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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Resume Points To Consider If You Want A Job At A Large Enterprise

A frequent and sometimes loathsome responsibility of mine is to pour over resumes when looking for enterprise developers - either for employee positions or contract positions. I say loathsome only because there are some really bad resumes that come through - I fear that bad smelling resumes are too common in the technical field. But people are important, so I actually think this is a very important responsibility of mine. I thought I would share some thoughts in hopes of improving my (and your) situation...

Do not put your laundry list of every tool you have ever touched at the top of your resume. Put this at the end. I skip right to experience because I want to see what you have done, not what you think you know or want to advertise.

Do not make your laundry list of tools take up more than 1/4 of a page - I have seen an entire page devoted to this and it's ridiculous.

Do limit your resume to 3 pages - but the best candidates can produce a quality 2-page resume. Your resume needs to be human scannable and at a summary level; the purpose of interviews is to go into details.

Do explain what you did, but do it by explaining your responsibilities and how they related to the responsibilities of others on the team. You will likely be interacting with a lot of people in your new position, and you get points for showing that you get the fact that relating well on a team is crucial.

Do write with good grammar and communication skills. High quality communication is turning out to be a key differentiator in the current market.

Do seek the advice of a technical writer or another page layout specialist for good formatting on your resume. There is no Jalopy for your resume, and it needs to look better than your code if you want it to be scannable. (Clue: bolding and highlighting and underlining key words actually makes it harder to read.)

Do not include a career goal - I don't know why, I just always thought that was weird.

Do not have a cover page - again, you should only have 2-3 pages total, and each one should be content-rich. (Clue: decreasing margins and using small fonts increases the volume of content but not its richness.)

Do know where to drawn the line on lying. Everyone exagerates on their resume, and I am not so naive to discourage that behavior. But be prepared to explain everything on your resume in an interview, and understand the difference between exageration and dishonesty.

Curious if others in my position also have thoughts to share on what you like or don't like to see...


At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you say do not use a cover letter - I think you mean "Attached to your resume document" rather than at all.

I totally respect a well written cover letter that will point out particular areas of experience and expertise relevant to the posted job/company/industry. THAT only makes my life easier - the applicant has done some of the work for me...

At 12:32 PM, Blogger scott said...

Good point, anonymous... and you're right about keeping it separate from your resume. I think a good cover letter is (again) brief, to the point, and is used to demonstrate relevance to the position in question rather than just another sound off on all of your skills. Thanks for your comment!

At 7:34 PM, Blogger JT said...

Enjoyed this read...
Two questions if I may:
(1) What are your thoughts on breadth vs. depth of experience?
(2) How does your opinion change between architect and developer candidates?

At 7:41 AM, Blogger scott said...

James -
I don't have a strong scientific answer on breadth vs. depth, but I probably tend more towards breadth if I have to pick one because I value versatility and adaptability. But the real deal is that I read between the lines for professionalism, strong team interaction skills, communication skills, etc. - you could have those with either breadth or depth.
(2) is an interesting question - I think I would have a different do/do not list for architect candidates, but there I think the key is to look for good leadership qualities and communication skills, and being an Agilist is an absolute must as this is a role plagued by ceremonialism. James McGovern had a great post on the resume-driven design pitfall - see the "links to this post" list.
James, I have also enjoyed being a subscriber to your blog - keep it up and thanks for your comment!

At 6:44 PM, Blogger JT said...

Thanks for your perspectives!

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Robert McIlree said...

Excellent post Scott! Here's a few more things to consider...

Does HR screen the resumes you get to see? If so, then its a pretty sure bet that buzzword matching has been performed either by a scanner or a human; and HR types are trained to expect cover letters and immediately deep-six those that don't have them.

I have never been able to figure out what qualifies a $12-per-hour HR clerk to screen resumes for important high-end technical positions paying closer to, if not over $100K per year. HR should stick to benefits and employee relations and let the hiring managers decide who they want to interview and hire out of all applicants.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger scott said...

Yes, you are starting to get on to some of the issues around procurement that we deal with...

I think the humans in this case doing highlighting are likely from vendor firms, rather than HR, but your pay comment holds. Some people who purport to think they provide quality resources seem to think that searching monster and dice for keywords is doing their job, when they should be cultivating a high-quality social network instead.

We have reviews coming up, so I'm going to go easy on HR. ;-)

At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Sohail S said...

I am a developer and my wife is the so called HR types........ I can bet you 20 bucks that she convinces you otherwise. I have spoken to good recruiters (one even knew how Struts works - and in great detail) and some really bad ones. The best of the breed know how to find a happy medium between the two........

