Know the rules before you break them
Photo from https://stocksnap.io, Photographer: Jazmin Quaynor
It’s that time of the year where students are polishing up their resume/CVs to send out to companies for an internship or full-time job. I am always so surprised how lax students can be with them. Your resume is most likely going to be your first impression with the company. It’s worth investing some time into a well made one.
There’s no one right way, but I think there is some decent direction to be found in this post. It could be your zillionth time re-doing yours or maybe you’re making one for the first time. Either way, I hope this helps you along the way. So, take this for what it’s worth and let’s get started!
Education, experience, side projects, and then everything else.
Some people will argue to put experience first, but I’ve had several top companies (like Google and Microsoft) tell me to put my education first while still being a student. So, I’m going to stick with that for now. Once you finish school and begin working then I believe at that point experience should be listed before education.
FF: I include my dates on the first line to the far right (either company name or project name line).
e: email@example.com t: (555) 555 5555
links to all the things: linkedin.com/in/you, myweb.site, github.com/you, etc.
Please make sure these are working hyperlinks! Nobody wants to copy & paste. Later on, when we look at projects, if those are online then provide links to those as well!
School Name, State/Province
Program — GPA (optional)
– Any relevant details like awards, initiatives, etc.
Company Name, City, State/Province
Position — Team
Project Name, list of major technologies used/implemented (by you)
– Major take-aways
The reason I like this format is that it makes it easy for someone to skim. I will include some templates at the end.
Other great ways I’ve seen these parts formatted are:
Program Name | School Name
Dates From — To
– Amazing awards and things
Dates — Position — Company Name
Dates — Project Name— technologies used
This brings us to crafting the content for our resume.
I think students forget that it’s not just about showing you were once employed or stating that you worked on a project. It’s about highlighting what you specifically contributed to and how.
When listing your responsibilities/accomplishments one way is to format it in the following way: accomplished [X] by doing [Y]. Start with an active verb followed by a description. If you can include a quantifiable measure that’s a bonus!
- Tracked and handled the computer science association expenses and budget
- Tracked and handled the computer science association yearly budget of $8,000 for the 2017–2018 academic year
Quantifying makes it more powerful!
- Selected Microsoft Student Partner for Concordia University
- Selected as one of 50 candidates for an 8-month program to train students to develop on Microsoft technologies and deliver high-quality educational workshops to software developers.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, but the more specific you are, the better!
Let’s look at another example, “Increased the crash-free rate of applications to 98.9%”. One better could have been to include a comparison like “Increased the crash-free rate of applications from 80.2% to 98.9%”. In this form, you can easily describe how you achieved a particular goal.
Most common mistake
Including every little detail of your life.
“Be brief, be you.”
You do not need to jot down every little thing you did, that’s what the interview is for. Your resume is to get you the interview. It is not to tell your life story. It is not to get them to say yes right away. It’s a tool to get you an interview. You’ll have plenty of time to share more about the work you did with the company as you go through the interview process.
Keep it on point — “A concise resume demonstrates an ability to prioritize”. You need to take the time to properly go through and cut back on the irrelevant details. If you shove everything into your resume the recruiter/interviewer can be overwhelmed. They may end up skimming your resume and focusing on the less important parts meanwhile missing the important things you did. Do not fall victim to this mistake.
How do I know what to include?
A word to the wise, not every job or project in the past is relevant. Your camp counselor position from three years ago may not be relevant if in the meantime you’ve interned at companies and been a part of competitions or academic societies. Again, become a master of prioritizing. If you know what position you are applying for then tailor your resume to include projects and jobs to the job you are applying for. If it’s a front-end position then add that project where you designed and implemented the new societies website or if it’s a testing position then add that testing framework you built, etc.
