More Than Coding

Because machines still need humans

Web engineer looking for work? Start by rethinking your resume.

We’re currently hiring web engineers to help build the next-generation of TimeTrade’s online appointment scheduling system. Lots of resumes come my way, but 99% of them look exactly the same, following this format:

Summary

“I’m a web engineer looking for web engineering work”.
[No link to an online portfolio. No effort to craft the objective to match the position for which they're applying. Typically describes only what the engineer wants to get out of a new position, rather than what she or he will bring to the company that hires them.]

Skills

HTML, DHTML, XML, CSS, JSON, REST, SOAP, AJAX, PHP, CGI, VI, EMACS, …

[A boat-load of technologies, old and new, sprayed onto the resume as one enormous list of acronyms. No effort made to describe which technologies they are expert in versus what they've spent 5 minutes playing with on a boring Saturday afternoon. Alphabet soup.]

Experience

[A lengthy dissertation about every place the candidate has ever worked. Yawn-inducing descriptions of how they worked there. No URLs for me to see the web applications they built.]

…and that’s usually all I get.

Is there a factory somewhere that churns these out on a conveyor belt? Should I blame Microsoft Word’s built-in resume templates? Or perhaps it’s the fault of tech recruiters who encourage this kind of lazy resume format in the name of “consistency”?

There are plenty of great engineers who could use their experience creating awesome web applications to build incredible resumes for themselves but ironically, never do. These programmers work in a world of aesthetics, creativity and technical artistry and yet advertise themselves with the passion of a 40-year accountancy veteran who enjoys working in the windowless basement of a bank and whose favorite color is gray.

So let’s fix that. Here are some tips that will help you rise far above the crowd.

Completely rethink your resume format

Why submit a typical resume at all? Check out these really creative online resumes that were found on Pinterest. This kind of out-of-the-box thinking might not get you anywhere with old-fashioned employers, but I’ll be blunt: a submission along those formats will get you noticed here, and will very likely put you far ahead of the pack with many other employers.

Build an online portfolio

One of the fastest ways for an employer to figure out if they want to interview you is to show them what you’ve already built. Web engineers have a massive advantage over server-side engineers because their work is visible by its very nature, and very often publicly accessible online. If you’re writing a old-fashioned resume, at least list the URLs for your proudest work at the top.

If your work isn’t public (because it’s only available on pay-per-use sites or hidden behind corporate firewalls) then see if you can get screenshots of your web applications in action and submit them along with your job application.

If possible, build a personal website to host your work samples and advertise yourself using the technology you work in every day. I’d be more than happy to receive a set of URLs to personal sites on a daily basis rather than a bunch of 7-page resumes.

Focus more on the “what,” not the “how”

Technology skills are important, but they’re really a means to an end. Employers want to get things done, and the technologies used to build new features and applications simply aren’t as important as the effort itself. So tell us what you’ve built in the past, the impact it had on your customers and business, and why it should matter to us. Then – and only then – tell us what whizz-bang technologies you used to do it.

Prove that you’re a human

If you’re working in the web applications space, you probably have passions in life beyond HTML5 and JavaScript. Do you hike in the hills behind your house every morning at 5am? Did you build a working life-size tractor out of Lego? Are you someone who likes to run marathons for charity while wearing a Darth Vader costume? Then tell us about it. Personality can mean a lot to hiring managers, especially with a position that centers primarily around creative and visual elements.

I’m happy to review any wonderful out-of-the-box resume sent my way and give constructive feedback. Those who follow the suggestions above are more likely to hear the words, “You need to come and work here!”.

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4 responses to “Web engineer looking for work? Start by rethinking your resume.

  1. Steve Vaughan April 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Hey Brian – I’m a recruiter in Boston (Java and OSD within 495 loop) and I couldn’t agree more with this post. Well written and factual. A resume is a piece of paper, it’s the people behind the resume that we need to meet and sometimes it’s difficult to blast through that first stage. I hate resume screening but sometimes it’s an important aspect of the hiring process.

    I physically meet with every candidate and manager I work with to understand the person behind the paper because it’s easy to match a resume to a job description, but incredibly difficult to match people to people.

    I’d love to help you guys out if you are ever in need of a highly specialized niche focused recruiter who won’t resume blast your inbox.

  2. vramosp May 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Nice post! I specially believe in the online portfolio for software developers. I am one of the founders of a website that targets this issue (masterbranch.com), and what we do is we help developers by tracking and presenting their code- also private code- in a nice format.

    I also believe that the ‘what’ and not so much the ‘how’ is the important thing. Good developers find solutions, no matter what :)

  3. Mark Biesheuvel May 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    This is so true and exactly why I’m working on a online portfolio :D

  4. Michael @ Find tech jobs July 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    You need to drag them in within the first couple of sentences. Not by being cocky but by being confident and clever. Some good examples are “I saw you were looking for me, so here I am”.

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