Writing a resume is one of the hardest skills to master when looking for a new job or career. It can be overwhelming to know what you should or should not include and the ins and outs of what might cost you the job you want. Resumes vary widely depending on experience in your field, the company you are applying for, and the information that makes you, you.
But writing a resume doesn’t have to be scary, especially when you think of it in terms you already know. Whether you’re writing a resume for the first time or “refactoring” one you already have, there are a few ways you can make the process much easier on yourself.
Before you write the first line
When you’re developing software, you don’t usually just start typing and see where things go. You create a plan for what you want your application to do, create a list of features, design your architecture, and only then do you get to coding. Writing a resume is no different.
Start with listing out everything that you could include in your resume so you have it all in one spot. This list should include details about pretty much anything you’ve accomplished thus far. Some key points are education (like high school, college, and boot camps), certifications, jobs you’ve held or projects you’ve completed, and any skills or technology you’re proficient with. This will allow you to keep everything in order and give you a quick guide to look back on when you can’t remember specific dates or skills. This list should include everything. Although mastery of Visual Basic 6.0 may not seem important in the current job market, if you ever apply at Microsoft, it could be an interesting tidbit to add.
Can I use a framework?
After you’ve got everything in one place, start writing your resume! This is often the hardest part. But remember, it’s okay to start with a framework, just like you might when writing code.
Generally, unless you are applying for a graphic design position, using a resume template is completely fine—don’t worry about trying to reinvent the wheel. And like choosing an application framework, don’t overthink this part. Find something that expresses your ideas in a style that is easy to read, looks nice, and most importantly, represents you.
The user story – keep your audience in mind
When developing an application, you do so with your users in mind. Similarly, you should write a resume for a certain audience: recruiters and hiring managers.
The first person to look over your resume will most likely have little to no technical experience. If you start your resume by listing your skills and technical prowess, you will lose their attention quickly. This doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck when trying to cram all that knowledge into short bullet points, however. If you focus on your accomplishments and the story behind your work instead of the terminology, you can jump this hurdle easily and still impress everyone.
For example – your current resume might have something like this: “Created database-driven Content Management System for the website using PHP and MySQL based on frameworks such as CakePHP, Laravel, Codeigniter, WordPress.” Instead, you can write “Created a database-driven Content Management System for the website using PHP and MySQL, which streamlined website access and increased traffic by 15%.” It’s readable and eye-catching but still contains technical terms to interest the department heads. Every point you’re trying to get across should tell what you accomplished and how you did it.
Optimizing your resume
At some companies, regrettably, resumes are passed through programs before even reaching a human. So keep this in mind when developing yours. Look at the job description and use those keywords to ensure your resume will reach someone with a pulse and keep their attention after they start reading. If you are applying for a position called “Senior PHP Developer with Cloud Experience” then you should have the keywords senior, PHP, and cloud front and center.
On average, whoever is reading your resume will look at it for less than 10 seconds, so you can’t bog it down with unnecessary information. This probably sounds familiar, right? Why write ten lines of code when you can accomplish what you need with three? Keep the length to one or two pages if possible and only go past that length if you have the industry experience to back it up.
What you include in the general body will vary with this experience as well. If you are a student trying to break into the industry, your resume will look much different than someone who has been a developer for ten plus years. For students or others new to the tech industry, you will need to focus on projects to show off what you can do and expand on any internships and volunteer (or open source) projects that pertain to the skills they are looking for. Generally, this is the only instance that you would include these in your resume. Once you have got some junior level jobs under your belt, make sure to remove this to prevent clutter.
We all know how fickle code can be. In many cases, even something as small as missing comma can cause an error when you go to compile. Whether you’re writing a web app or a resume, the idea is the same—make sure to debug!
Even the smallest mistakes in your resume can become glaring red flags to recruiters and hiring managers. For example, a spelling or grammar mistake can cause you to get passed over automatically. So, give your resume a fighting chance by reading it out loud to yourself and having two friends look it over before you send it to prospective employers. If you’re in a rush, use Google Translate as your proofreader! Hearing it recited back to you can be the difference between, “I am skilled in,” and, “I skill in.” One stands out much more, but for the wrong reasons.
Another red flag for recruiters is when it’s obvious you didn’t customize your resume for the position. Customization ties in with almost every aspect of writing a successful resume. If you don’t think it’s necessary because you’ve got all your skills listed anyways, then it’s probably too cluttered or long to read properly. If you’re not customizing it because you don’t think you really qualify for the position in the first place, they will recognize that. Customization shows drive and an actual hunger for the position.
Deploying your new career
Writing a resume—much like writing code—can be overwhelming at times. You will most likely pull your hair out or bang your head up against something once or twice in the process. Conveying who you are in one or two pages while including your skills and relevant jobs is daunting and downright terrifying sometimes.
Take a deep breath and don’t sweat it, you’ve got this! Be patient with yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right the first time. Great resumes often require error-driven development. It’s a process of finding out what will and won’t work in this fast-paced and ever-changing industry. But once your resume is ready to ship, deploying your new career will make the headaches worth it.