By Radosław Miernik · Published on · Comment on Reddit
’Tis the season, my friends. I once again reviewed more than two hundred resumes in less than two weeks. And no, I’m not a recruiter nor doing it full-time; otherwise, it’d take me less than a day or two (or at least I was told so).
Luckily for me, I’m also doing the technical interviews later, sometimes also the cultural ones or negotiations. I said luckily, because I have direct feedback on whether the resume I approved turned out to be a reasonable candidate1.
But even though I went through more than seven hundred resumes in my life (I’m not keeping count, but I have some events to estimate it), it still feels more like a hunch and not experience. Let’s call it a well-trained hunch for now.
Now let me explain why every single one of them was terrible.
Let’s start with something simple: contact information. You wouldn’t believe how many resumes are missing an email. A couple of times, there was no last name either – just their first name, taking roughly 10% of the page2.
On the other hand, there are people who put everything in there – phone number, social media (Instagram) or messaging (Telegram) app handles, and a complete address. I got a fax number once and had to fight myself for two days not to send anything there. (Where would I get a fax machine from, though?)
Wherever on this spectrum you are – it’s most likely fine. I understand that some companies require those for different reasons: big ones may need your address to make sure you applied to the correct division, and small ones may want to contact you using a messaging app and not email.
In an ideal world, every company would have its own template, and it’d be filled in automatically. A decent ATS can do most of that, but it won’t come up with an email if it’s not there. (At least not until you ask someone to find it; usually, it’s surprisingly easy, even for inexperienced recruiters3.)
Should you include a profile picture? I’d say no as long as it’s not required4. But if you do, please try not to jump scare anyone. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not about one’s beauty. It’s that some of them look like a deep fried meme sent deliberately. (I guess it’s most likely a compression artifact or a faulty generator.)
There’s one more reason why it’s best not to include it: bias. No matter how good and civilized you’re trying to be, a photo will give you some emotions. Whether it’s a face similar to someone you know, the age of that person, or even the fact that the photo was taken on a hike and your ex loved hiking – there can be (and will) be emotions.
However, if you want to include a picture everywhere, I suggest using the same one you use in other (public) places, e.g., on GitHub. I’m a fan of Gravatar too, since it makes changing your profile picture way faster. Here’s mine.
Arguably the most essential section. For some people, it’s important enough to make their resume twelve pages long (the longest one I’ve ever seen had 26 pages). I know that you want to tell a story and include everything you’ve ever worked on, but maybe that “Stripe integration” from five years back is not the most relevant thing today.
You see, it’s crucial to differentiate big and small things here. Being a leader, even in a small team, is a big deal – it shows that you worked with people and most likely had to take care of more things than your own tasks5.
On the other hand, working in Scrum, attending dailies, or collaborating with other teams… Well, let’s say I believe you did more impactful things. And since nobody will spend an hour going through your
life story experience section, I recommend focusing on the right stuff ™ in it.
And about the “it has to include numbers” thing… I have heard multiple times that sentences like “Increased revenue by 21%” or “Shortened onboarding by 37%” will help you land your dream position faster. If they did – I’m happy for you! But please don’t be surprised when I ask about how you did that, whether it was you or your team, and who measured the outcomes.
This one is tricky. Some people use it to filter out candidates in a blink of an eye. Some people ignore it entirely and assume everything should be in the experience section. I’d suggest doing a mix of both – the skills section should be there (so an ATS can figure it out), but past roles should mention these too.
You see, doing only the former raises a question: how much experience does one have with X if they list it in their skills but didn’t mention it in any of the previous position descriptions? It’s crucial for more experienced people who worked even before X came out6.
Which skills to list? Languages for sure, databases, frameworks, and important libraries too. Cloud services as well, but try to be precise (“AWS” is not precise enough). As for tools necessary for your role (e.g., Postman for an API-related role), I’d skip them as they are more or less implied. Other tools like Jira, GitHub, Google Drive, Notion, Slack… No, these are out.
