Why I Won't Read YOUR Resume

The following post appeared on Usenet a long time ago. It has some useful tips about writing your resume. It was primarily aimed at people who post their resume on the Usenet but is equally applicable to others as well.

Dear Job Seekers:

I read a lot of hardcopy resumes and resumes that people like you place on USENET. Let me give you some hints about writing resumes.

First, let me tell you how I read all these resumes:

Second, let me tell you the things I RARELY read:

The kind of people I want to hire instinctively know how to write a good resume because they are effective at communicating. They don't need to tell me they have good communications skills -- I can tell from the resume and its organization.

I give each resume perhaps 5 seconds of my time. In other words, you have 5 seconds to impress me to read further about you. So, let's go through the things that I scan:

The following titles from recent posts are losers:

B.S. in CS & Math
Recent Graduate's Resume
BS/CS seeks Unix Job
Unix Person Seeks Employment

If your title is similar, I won't bother to read further, because you have done nothing to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Furthermore, you have shown no imagination or initiative. Why would I hire you? One of the best titles I have seen recently was similar to:

Experienced Ada Engineer to Relocate in Silicon Valley

Why is this so good? This person thought about the title and told me in eight words that he/she a) has experience, b) wants an Ada job, c) is only interested in Silicon Valley jobs. Not only can this person communicate effectively, he/she is decisive.

Here is your chance to tell me that you are a decisive, imaginative person who knows where your careeer is headed. The following objective statements are losers:

A position combining software, hardware, and systems design, development, and support.
Seeking a challenging position as a software engineer developing system or application software in a UNIX/C environment.

The first is terrible -- this person just wants a job, doesn't matter what kind or where. The second is not much better, except that the scope has been limited to UNIX and C. The following is better:

To find challenging work in product oriented research where I can leverage my broad hardware and software skills in revolutionary ways.

This person has obviously thought about what kind of job he or she wants. It should be in product research (not development) and it should be state-of-the-art research. But, it hasn't focused on what area, for example Project Management software or PC-based statistical packages.

I realize that it is hard to come up with a good objective statement in a general forum like Usenet. It is much easier when you are targeting a resume for a specific job opening. Still, you are going to face this dilemma many times over. Here is an example of a good objective statement:

I desire to work for a leading-edge company designing state-of-the-art user interfaces for graphics workstations. The position should lead to software product management and should offer possibility of learning software marketing.

This will get me to read on, because you have shown thought about where your career is going and that you are interested in a broad range of topics and desire to take on new challenges. Yet, at the same time, notice that this objective statement is still very general -- it could be more specific (e.g., UNIX-based workstations, X-Windows, SunView etc).

For best effect, put this either in the title, a sentence directly before the resume proper, or in the objective statement. If you are willing to consider working anywhere, say so.

If you have more than five years experience, I don't care what your GPA was. If you are just out of school, you had best put your GPA in a prominent location. As for experience, I want to see relevant experience. Clerking at a hotel and waiting on tables is not relevant to software development. Do not pad your resume with this manner of experience.

I want your experience section to show me that

  1. you are organized,
  2. you have communication skills, and
  3. you can/will be capable of leading/designing/developing software.

If you have experience, tell me those things that you have done that will convince me that you have organization, leadership, and communication skills. After all, that is what it takes to make an effective software engineer. If you have no experience, as is typical of most recent graduates, show me with examples from school how you demonstrate these skills.

Finally, the experience section is the place to assert your personality and creativity. Be creative and don't mimic every other resume you see.


Instant Turn Offs:
Spelling and Grammatical Errors. If you can't spell and don't have a good grasp of grammar, that doesn't prevent you from getting a job. It does prevent you from getting documentation jobs, but not the typical software development job. If you leave spelling and grammar mistakes in your resume, I assume that you will be equally careless with the things you do for me, and I will not hire you.

Long Paragraphs of Text. I don't have time to read these, so keep the resume succint and to-the-point. Lists are concise and effective.

Long Resumes. If you can't say it in a page to two pages, you can't say it effectively.

Things That Waste My Time:
Cover Pages. What can you say in a cover letter that you cannot say in a resume?

References. I'm going to phone screen you before I call your references. If you pass my phone screen, then I'll ask for references. Be prepared to give them.

Awards. Save it for the phone screen or face-to-face.

Personal and Hobbies. These have no bearing on my hiring decision. If I like you during the phone screen, I'll probably ask about these just to put you at ease and to establish some common ground.

Course Listings. If you're experienced, I don't care what courses you took or what marks you recieved on them. If you're inexperienced and are looking for a very specialized job, then you need to convince me that specific classes you took and projects you worked on have prepared you sufficiently. Providing a list of courses that looks like the average CS curriculum is meaningless.

Long Lists of Computers/Software/Languages. Unless you are applying for a very specific job that requires knowledge of a certain mix of these, then use your time more constructively to convince me that if you need to know one of these, that you are willing and able to learn it rapidly.

Ed Matthews                                                edm@verdix.com
Verdix Corporation Headquarters                            (703) 378-7600
Chantilly, Virginia