How to avoid getting your front-end developer resume thrown out
Hi! I’m Way. I’m looking to hire a senior front-end engineer and an intermediate front-end engineer, and I have a lot of resumes to look through. If you want to even get to talk to me as a human, you must have a resume that passes my bare minimum expectations.
As a front-end developer, I expect your resume to look like a front-end developer’s resume. By that, I mean that I expect your resume to reflect the qualities I expect a front-end developer to have: an attention to detail, care for UX, an understanding of information hierarchy, and hopefully at least a smidge of a sense of beauty.
First, a disclaimer: I work at a small (~20 people) startup called RealMassive that seeks to use modern technology in an agile environment. I make a few notes about removing unnecessary keywords, apparent adaptability, and other concepts that specifically matter to me (and probably people like me) interviewing for similar environments. These rules may not apply when interviewing for larger companies, especially not the Fortune 500. Use your judgment, and as always, you should always prepare multiple resumes for multiple types of companies.
With that, let’s move on. Here’s what I’m looking for, and what I’m actively not looking for.
As an FED, you build visible stuff and hopefully you make it look good. That same sensibility should be reflected in your resume. It should look good. Well-spaced, extraordinarily readable, and breathable.
“Breathable?” you might ask. For example, here’s a section of a resume I expect to receive from a backend developer (note: obscured to protect the innocent):
I did, in fact, receive this from someone who mostly checked the boxes for backend. No problems there (besides the fact that they applied for a position they’re not at all qualified for, with no cover letter (more on cover letters later)). Fairly readable, but I expect a little more. I will probably screen this person if they have the correct qualifications, but I won’t be particularly enthusiastic about it. Here’s another:
This is a little better; more readable, more white space, I don’t feel like I’m being attacked by text. It’s important that I don’t feel the anxiety you had while you drafted your resume (even though we all get it). Here’s one that I like even more:
Oh! Color! Whitespace! Be still, my beating heart — a front-end developer that cares about how things look. Yes, I want to talk to this person. It could be even better, but this is at least good enough for me. They seem like they care.
I know, I know — I’m sure you care about how things look, but you’ve been taught that resumes need to be boring. Unless you’re applying to work at a huge company with a cruel Applicant Tracking System, it’s just not true. A human is going to be reading your resume, and like designers, front-enders have the unique advantage of being able to show off their skills in every asset that they send to a company before they ever meet them. Take advantage of it.
Brevity and length
Unless you are VP-level or higher, your resume should never be longer than 2 pages, maybe 3. If your resume is 4 pages or longer, I immediately resent you. Sorry, your career (or your life story) is just not that interesting. If you want to regale me with pages of your accomplishments, put it on your well-designed site and link it.
I’ve seen a trend of including a professional summary up front with bullet points lately, but often the summary is way too long and merely repeats what candidates are saying in other sections of their resume. If it takes more than a third of a page, skip it.
Don’t list every single technology you used on every single job. List the projects you worked on, why they were cool, and mention technologies if they particularly stand out.
Overall, make sure you are spelling things correctly. Seriously, if your resume manages to get to me with spelling mistakes, it makes me wonder how many times you’ve actually looked at it, and if you’ve looked at it more than once, how many times you’ve ignored your own spelling errors. If you can’t spell correctly on a resume, why should I expect you to write syntactically correct code?
When you list your technical skills, the way in which you list your skills should convey a deep understanding of what each skill is, what context it is used in, and at what level it is used. Here’s a list of example don’t’s:
- Don’t list JSON and XML as “languages” or even “scripting languages”. They’re interchange formats, and they’re not even worth listing on your resume (except in the context of “JSON APIs”).
- Don’t list APIs as a skill. APIs are a thing, not a skill. List something like“RESTful API access level management design” instead.
- Don’t list every Microsoft product under software you know how to use. Of course you know how to use Microsoft Word. Just say “Microsoft Suite” or “Microsoft products”. The only thing that doesn’t apply here is Excel (and sometimes Powerpoint), which are applications that people can become extremely skilled at.
- Don’t list HTML4. HTML5 implies HTML4 and below. Same goes for CSS3/CSS2. Also don’t list XHTML. When was the last time you heard someone even say XHTML?
- Don’t list AJAX. It’s not 2009 anymore.
- Don’t list “Waterfall” as an SDLC skill. Being in an agile company, I don’t want to work with someone who is comfortable putting up with waterfall processes. (I understand that you may want to include it because you’re desperate, but you must keep in mind the impression you give me, your potential hirer.)
- Don’t misspell, miscapitalize, or misspace technology names. It’s WebStorm, not “Web storm”.
And so on and so forth. Finally, don’t call yourself an Angular[JS]/React developer unless the position explicitly calls for that. Most talented front-end developers are generalists — labeling yourself as an X Developer tells me that you only want to do X and you may be a rigid person or otherwise not adaptable.
Let’s talk about your website. If your website sucks, don’t link it. By putting your website on your resume, you’re telling me that your website represents you and you’re happy for me to decide whether to engage with you based on its contents. Therefore, if it’s just plain ugly, full of broken links, sparse information, and other bad looks, then I’ll assume your skills and work ethic are, too. It’s fair game because you told me it is.
Now, you don’t have to have the world’s most unbelievably amazing personal website. Your website just has to not be horrible. For instance, my website is nothing special, it’s years out of date, and I now know that those photos make me look like a huge dork (not inaccurate though). But I’d probably leave it be besides updating the copy, photos, and job information on my next job hunt. You don’t have to have a great website, you just have to have a passable one (and it should work on mobile).
If you link to projects and the links are broken, I question your judgment and self-awareness. If you link to projects, this should be the priority order for how you present them:
- A live demo that is easy to use (I don’t have to sign up to get an example of how to use it)
- A live demo that is not easy to use (I probably won’t bother signing up for it) with detailed documentation
- A GitHub project with detailed documentation AND screenshots, which I will appreciate
- A GitHub project with no documentation, which I will close immediately
In certain instances, it may behoove you to remove portfolio projects. For instance, if you’ve had that kind of ugly but functional “here’s my first project using Google Maps” project on your resume for the last three years and you’ve grown into a proper box-slinging, dream-styling badass, you should let your experience on your resume speak for itself, as old projects will mislead me into thinking that that is your current skill level. If you can’t bear to let it go, put a date on it so I know how long ago it was and the likelihood that you’ve improved.
Don’t send me a form cover letter. This is almost worse than sending me just a resume, because with cover letters I have a glimmer of hope that you’re going to blow me away with your earnestness and professionalism, but I’m almost always disappointed. I shouldn’t even have to tell you that you should double-check that you’re not using the wrong company name in your cover letter.
A great cover letter is an opportunity to explain any shortcomings you might have. Horribly underqualified but pretty sure you have what it takes? Have a huge gap in your resume? Really, really want to work for this particular company? The cover letter is where you do it.
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful, and if you’re guilty of some of these, don’t worry (I once had a 5 page resume, too). Just fix it before you send it to me or anyone else, and no one’s any the wiser. And also, hiring managers typically don’t remember the names of the people whose resumes they discard, so don’t worry — you can always reapply later with a new and improved one.
Finally, I’m a Senior Front-End Engineer at RealMassive. If you’re looking for a gig and you’re based in Austin, TX, we’re hiring! Check us out. Also check out my cool futuristic newsletter, Glitchet.