Writings by Terry

How to Write A Resume

Before I can get in to what I think makes a great resume I have to clarify what a resume’s purpose is. There are two main reasons for a resume. The first is to give your interviewer some material for questions they can use to learn you and in order to make an educated guess whether you’re a good fit or not. The second purpose is to garner interest from whomever has to read it (they will appreciate you making your resume good, very very much). Beyond that nobody gives a shit about it. To recap: give your potential employer some things to ask good questions around, make it at least a little interesting to read so you get that first phone call. Now on to how to write one.

Scream Out Your Achievements

If you only get one thing right on your resume is should be including your achievements. Achievements fill both the purposes mentioned above. They are interesting and they give a great jumping off point for your interviewer. What people often confuse for achievements are just a list of things you did. What you’ve done is peripheral to what you achieved and just as importantly how you achieved it. If you have a pulse, then we can all assume that you were “an active member of the team”. Saying you “refactored the codez” or “analyzed logs for business metrics” mean almost nothing. At the highest level what you’ve said is “I did stuff”.

Were all the things listed on your resume something that could’ve been listed in the original job description? Were they things that you were asked to do as part of your job or did you take initiative to go out and do them? There is a big difference between the two, and you should make it easy to distinguish things you initiated yourself versus what was asked of you on the team (as much stuff as possible that you put on your resume should something you did without being asked) In essence, your application has to show you have three things:

What They’re Really Looking For

  1. Good judgement
  2. Initiative
  3. Potential, and at least some relevant experience

However companies choose to dress these up at their core its these three that are important. The question you need to be asking yourself is how are you going to succinctly demonstrate those three points on just a few pieces of paper. If reading your resume it sounds like a job description you need to fix it if you don’t want to get lost in the crowd. I have included a brief sample of how you can lay out your own application.

2010-Present Web Developer at MyCompany.co
System architect for the main Node.js application.
Mentoring and onboarding new employees
Maintaining and extending documentation

Designed and created a metrics portal which directly led to a new revenue stream
Hired and mentored six new employees within 9 months
Successfully switched my team to Kanban and Continuous Deployment, increasing velocity by 30% by eliminating operational overhead
Introduced Kaizen Day (improvement day) which resulted in 15 legacy bugs being fixed within 8 hours. Kaizens are now a quarterly activity.

If you can make your achievements section as close in size to your responsibilities as possible. It is a given that you’ll be required to have the skill and/or potential to do the job, so the responsibilities are there to make sure they understand you have some relevant experience. What will get you that phone call is the interesting stuff you said you did beyond your regular responsibilities.

What is Not On The Resume

What you don’t see on the application is anything about personal interests and hobbies. Nobody wants to know if you’re interested in photography and being outdoors. Your colleagues will get to know you after you get hired, not before. Keep everything on your resume relevant to the position, it demonstrates good judgement and that’s a Good Thing.

The last thing I suggest that is up for debate is the “objective” section. I’ve seen a lot of advice saying you should have one, but I have a hard time seeing why. The objective is to get the fucking job, to put food on your family and to, hopefully, work on something interesting. If you’re being interviewed it is very easy for them to ask you why you applied at that particular company, and at that time it is good to have a nice reason for wanting to make those cat picture widgets. But at the time of reading the resume it doesn’t add anything at all, and if your cover letter is good and specific to the advertised position then it speaks much louder than a bullshit token sentence about what you hope to get.

I hope you find the advice helpful, but feel free to disregard anything I’ve said. Obviously you may not always have a chance to customize the application as much as you’d like, there may be required sections, etc. Use at your own discretion. Next time I’ll be writing about how to do well during the interview after you’ve amazed them with your application.


Comments on: "How to Write A Resume" (1)

  1. […] from what is shared on the resume.  Looking for some specific tips, see Terry’s post on How to Write A Resume. In a nutshell. Selling yourself is critically important, never just list off the tasks you […]

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