Landing a new job is never a fun task. It’s stressful, intimidating, and the epitome of the “you only get one chance to make a great first impression.” I moved from Seattle to Phoenix in 2016 for family, and working remote at my previous employer was not an option. I went through four months of stressful job hunting and applied three critical steps to my resume that created a tipping point for the better. These steps are not the holy grail of a great resume, but I’m confident that if given the chance, you’ll see a dramatic change in response from potential employers.
Step One: Shake Up Your Resume
I’ve worked for a Fortune 5 company for the majority of my 21-year software career. Being an insider changing teams/divisions, there was a different stress laced with a dose of complacency. It really didn’t matter where I went to school or what products/companies I previously worked for, it was how I answered the traditional developer questions. Because of this culture, my resume became stale and stagnant. At the top sat a half-hearted objective serving as the int main() of my career. I was proud of what I worked on, and it was obvious in its three pages, but it certainly didn’t pop like my career.
Fast forward to my recent job search. After a couple of months of applying for positions and getting tepid responses, I had to re-evaluate what I was doing. I didn’t understand how someone with my credentials and qualifications was not even getting inquiries for these positions. I learned about the squint test as a design measure, and my resume failed miserably! Here I am, a highly-qualified senior developer looking for web development positions, with a resume layout that was the equivalent of the first web page designed by a third-grade student. No wonder I wasn’t getting responses: there were a lot of words on too many pages, and it was boring!
We all need to think outside the box in all aspects of our job search, not just in interviews. I went online, searched for modern resume designs, and got excited with what I saw! I created a new resume with one of these vibrant layouts, copied my content over where applicable, and could not stop showing my friends and family! I was excited about the turnaround, and more importantly, I knew this was the first time I felt my resume reflected who I am and what I bring!
The key layout changes I made were:
- I created a technical skills section that was fun. I highlighted my skills in order of proficiency and augmented it with years of experience. It sat to the right where it wasn’t featured but prominent.
- I made the resume more personable by adding my picture to the header, used colors selectively to create an artistic touch, and provided both Word and PDF formats for convenience.
- I removed obstacles to showing off my qualifications. I removed my address, leaving my phone number and email address. I moved my education to the right of the resume. I structured my body to pop the key information relevant for the job.
But it wasn’t just the layout that changed…
Step Two: Focus on Your Accomplishments
It’s great to know objective friends. Give them a copy of the resume, let them review it, and ask them for their opinion on what you did. When reviewing previous version of my resume, I received responses of “there’s a lot of words I don’t know” or “sounds like a programming position”. What they didn’t retain was my impact during my employment. I failed to call out the business impacts that resulted from my work. If they didn’t notice, that meant that hiring managers reviewing my resume didn’t either.
This was tough for me, because I intrinsically knew how my employers benefitted but had a hard time articulating. I had to go back to a concept I learned called SMART: simple, measurable, actionable, repeatable, and timely. For each position, I quantified my output in less-techy ways and more in business speak.
“In two months, I decreased the customer wait time for web service calls by 90% by implementing a smart-caching algorithm.”
“Delivered an effective customer tracking system on-time through frequent customer reviews and feedback”
“Shipped a RESTful SharePoint portal with a subsite structure, organizing parallel work streams and raise visibility to critical project artifacts both laterally and vertically.”
Employers love impact. And I loved the impact it made after these changes were made. But I still had too many words, which leads to…
Step Three: Keep It Simple
Having gone through my thoughtful redesign, I made one impactful change without being conscious of it. My biggest struggle was the fact that I have a lot of great experience but not enough room to chronicle it. I wanted the reviewer to know my technology catalog and proficiency. I wanted he/she to know I am a loyal employee that brings more than just technical capabilities to a position. I had so much to say, but I needed to take a risk and make some hard choices.
Much like the first step, I had to shake up WHAT I was saying, not just HOW I was saying it. The tech field is more crowded than ever before, managers are reviewing more resumes, and pressure to fill positions means less time to thoroughly review long resumes. Playing the role of a hiring manager, I scrutinized each one of my statements for brevity and impact. Having read studies on how the human eye traverses a document, I really had to pack a lot of punch in the first few words of each declaration.
My design goals for my job history:
- Call out the words that you want focused on. My goal was to align my action words as close to the front of each statement. Be extremely selective on using bold and italics. Too much and it loses its impact.
- Use strong action words. We all developed something, but did we all architect a solution? Did I code something, or implement design patterns to reduce my data center’s infrastructure footprint? Did you deliver a solution or did you save $1M for your company by shipping software/websites that saves 1000 hours annually for its users?
- Keep the entire resume to no more than 2 pages. Anything more than that, and you’re bringing up old stuff that probably isn’t relevant in today’s market. If it is relevant, consider using a summary section at the end to highlight older key accomplishments.
- Save the jargon for the tech summary section. In my resume, I called out my technical skills separately from my job descriptions. It allowed me to change “Shipped ASP.NET Web Forms and JQuery website that allows users to track their customer engagements” to “Shipped a customer engagement site that improved data tracking and reporting used by the sales team and their management.” Same length on the page, but this makes it more descriptive with a personal voice.
After I executed these three steps, I was receiving multiple calls a day. I went from the victim of my complacency to the driver’s seat for my next position. My resume was doing its job: effectively communicating my accomplishments and allowing the reviewer to envision what I can bring to their company. My resume landed me a great position with a great company, and it came from being more intentional with my resume.
Click the pics below to see Tony’s resume: