More Than Coding

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What Your Resume Says About Your Programming Skills

If you’re looking to get a new programming job, there is a very important fact to know about hiring managers. Since they are very busy and receive lots of resumes for open positions, they will build a mental profile of a candidate’s skills by scanning their resume in just a few seconds. Much like when you meet someone in person, first impressions count.

Hiring managers hone their speedy scanning skills through years of experience on the job. Knowing how they interpret your resume’s content is often the difference between moving to that crucial phone screen stage and being ignored. Here are a few hints about what messages your resume is sending to potential new employers about your programming skills.

Typos

If you haven’t bothered to run an automated spellchecker over your resume, you won’t be expected to take care when writing code on a daily basis. Typos on a resume are typically viewed as a sign of laziness and disinterest, and can easily lead to them being dropped right into the employer’s trashcan.

Experienced technical hiring managers will quickly evaluate the precision with which a programmer uses language in their resume, and they will extend that impression to the candidate’s programming skills. When the hiring manager sees your typos, they have unpleasant visions of the many bugs you would create in their applications.

Excessive Length

Engineering candidates frequently send resumes that are more than 10 pages long, describing in complete and exhaustive detail every single project the candidate ever worked on. There will be a careful mention of the exact compiler version used on a 3-month contract for IBM back in 1994, along with cryptic company-specific project names like “EDT/BTS” that would only make sense to a handful of people on the planet.

The immediate thought that jumps to mind for the hiring manager upon receiving such tomes? That the candidate probably never revisits existing code to refactor it. The idea of editing a complex routine to break it up into simpler constituent parts for better maintainability and readability is apparently not something that they naturally want to do. After all, they’ve been adding to their resume’s content for years without revisiting it, so why would anyone expect them to do the same with their code? Also, excessive length can also imply that the candidate has a problem prioritizing. In today’s world, where engineers frequently have to juggle numerous projects, prioritization skills are necessary.

Acronym Overload

Technical acronyms are understandably commonplace in software engineering. However, when a quick visual scan of a resume makes a manager feel like they are swimming in alphabet soup, they often build an image of the candidate as being someone who only knows tools and frameworks and has little ability to design software at an architectural level. On the other hand, if the position being filled needs someone who can quickly create “mash-up” prototypes using a diverse set of existing frameworks and tools, having an acronym-heavy resume might be exactly what the employer is looking for.

Lack of Creativity

If an employer were looking for an engineer to build a sexy new web UI, a boring, unimaginative resume created using a Microsoft Word template would be the last thing they’d want to see. Using a dull, expected resume format usually indicates a lack of visual creativity and curiosity, and the employer will often question the candidate’s ability to build aesthetically pleasing web interfaces.

Granted, plenty of engineers whose expertise is in building services that don’t contain graphical interfaces (such as server-side libraries or SDKs) have resumes that don’t push any creative boundaries, and could easily make fine candidates for positions responsible for working in those kinds of areas. However, a decent eye for design is becoming increasingly important for many engineering positions.

Complex Language

Resumes filled with pompous, overly complex language can be a sign of a programmer who prefers to look smart rather than communicate effectively. While this kind of candidate may have written some very dense code that works, nobody on their team probably understands it, and everyone is afraid to touch it in case they break it.

Programmers who have recently left a long stint in academia to enter private industry often produce resumes full of lofty language. In those cases, it’s probably a symptom of them having to write peer-reviewed papers for years rather than a desire of theirs to show off how many grandiose words they know. Still, an overly verbose, high-register writing style can be a red flag that the candidate may not naturally write code that is simple for others to understand.

Job Jumping

Candidates who have a history of jumping from position to position every year ring the alarm bells for many employers – they are the last people a company would expect to think about the readability and maintainability of their code. They will be considered as the kind of engineer that gets excited about working on new challenges but gets easily bored when asked to work on fixing bugs in existing features. Engineers quickly develop expertise in niche areas in any company, so having people leave after a short initial investment is not only costly for the employer, but can be detrimental to overall team morale.

A job jumper might be wonderful for a position that needs someone to build features quickly with the intention of handing their work off to a dedicated maintenance team, or as someone who can migrate from project to project, but they would probably need to be paired with others to oversee their work and ensure that their code is good enough to be allowed to go into production for years into the future. After all, the chances that they’ll still be in the same company when changes need to be made to their work are pretty slim.

What You Can Do

Your resume is a window into your programming skills and your personality. Make a special effort to overhaul yours to be viewed as a more desirable candidate to potential employers. For example, if you’re worried about your writing skills, have a professional proofreader check your resume for typos or stylistic mistakes.

If you are friends with a technical hiring manager, ask if they’ll help you by having them spend just a couple of minutes scanning your resume and then telling you what kind of programmer you appear to be, and in what kind of roles they believe you would fit. You might be surprised at the feedback, but at least you’ll be able to take some action to change how you appear to potential employers in order to make sure you increase your chances of not only getting a job, but of earning a position that is truly a great fit.

One response to “What Your Resume Says About Your Programming Skills

  1. Adi October 14, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Complex and pompus as you put it, are pretty vague and subjective. On one hand you have to demonstrate enough caliber to reflect your aptitude and on the otherhand not go overboard ( by who’s standards though?). Given that a resume must past through the initial HR screen before it reaches the hiring manager where do you draw the line between overly verbose vs something that is trying to hilight a certain aspect of their skill.

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