Leveling up your skills
At a recent CoffeeOps meetup, we had a great discussion on resume writing through reviewing a resume. I discovered that I was failing at this most fundamental skill, i.e. summarizing my experiences and skills in a consumable form with a key goal of career direction.
One of the first concepts that had me digging out my notebook to write up these notes, was the question “Where do they stop reading?”
Lightning bolt! I already understood the importance of language, and how the same words can have different meaning. The messages we take time to read and consume have different impact. Based on limited time, and the value people put on their time of COURSE some people will stop reading.
When writing a resume, we should think about the audience or primary roles reading our resumes:
- The recruiter
- The hiring manager
- The technical potential coworker
Many resume improvement guides talk about targeting your resume to different roles that you pursue.
Our coffeeops group talked about how to create a resume that works. The bait and switch approach was eliminated, i.e. the keyword maximizer for the recruiter with detailed experience for the technical interviewer.
Going back to this first concept, “Where do they stop reading” it becomes obvious that ordering matters. What do we mean by ordering? Let’s examine our audience a little closer.
Every day I see tweets around how recruiters do it wrong. It’s almost like as an industry we hate recruiters. Yet other industries rely on recruiting to find and obtain advancement. Friends in different industries describe recruiting as a key factor in growing careers.
What is a recruiter?
Simplifying quite a bit, but a recruiter should be someone who can take a job and analyze for requirements. Based on these requirements they screen, select, and attract potential employees.
Recruiters look at the most resumes, screening them based on their analysis. For bad or good, the recruiter is the gatekeeper. Your resume is the key.
The recruiter will scan your resume for keywords.
The Hiring Manager
With a hiring manager there are no absolutes. In general they screen resumes and act as a second gatekeeper, usually focused on cultural fit.
Sometimes through networking, you may skip the recruiters and get an in straight to the hiring manager. This can be good or bad depending on the quality of the referal. It is especially important to ensure that you follow any of your referral’s guidance in resume writing as well as make sure that your resume reflects your strengths.
Some hiring managers will actually pass resumes down to the technical coworker and ask opinion for screening.
The Technical Coworker
In our discussion, I realized that we all read resumes differently. Some people read up to a certain point and then ask questions. Some people scan for relevant skills and read positions that highlight those skills.
Depending on when the resume is reviewed (prior to a phone screen or before an in person interview) also changed how the resume was read.
In general, the technical coworker reads a resume.
After examining our roles, it becomes more clear how ordering may benefit us.
- Move the keyword aka skill section to the end of the resume.
- Focus on the job + experience at the top.
The gate keepers can scan for key words (or have tools that automate this), and the “readers” read the most important parts first.
In addition, ordering is a useful way to manage skills within the skill section. Create a hierarchy of skills based on strength, the “ask me anything”, “fading”, and “don’t want to admit to”. During the interview, this gives the interviewer additional information about where to focus questions.
Why are we even talking about resumes in the first place though? What about LinkedIn?
A second fundamental came up in discussion here. If someone has access to your LinkedIn profile and they are asking for a resume, it could in fact be an indication that your profile does not sufficiently cover your capabilities or experiences.
Review and update your profile if you get this kind of query even if you aren’t currently looking for a position. It’s harder to update after the fact then while you are completing projects.
Consider creating a google document of your accomplishments and objectives. Once a month update with a sentence or two of your key accomplishments. At minimum once a year review and update your profile.
Find a couple of critics and cheerleaders who you can trust with this shareable document to help you keep on track with your objectives.
If you find that you aren’t accomplishing anything than this is a good sign that you may want to find a new job that will give you growth.
In the end, you are the only one responsible for your career development. If you are getting the wrong contact, it may be that you are sending the wrong message through your profile.
The resume we were examining was three pages long. My initial reaction was too long, but others expressed that this was a good length. What about the 1 pager? Doesn’t this contradict with the “when do they stop reading?”
No. The key here is that this should be the document that while concise should showcase your experiences and accomplishments. By shrinking it down to one page you are essentially discrediting some of your well earned experience. If you are new to the industry, this is where the one pager is acceptable.
Another key fact around length is the length per section based on history. More recent jobs should have longer sections than historical jobs. This brings up the big challenge of how to focus on a past job when your most recent work is not something you want to do now. You do this during your interview.
Review tenses. Your resume should have consistent past tense use. Even for the job you are currently doing! Think of it as if you get the job you want, it will be in the past.
Use white space. Big blocks of text are snooze-worthy and will lead to early termination of reading.
Simplify. Presentations with lots of words describing and defining points are not as interesting as slides with less words.
Understand and express your themes. When you reflect on the work you have done, what is it? Why did you do it? Did you enjoy it? Once you understand the work you’ve done and what you want to do establish the themes and provide the supporting facts.
Gimmicks can be ok. One person used small pictures for his “Hobbies and Interests” at the bottom of the page including a penguin to represent his interest in Linux. This pop encouraged conversation and interest.
Reserve voice for the interview. Resume purpose is to get you past the gate keepers and into the technical interview. That interview is where your personality and character should shine.
Focus on the positive. Instead of saying “Eliminated noise in monitoring” phrase it as “Ensured monitoring was relevant.” Instead of focusing on all the firefighting and frustrations, “In spite of day to day operations, I accomplished..”
Remove years of experience from skills section. People who want this can do the math themselves. It’s more text noise, and can hurt you if people are ageists.
Don’t put something on your resume that you don’t feel comfortable being asked about. For example, if you haven’t done java since college don’t include it as a skill.
The priority of a resume is to get you the interview. It is also a useful tool to prep the interviewers to frame questions. It is your marketing, the summary of your skills and experiences so take the time to regularly review your message.
Thanks to the #coffeeops crew for the lively discussion. I may be completely butchering some expressed ideas and I’ve definitely dropped a few by the wayside due to my notetaking, thoughts and interpretations.
This is definitely not meant as a complete how to with regards to resumes but hopefully it is helpful especially when considering updating your LinkedIn profile!
What recruiters look at with the 6 seconds they spend on your resume. The study this article was based on.