When thinking about what content to include, put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter or hiring manager. Try to think about what stands out most about you. Include projects where you learned the most, ones you struggled through, ones you had disagreements with team members. They want to see how you handled challenging work experiences. With challenging projects, you can discuss dealing with conflict and disagreements. Another great piece to share is a project that you’re most proud of. That way when you have to talk about it the interviewer can hear and see your passion as you speak. All this together, you have valuable experiences to share.
Focus on what you can control
Let’s start with one of the most important facts. The golden rule: If it’s on your resume, it’s fair game. You included a C++ project you worked on in first year. However, you are having trouble remembering C++ concepts (note: interviewers won’t be too concerned with you remembering %100 the syntax of the language, I’m talking about concepts like pointers, multiple class inheritance, etc.). Either brush up on concepts that are specific to language or take it off your resume. There’s nothing worse than getting to the interview and not being able to run through a coding question because you ‘forgot how things worked for that language’ meanwhile you included it on your resume.
How you deliver the content is in your full control. Use power words. Below you will find some words you can use to help make your content more descriptive:
Choosing a good font is important. I’ve heard Serif fonts are better for printed copies and Sans-Serif is better for digital copies. I tend to use Sans-Serif type fonts like Arial, Calibri, Verdana, Times New Roman, or Trebuchet MS. You can read up on the debate and choose for yourself. I just tend to prefer these fonts… I don’t have a solid stance on this one. Just make sure it is clean and legible.
This is a less important point, more of an OCD for me personally. If you have 4 bullet points for a job and then one with 3 bullet points and another with 2 bullets points… I find it makes the resume look uneven. I have my personal belief that this leads to an inconsistency that can cause the recruiter to focus more on certain ones and missing others that would have actually been better for them to notice. I’d suggest keeping everything ‘even’ and if you can make everything with the same amount of bullet points. I’d recommend no more than 2-3 bullets for each position. Anything more I feel you’re not prioritizing your work. Anything less and maybe it’s not important. Nonetheless, each bullet point should include an action, tool(s) and technologies used, and if possible the impact/outcome.
Cool. Okay, but how do I sell myself?
If you don’t think what you did was important, then why should a potential employer think so? This goes back to crafting your content and focusing on what you can control. I’m not talking about lying, but show pride in the work you did.
Take, for example, I came across a resume that said in the side projects/extracurricular section “I love hackathons”. But there was no mention of hackathon projects. Even if it the project was incomplete list it and say what you learned from it. In the interview, you will be able to talk about why it failed and what you would do differently. Take failure as an opportunity to show lessons learned and show your growth as a junior.
What about the languages I speak?
Yeah, go for it. Put those bad boys on there. If you’re fluent in it. If you can’t hold a conversation then leave it off.
But Kim, what about my GPA
Have a 3.2? 3.4? 4.0? Good for you. Include it. Else, leave it off.
- One page.
- Easy to read font.
- Minimum 11-point font, max 14-point for descriptions (headings are at your discretion.
- Bullet points are not bad.
- Reverse chronological order for each section.
- Short and precise sentences are your friend.
- Do NOT lie. Under any circumstances.
- Be clear — descriptive enough for a technical person, but general enough for someone less technical.
- Grammar, grammar, grammar. Make sure to have someone with good grammar look over your resume.
- Use a professional e-mail address. If you do not have one, create one! Avoid numbers and odd characters in your e-mail. It’s just easier when giving it out.
- I’ve been told not to use passive verbs. But honestly, I think the most important thing is to just be consistent. Don’t use a mix of passive and present verbs. Choose one tense and stick with it!
In conjunction with your resume
Clean up your social media — or make private. We live in a digital world. Recruiters and interviewers will do a quick search on you. If you leave your content open be mindful of the following on your social media:
- foul language
- pictures of you drinking/partying inappropriately (now a picture of you with a beer is probably fine, but you being lifted over a keg, maybe not).
- immodestly dressed
At the end of the day, you can disagree with me on these items and that is fine. At the end of the day, you are old enough to make a judgment call on what is appropriate and what is not. Just be mindful of these things.
