Make Your Engineering Resume Stand Out

Make Your Engineering Resume Stand Out

Love ’em or hate ’em (and we’re guessing you don’t love them), resumes are still part of the typical job search process. But putting your resume together can feel like one of the hardest parts of the whole thing! What should you include? What should you leave out? And do you need to include your home address? (Hint: City and state? Sure. Street address? NO.)

A typical engineering job posting can generate hundreds of applications. Only a relatively small percentage of those resumes ever make it in front of a recruiter – and the percentage of those applications that lead to interviews is tiny.

Make your resume stand out
This monkey is having trouble with his resume.

With odds like those, you need to ensure that your resume stands out.

Caity Barnes, recruiter extraordinaire at CodeFights, is going to let you in on some insider knowledge: exactly what she looks for when she’s looking at resumes for engineering roles.

“In a lot of ways, writing a good engineering resume isn’t any different than writing any other kind of resume – make sure it’s well-formatted and that everything’s spelled right. But there are some really specific things that I look for when we’re trying to fill engineering roles.”

Format

  • Recruiters tend to scan resumes in a very specific order. They look at your geographic location, the last job you had, and your education, then the skills list. If they get past that point, that’s when they’ll dive into the other jobs that you’ve listed, and then at projects, achievements, and anything else you’ve included. 
  • If you try to get creative with formatting, fonts, or layout, Caity says that many recruiters will glance at it, decide that it’ll be too hard to scan, and toss it. Don’t let this happen to you! (This applies less if you’re applying for a design job, of course, but most CodeFighters are probably applying for engineering jobs.)
  • A one-page resume is best. If you just can’t cut it down that much, at least make sure that the most important stuff is on the first page. Many recruiters won’t make it further. Hook their attention by putting the most eye-catching stuff first.
  • For every job you list, make it easy for the recruiter to see the company’s name, your title, and how long you were there.
  • Bullet points are your friend! Instead of writing in paragraphs, use bullet points. They’re much easier for recruiters to scan.
  • Don’t talk about yourself in the third person – who are you, the Queen of England? Instead of saying “Bart designed and implemented a user feedback module using Django”, say “I designed and implemented…” Or better yet, since you’re using bullet points, say “Designed and implemented…”
  • In Caity’s opinion, it’s not necessary to include an objective statement at the top of your resume. They’re usually so generic that they’re not useful, and recruiters tend to gloss over them. If you do choose to include one, make it a statement about the kind of company culture that you’re looking for, instead of the kind of work you want to do.
  • Caity says, “I don’t care if you went to the best school in the country – your work experience is more important!” If you’re a very recent grad, you can put the Education section at the top, but otherwise put it at the bottom of the page.
  • Run your resume through spell check and grammar check, and get a few different people to proofread it. While it might seem unimportant – damn it, Jim, you’re an engineer, not an editor! – in some cases a typo or incomprehensible sentence might disqualify you immediately.
Jim, your resume is a mess.
Jim, your resume is a mess.

Content

  • Make sure that you include relevant keywords in your resume. Caity says that when a recruiter’s skimming, they need to be able to pick out important items immediately. And these keywords will change depending on the type of jobs you’re applying for. Think about the skills you’d be highlighting if you were applying for front end jobs vs Java engineering jobs.
  • Be thoughtful about how you include skill items like languages or frameworks. If you list Go, there’s a big difference having used it daily on the job vs having taken a 30 minute seminar on it 2 years ago. Recruiters want to be able to get a sense of how proficient you are. It’s also helpful if you can talk about what you did with these tools so that the recruiter can weight them accordingly.
  • Keep in mind that recruiters tend not to be super technical. From Caity: “We know more about impact than super technical details, so focus on business outcomes that you were a part of.” It’s also helpful to quantify your contributions. (For instance: Were you an individual contributor or part of a team? Was it a big or small team? How many concurrent users did your tool support? How much data did it process daily/weekly?)
  • Try to highlight solo projects or projects to which you contributed a lot, whether they’re for work or side projects. Creating something from scratch is huge and shows initiative, and it’s a great signal to recruiters that you’re a problem solver.
  • “Spell as much out for the recruiter as possible,” Caity says. They are not going to have time to do internet detective work, at least on the first pass. If you worked at a small startup, a short blurb about what the company is helpful. What industry is it in, what size is it, what sort of funding did it get? And if there’s a short tenure on your resume (less than a year), call it out and explain why you left – contract ended, company went under, etc.
  • Put links to your GitHub and your LinkedIn, because they give the recruiter a good overall picture of you. Including other social media can be a little tricker. What does your Twitter feed look like? If you tweet about work-appropriate and relevant topics, go for it. Otherwise, leave it off your resume. Same goes for your blog.
  • Speaking of GitHub, make sure that your profile is something that you’re proud of. Caity says that most recruiters will share it with their hiring managers or interviewing teams to review before taking next steps with candidates. So take some time to clean yours up. Repos that are your own work, rather than forks off other people’s, are good, as is a strong commit history.
  • For recent grads or students – if your GPA is lower than 3.5, don’t include it. If you’ve taken advanced courses on really relevant topics (especially if they were practical, rather than theoretical), you can list them in your Education section. And remember that class projects or coursework aren’t the same thing as side projects, and recruiters won’t weigh them the same.
  • Feel free to put your personality into the resume. What are your hobbies and special interests? Caity says that recruiters love being able to get a sense of who you are! But this stuff should go at the bottom of the page. Remember, recruiters scan top to bottom. You need to put all of the important, must-see stuff at the top of the page.

tl;dr

To boil all of these down into a few principles: Your resume should be clear, concise, and easy to digest. Keep the layout simple and easy to scan. In terms of content, include information that makes it so the recruiter doesn’t have to guess about your history or do extra digging on the internet.

Remember, recruiters aren’t maliciously ignoring your resume! They’re trying to optimize the number of resumes that they can look at for any given engineering job in order to quickly find the most qualified candidates. If you follow these guidelines, your resume stands a much better chance of making it into the “follow-up” pile.

Your resume looks amazing
Your resume looks amazing!

You’re reading an article about how to make your resume stand out, so my spidey senses tell me you might be looking for a job! Did you know that CodeFights can connect you with hundreds of tech companies that are actively seeking qualified engineers – all with only one application? Head to codefights.com/jobs and start finding that dream job today!  

Tell us…

Do you have any tried-and-true tips on how to make your resume stand out? Head over to the CodeFights forum and let us know!

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