggling to keep a bullet to 1 or 2 lines, try cutting out articles such as “the” and “a” and keeping your word choice simple. For example, “I developed a web application that uses React and GraphQL to fetch user data and display it via a lazy loaded component to speed up the rendering” can be rewritten as “Developed React app using GraphQL and lazy loaded components to improve performance”.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you might choose to have multiple versions of your resume, each with different items for work experience and personal projects depending on what kind of position you’re applying to. For example, if I were applying to a backend position and a frontend position, my resumes for those two applications should look fairly different.

The key takeaway for this section is that you should explain what you specifically did (as opposed to what your entire team is responsible for) and the impact your work had.

Don’t:
Don’t write paragraphs (or even complete sentences in your bullets)! Recruiters and interviewers reviewing your resume will generally skim to try to find the most important information and usually read your resume for less than 30 seconds before making a decision on whether or not to interview you. Large chunks of text are too heavy on the eyes and don’t provide any direction for what’s most important to read. Help readers get right to the meat (or tofu!) if your resume by cutting out all the fluff.

Personal projects

This is a section that’s slightly contested. I’m of the belief that you don’t need to code outside of work to be a great developer. If you have tons of work experience and don’t have personal projects (or don’t have ones you feel passionate about sharing), exclude this section! If you have personal projects that you’re passionate about, don’t have a lot of industry experience, and/or are a student, this is a great section to show off your skills! This section should be done pretty much identically to the work experience section.

Do:
You can (and should!) include projects that aren't necessarily "finished" or "official". Your projects don't need to be published on an app store or have hundreds of users to make an appearance on your resume. As long as the project is demonstrating the skills you want to highlight and you feel comfortable talking about it in an interview or informational, include it!

Don’t:
You don’t need to list every project you’ve ever done - that’s what your GitHub is for! If you choose to include this section in your resume, choose 2-3 projects you want to showcase (these can also vary depending on what position you’re applying to) and include a link to your GitHub where interviewers can see more projects if they want to dig deeper.

Education


Do:
If you’re still in school (or boot camp or whatever education you’re pursuing) or have recently graduated, this section should be at the top. Otherwise, it can be towards the bottom, underneath work experience and personal projects (and leadership, community, and other more technical sections if you have them).

If you’re in school, put your expected graduation date, even if it’s just your best guess! Recruiters need to know off the bat when you graduate to determine what internship opportunities are for you. Also include your GPA if it’s exceptionally high (generally 3.6 or above). If a GPA isn’t included, recruiters will assume you have at least a 3.0 (since that’s what most internships and early in career roles require).

If you’re not in school but have less than 1-2 years of experience, I’d recommend leaving your GPA on your resume if it’s high since you’re generally still considered for “new grad” roles for your first few years out of school.

If you have more than 2 years of experience, recruiters shouldn’t care about your GPA, so leave it off!

If you’ve taken classes outside of the normal curriculum for your degree as electives, I would recommend putting a short list of those in your resume if you don’t yet have work experience in those areas. For example, if you’re studying for a BS in Computer Science, you could put down having taken a databases class, but shouldn't put down taking an advanced algorithms class. Similarly, if you’re studying electrical engineering but are looking for roles as a developer, including programming classes you’ve taken will make you stand out. The same goes for any courses you’ve taken outside of school, such as boot camps, Udemy courses, PluralSight, etc.

Don’t:
Don’t list every class you’ve taken to get your degree. If you have a BS in Computer Science, everyone will assume you’ve taken a data structures class.

Skills


Do:
The skills section should be a very brief list of skills and technologies you’re familiar with. This can be a flat list or can be separated into a few categories. If you choose to use categories, my recommendation is to use “experienced”, “working knowledge”, and “previous exposure”. Remember, everything on your resume is fair game during interviews, so don’t put down anything you wouldn’t want to get asked about and definitely don’t claim to be an expert in a particular language or tool (even if you’re Brendan Eich talking about JS!) - there will always be something you don’t know and coming across as humble rather than arrogant is a better look.

My personal rule of thumb is that I should be able to see everything listed in your skills section somewhere in your experience sections, whether work, personal projects, or other technical commitments. The skills section should merely be a reference list to refresh my memory about what areas your skills are in.

Don’t:
Don’t use star ratings or “level bar” type of rating systems for your skill levels. Those are extremely subjective and don’t provide any meaningful information about how skilled you actually are in those areas. Instead, condense your skills section as much as possible and use your real estate to demonstrate projects where you’ve used those skills.

Other sections

Other sections popular in tech resumes are leadership, volunteering, community, and speaking. All these sections should follow the same format as the work experience section - short bullet points that tell how something was done and its impact.

Conclusion

Remember, your resume is a highlight of your best skills and what will start a conversation between you and a potential employer. You don’t need to include your entire career in your resume - only show off the best of the best!

In the next part of this series, we’ll explore how to best format your resume.