Rewrite Your Tech Resume, Pt 1

This post was originally posted on the now-dead ProjectSherpa blog.

Most technical resumes suck. We’ve seen thousands of them, and they are, on average, bad. If you’ve ever done any amount of technical hiring, you’ve undoubtedly seen the archetypes: 10-page resumes, gigantic lists of acronyms and skillz, and unintelligible project summaries.

Some genius and diabolical recruiter must have created the original technical resume template which has now become so commonplace.

The technical resume simultaneously caters to recruiters while impeding hiring managers. The abundance of keywords and key phrases plays up to the recruiter mindset: ignore the person, find the right alphabet soup. Similarly, the obfuscated set of work history descriptions prevents hiring managers from gaining too much relevant insight about candidates. Most hiring managers have neither the time nor the patience to read through a technical novella, let alone the hundreds seen during a typical hiring cycle.

One of the most obnoxious and often-seen sections of a technical resume is usually labeled under “Technical Skills” – for example:

Languages: C#, Java, SQL, Python, Shell Script, DOS Script, JavaScript, HTML, SML, etc.
Technologies: Tibco, Spring, Servlets, JSP, Struts, XML, .Net Framework
Databases: MS SQL Server, Sybase, Oracle, DB2, MySql
Database Tools: Oracle SQL Developer, Rapid SQL, Toad, Microsoft SQL Server 2005
Development Tools: git, Eclipse, JBuilder, Visual Studio 2005/2008, ANT, CVS, SVN
Platforms: Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista/7, Linux/Unix, Sun Solaris

There’s so much wrong here!

  • If you list a technical skill, be prepared to answer questions about it. Are you really experienced and proficient in all of those technologies et al? You really got mad skillz in all that stuff, yo?
  • What does listing every flavor of Windows accomplish? Do you even want to work for a place still on Windows 98?
  • Are you applying for an application development position? If so, it is overkill to list each database tool you’ve ever used.
  • Do the categories make sense? Are items categorized appropriately?
  • Are you equally proficient in all of these ‘technical skills’? Are you listing some things out of emotional attachment from that one time 8 years ago when you wrote that small utility app?

Don’t do this!

It’s highly unlikely you are in fact an efficient developer in all of these programming languages, proficient with db development across all of these stacks, and comfortable developing on all of these platforms and with all of these tools. All you’ve done with this Skills section is given recruiters (and automated resume parsers) a few extra reasons to spam you, and opened yourself up for questions you probably can’t answer.

One excellent alternative to the Skills section is to note the technologies used within the work history descriptions – hell, you might be doing that already! For example:

Firm In My Past
2006 – 2007
• Design and development of a C#-based Excel plug-in that hooks into the firm’s trading application suite.

Though this is a trivial example, simply moving the technical skill to where it’s relevant accomplishes so much. You are providing context which can imply level of competency (a C# Excel plug-in is a much different level of complexity than a C# trading application suite); showing how long ago you used the technology, which can account for why you don’t remember all the syntax and errata; and filtering out some of the noise which gives hiring managers headaches.

What do you think?

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Rewrite Your Tech Resume, Pt 2 – That's a Big Idea

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