Ten tips for a (slightly) less awful resume


WARNING: These are my own *personal* opinions, not Google's or Amazon's or anyone else's. I do think you'll find that most resume screeners at tech companies — particularly tech companies that build their own software in-house, like Yahoo! or eBay or Amazon.com or Microsoft or Google — will agree with a lot of this stuff, on the whole. But experienced screeners disagree on lots of the little details, and in the end these are just my own opinions. These tips are not guaranteed to get you any better results. Your mileage may vary. Do not use these tips in a bathtub or when standing in a pool of water. Do not tap on the glass or the tips will be irritated. Do not feed the tips. Etc.

Today's scientific question is: why are the resumes of programmers so uniformly awful? And how do we fix them? The resumes, that is.

If you've spent more than approximately seventeen kiloseconds as an industry programmer, you've had to review bad tech resumes. It's just part of the job. Programmer resumes ultimately have to be gauged by programmers — it takes one to know one. So it winds up being a kind of karmic revenge on you for bad resumes that you've written. C'mon, you know you've done it. You even knew it was bad when you were writing it. Admit it! You listed HTML under programming languages, didn't you? Argh!

So why are tech resumes so bad? You know what I mean. You see the craziest stuff on resumes. Like the candidate who proudly lists every Windows API call she's ever used. Or the candidate who lists every course he took starting from junior high school. Or the one who lists college extension courses he took while doing time for armed robbery.

Or that really dumb guy who accidentally listed "work at IBM" as the objective on his Amazon resume. Ha, ha! What a dork!

Oh wait — that was me. D'oh. I sometimes refer to it as my "million dollar typo". It's kind of a painful story, especially for my eardrums, since whenever I tell it people predictably point at me and scream with hysterical girly laughter. Dammit. Not to mention the fact that it cost me a fortune in stock-option valuation because I applied before the IPO and was quite understandably ignored by Amazon recruiters until I re-applied long after the IPO, this time saying that haha, no hard feelings, my bad, I actually wanted to work for Amazon. Ahem.

But hey, I deserve what I got (in a word: "nothing"), because I was, if I may employ the common parlance, an idjit. I think almost everyone's been guilty at one time or another of idjicy when writing a tech resume, although maybe not quite as flagrant as mine was. And if almost everyone's guilty of it, then they must be hard to write.

I think there are multiple root causes. One is that nobody teaches us what companies are looking for. And we don't write resumes very often in our careers, so we don't get much practice at it.

Another root cause is that much of the advice on resume-writing from other industries doesn't necessarily carry over to tech resumes. I'll cover some of these mismatches in my tips below.

Another minor, yet oddly persistent problem is that many candidates are raving pathological liars. You'd be amazed at how many candidates tell me: "Oh, I just put that buzzword on there for the recruiters." Needless to say, this response leads directly to the time honored end-of-interview transmission code: DYHAQFM? ("Do you have any questions for me?")