Whether you like it or not, LinkedIn is a very important outlet to leverage at this stage of your career. I know many students that got interviews and jobs through a recruiter finding them on LinkedIn. Here are some points to improve your profile:
- Customize your URL.
- Use keywords in your content — for example, you can check results for location and frequency of words.
- Use a professional photo only — not something you’d post on Facebook.
- Utilize the 110 characters wisely for your headline.
- Include visuals for your projects and such — gifs of your project running, YouTube videos, presentation slides, etc.
- Connect with people. But don’t overdo it. If you are adding someone you do not know I personally appreciate when they include a short message about why they want to connect with me. I believe it’s proper etiquette instead of just hitting add to a bunch of people. Your call. You do you.
- Provide contact information.
- Try go get previous employers or organizations you volunteered for to give you a recommendation.
- Join relevant groups.
A last note about LinkedIn. The way I use it is I include almost everything, whereas my resume is the condensed version with the items I feel are the most important. But I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way for this one.
All the things listed below are items I endured while going over resumes…
Typos are still the most common mistake.
If you are sending a digital copy please do us all a favor and save it as PDF! Please do not send it as a Word document (unless explicitly asked for of course).
Make sure THINGS ARE ALIGNED. Line up your dates. I don’t care how hard it is. Otherwise, it makes you look sloppy and careless. That’s not the impression you want to give.
Do NOT make an image out of your CV… it becomes pixel-ated and looks absolutely horrendous. Just don’t do it.
If you say you are currently enrolled in a secondary education program please list the program of choice or indicate your situation. I’ve seen people just put the school with no indication of program or faculty. Knowing these details helps the company access what to ask you during your interview.
Same goes for when you are listing experience — don’t just list the company name or don’t just list the position. Include the company name and the position/title.
Please make sure there is no blank pages at the end. While you’re at it, make sure if you have more than one page that the last page is not half empty. Cut something out. You shouldn’t have half a page or less. Most probably they won’t take a second look at the second page (even if it’s full). Again, learn to prioritize.
Do not highlight anything. For any reason. What-so-ever.
Do NOT include a transcript unless asked and if you are asked usually you include it separate.
Do NOT include references. Same reason listed above.
Do not leave anything blank. For example, if you are currently attending a school do not leave the graduation date blank and do NOT put question marks. Put an estimate date.
Do not put it in landscape mode. The only case I could see this being okay is if you are going for a graphic design position and you are being creative and can make it work. Otherwise, no.
Do not use progress bars to demonstrate your skill level. That thing would never be full. It’s confusing and no one agrees on it.
Do not include a photo of yourself. There is absolutely no reason an employer would need to know what you look like.
Avoid tables. But if you must, make the borders invisible. It’s not visually appealing and is unnecessary. Unless you are good with design and can make it look good…
Some other quick things to leave off the resume: age, birth date, ethnicity, nationality, SSN #, high school education (if you are in University), home address, immigration Status, relationship status, gender identification, sexual orientation.
Remember, your resume will guide your interviews. I’ve included two templates that I hope can help beginners get started. These aren’t the best but I wanted to include a visual to show you the important points to capture.
Why don’t you have a skills section?
I believe that sections like experience and projects should highlight the skills you gained and how you’ve applied them. If these are well documented in each part than a skills section will be redundant. You only have so much space to work with so make every little word count.
Most important is knowing you’re more than a piece of paper. So, make sure to invest in improving yourself for your benefit. Not just because it looks good on a paper. You can usually sniff out who’s not genuine. And if not, it eventually comes to surface at some point. And then later it can bite you in the butt.
So, you might be wondering what else can you do to work towards getting your dream internship… you’ll have to come back at a later time! I’ll be sharing advice on what you can do beyond the resume.
I’d love to hear and see how you are all crafting your resumes so please share with me tips and tricks you found useful 🙂