And please, do not use dots, stars, half-filled circles, check boxes, percents, or one-word descriptions (e.g., “advanced”) to define your skill level. I ranted about it more than two years ago in On Recruiting Full Stacks, and I find those useless. To some extent, it got even worse nowadays – we tend to use more and more technologies to build apps and have to decide which are interesting enough to be listed.
This one is usually short. If you have a couple of years of experience, then focus on that instead. This section is great for people starting their careers since they can summarize their interests or even proudly share their thesis.
Some companies also require a degree, even if you have years of experience. While I have a degree myself (and I’m pursuing a PhD), I don’t care whether the people who applied had it. Finally, some people (especially more experienced ones) skip it to have more space for other sections.
Motto? Slogan? Hobbies? The fact that you walk dogs from a shelter or have co-organized a local wine tasting event? I think those can give a nice personal touch and give the interviewer a nice conversation opener7. Just keep in mind that those can bias the reader too, just like the photo.
Open source work is also here. If you got paid for working on open source or did that as a part of your job – definitely list it in the experience section. But most people are not, and as such, it’s less valuable, at least to me.
You see, I really value open source contributions – they mean you are able to dive into a new codebase and communicate clearly enough to get involved. Sure, it’s a broad generalization, but that’s what I’ve experienced so far.
As for pet projects… I usually don’t really care. These are typically made in one weekend (if it’s public, so is the commit history, remember?), not reviewed by anyone, and not finished either. Don’t get me wrong – I have mine as well! But I treat them as a playground to learn new things, and that’s it.
There are also references. They’re getting more and more popular, i.e., we don’t have to ask about them anymore. These are used mainly at the end of the process but are the best tie-breakers at all times. The thing is, there’s usually one pesky detail left, e.g., decisiveness or openness in communication.
Now that I ranted for so long let me sum it up:
That’s it, really.
Because everyone is a different person. You could get tens or even hundreds of almost identical resumes, and still, the person behind them is going to be unique. Whether it’s the communication level, moral compass, or sense of humor – it all can matter for the company or even team you’re applying for.
I saw beautiful resumes of… Well, not great candidates. I also hired awesome developers with resumes not better than a napkin doodle. While a clean and professionally looking template is nice, please focus on the content.
Everything is subjective, and so is my point of view on resumes. They are bad but the best one we have so far. We have to balance between the time spent on creating them, the amount of information they contain, and relevancy for the recruiters. In-person interviews or long application forms are just moving time cost from one party to the other.
Another problem that I (purposefully) skipped is the sheer volume of resumes sent for every position today. We’re having a recession, a lot of people got sacked (or their companies went bankrupt), and now they’re in the market. I’d love to help all of you, really, but please, read the job description next time…
And here comes another incoming resume notification.
A lot of my friends in other, larger companies do only one of those, i.e., are either reviewing resumes or doing technical interviews. In both cases, they rarely get or can give any feedback about the candidate. (Other than accepting or rejecting them, of course.)
Designer resumes (portfolios) are a completely different kind of beasts, and I won’t talk about them here. But in those sure, your name can even span the whole page if that’s how you want to present yourself.
There are some automated due diligence tools that can dig out a lot from the public internet. I never used them myself, but I heard stories of people who got rejected due to a “keyword” in a random post on Twitter four years back.
If you apply for an acting or modeling role, it’s most likely required. But these are so special that they have specialized laws (at least in Poland).
I like this differentiation between developers – not able to work on their own, able to work on their own, and able to make the team work better. For me, a leader is a better version of the last one, mentoring others to grow.
Let’s take a senior frontend developer with almost ten years of experience. Even if they are a React expert now, I doubt they worked all their career with it. (And yes, it would be possible since it came out in May of 2013.)
Talking about one’s hobby is a great opener not only because it’s most likely easy to talk about but also because it serves as a decent “vibe check”.
Maybe they are if you’re applying for some highly specialized position, e.g., in a research and development division. But those rarely matter either since you usually have to be experienced there.