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Marcus Ronaldi said...

When you are looking for an enterprise architecture position assume your resume will go through at least two people that are not aware of what you do which could lead to a long resume.

At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Bethany Pirttima said...

I can't stress enough about Scott's comment regarding inflating your knowledge on your resume. You are truly setting yourself up for the inevitable humilitation of the awkward pauses during a tech screens. Another tip if I might add... answer the question that is asked of you. Candidates make the mistake of getting off topic if they are uncertain of the answer to a certain technical question. I assure you your tangent will only lead to your demise in the recruiting process. You are better off being honest and owning up to your lack of insight. Another option is to use it as an opportunity to stress your desire to learn and grow in all areas. One last tip... never give yourself a 10 out of a possibile 10 when asked to rate yourself on a certain technology. The only exception is if you are known as the "father of... (insert technology)."

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

During an interview never return a number for a "rate yourselt on a scale of 1-10." question. Instead describe how you think your applicable experience in that area measures up to the task at hand in words.
(E.g. I have worked with XYZ at WVU and we have pulled a few rabbits out of the hat, that I think we could use with your ZYX.) If you feel confident you can hack whatever they throw at you, smile and say "I'll only say 10 so you don't go and hire someone with less ability who doesn't mind padding it."
Apart from trying to find out how confident you are in your abilities the question is also used if you are likely to end up in a position that is subject to a lot of unqualified flag from managers from other departments and from higher up the ladder. I admit to using something like that myself in such a situation. Someone who underrates themselves or has to give a response a lot of thought might be off the book in a hurry because, as their manager, I don't want to have to deal with either having to patch their ego or keep explaining to the other guys (or gals) that I really do have qualified staff and it really does take that long and is that complicated.
(I've been known as "the mother of" a couple of things in my time and usually found that after a while students or people who used it came up with lots of questions or improvements I had never thought of. So I guess I wouldn't qualify for a 10 :-o}
The reason for your $12 an hour "scanner" personnel sorting through resumes is that I wouldn't know a manager who thinks it's a good use of their rather expensive time, going through a pile of about 300 to 400 resumes (try 3000 to 4000 for some positions) of hopefuls who have just read the book in college or looked over their peers' shoulders while they were using that tool, to find the couple that are likely to be material that fits the job.
Unfortunately with the current trend toward having an agency between me and my prospective employee we don't get resumes tailored to a specific opening. Applicants file a "one size doesn't fit anyone" resume with their agents and those tend to be full of garbage and emphazising points I don't need to know and maybe let a gem shine less brightly.
If you do get a chance to send your resume for a specific position, make sure to research the company and rewrite your resume to fit what they have and asked for in their announcement for the opening. Spend a couple of dimes and hours to network your way inside if you really want that job and find out what exactly they are using and trying to do.
It might just be me, but I don't like boring "been there, done that, used this" accounts. I'd much rather have a resume that states they "used Tool A at company B to make their thingamyjig go 10 times faster," or they "designed a X server Y user Z applications architecture that has been running successfully at company V for the past 3 years." Someone who shows they actually successfully did the stuff we are trying to get to work is going to get a lot more attention from me than someone who has a long "laundry list".
Just add a line
"Highlight: Pulled rabbit out of hat."
to your "been there" and catch an eye with your best rabbit.
I think most of us have been in a position where a company asked for some obscure experience you didn't have - "Give me the book and I'll put it under my pillow tonight and will tell you tomorrow." - If you do pad your resume make sure you do read the book BEFORE an interview and look at internet forums discussing the thing. Chances are someone else in the world ran into the same problem that they throw at you during the interview.
Be ready to repond to specific questions with lightning speed, rephrasing the question (gives you a couple of seconds to rack your brain if you've heard of it)and if you come up empty say "I'm not sure I've encountered that. I'd have to give that some thought." Then either try to come up with a solution on the spot from what you've read or just let it stand as that. (Someone who comes up with a workaround at that point gets extra credit in my book.} This won't work if they asked something basic and you are clueless. In that case your cover is blown. You can also not do this repeatedly without rousing attention.
Hope you'll get the job you want.
Sorry this got a bit long, I didn't have time to shorten it. ;-)

At 2:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a recent college graduate, I am finding entry level jobs virtually nonexistent. What irritates me beyond belief is that people expect everyone to have at least 5 years of experience under their belt. Where are these magical years of experience supposed to come from? Am I just supposed to give up on a technical career and just become a cashier for the rest of my life?

At 4:06 AM, Blogger perfect said...

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

At 5:37 AM, Blogger madhu said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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