Technical Resume Hints

Technical Resume Advice

The advice you'll get at a place like OSU Career Services is appropriate for generic resumes, but not all of it applies when tailoring your resume for a technical role. Technical resumes will typically be read by automated systems, HR people, and the professional engineers who conduct your interview.

Know Your Audience

Once you get your resume into the hands of an interviewer or hiring manager, it needs to accurately reflect who you are and what you can do. Don't lie, and don't bullshit. Sure, claiming to be proficient in technologies you don't know might get you an interview, but that interview will ask questions that you can't answer and generally waste everyone's time.

Conversely, don't underestimate your own abilities. If there's a project that you've done which you're reluctant to include on your resume because you think it's too trivial, ask in the IRC channel for feedback on whether it seems relevant to the position for which you're applying.

Engineers and technical recruiters like numbers and facts more than vague claims. For example, "Improved Android system throughput by 25% in some use cases" is much clearer and better quantified than "worked on Android devices".

SEO (search engine optimization)

If you're unlucky enough to be applying through automated systems rather than personal recommendations, it's especially important to list the names of all the technologies you're confident with. The automated systems for deciding whose resumes get seen by humans basically just search for buzzwords that match the job postings.

However, this is no excuse to include a wall of acronyms which people can't read. Put the names of the technologies you've worked with in places that make sense.

How many pages?

For most students in their first few years of open source involvement, one page is sufficient. A curriculum vitae includes publications and speaking experience, and is expected to exceed a single page if those sections have several items in each.

Although some recruiters believe that multiple-page resumes are acceptable, others will discard anything over a single page on the grounds that it shows you can't communicate concisely.

As a practical consideration, a single page is more convenient than multiple, because most of the resumes you print will be for career fairs on campus. If you're busy, you'll probably be updating and printing your resume in a hurry, and collating several pages then finding a stapler is inconvenient.

In short, resumes are best kept to a single page unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Resume Sections

Contact information

Include your full name, email address, GitHub, probably phone number, and possibly IRC handle. Be cautious about including your phone number or home address if you plan to share your resume on GitHub or your personal web site.

Mission Statement or Statement of Purpose

If you can sum up your goal in a single sentence, it doesn't hurt to include it. It might be especially helpful if you're trying to pivot your career by applying for jobs that don't precisely match your experience. However, if your qualifications and hobbies tell a cohesive story of what you enjoy doing, it doesn't hurt to omit the mission statement entirely.

Education

If you're applying through channels that recruit college students, they will expect you to have your education listed. This section should include school, year and month of anticipated graduation, major, and GPA.

Some positions require GPA to apply, others will assume the worst if you omit it, and others don't care. As a general rule, you should include your GPA unless it's worse than what the recruiter will assume if you leave it out. Alternatively, talk to the recruiters of each company you apply to, and customize your resume for their requirements.

Skills

Most people use a centralized skills section to list all their buzzwords at once. If you have skills that you've picked up independently of any work or open source experience that appears elsewhere on your resume, you should include a skills section. However, if all of your major skills relevant to the job correlate to work or open source experience that's already on your resume, include them in those sections and use the space that would have gone to skills for other things.

Employment

List 3-5 recent, relevant jobs. List job title, employer, start month and year, and end month and year. Follow it with a couple of lines about what you did. Don't say "I"; they already know who you are. Use quantifiable metrics whenever possible. Brag. Name the technologies you learned at each job, preferably in a way that indicates your level of expertise with them.

Projects/Contributions

Do you maintain an open source project? List it, with a few words about what it does and a link to its site. Did you write a cool, open-source thing that shows off your skills? List it and link to it. Have you gotten code into somebody else's open-source project? Again, mention what the project does and where to see your contributions, unless it's extremely popular or used by the company where you're applying.

References

Don't include them. It's debatable whether "references available upon request" is necessary at all -- typically, if a job requires references, it'll ask you for them directly.

It's especially important to avoid including your references' contact information if you post your resume online, on your personal site or in a GitHub repo. Web crawlers come through from time to time and scrape out everything formatted like a phone number or email address, and then spam them.

Hobbies

If you have a hobby that relates directly to the position you're applying for or makes you stand out meaningfully, include it. For example, if you're a world champion at a well-known game, or an avid golfer who's applying to write the website of a golf supplies company, include these facts about yourself. If the fact that you do a hobby carries useful information about why you'd be a better choice than other candidates for the job, include it. Otherwise, leave it out.

Activities

If you've been actively involved in a club's leadership while in school, it's worth mentioning. Your involvement with clubs also demonstrates that you can manage your time well, and are self-motivated to go do cool things.

Leave out high school activities unless they're directly relevant to the job (robotics club when applying to a robotics company, for instance) or they showcase skills that you haven't demonstrated in any other experience you've listed.

Formatting

Make it pretty.

In this case, pretty means clean and elegant. Words should be distributed over the page in a way that leaves neither too much nor too little whitespace between sections. Extraneous icons and blocks of color rarely improve simple layouts, and often detract from them.

Imagine that you're a recruiter looking at your 50th resume of the day, and this resume on is currently at the top of the stack. Is it enjoyable to look at?

As an applicant it's easy to feel like you're the center of the universe and your resume's primary purpose is to show off your achievements, but it isn't. It actually exists to make the recruiter's day better, because they feel good when they come across the resume of a well-qualified and promising candidate.

To show that you respect the recruiter's time and don't want to hurt their eyes, don't pack too much information onto the page. It's okay to tease them with high-level summaries of your accomplishments and leave them wanting more detail, because you can share those details in the interview.

Whitespace

Don't leave big empty blocks of space on the page. Spread out your content, vertically and horizontally, and tweak bullet indentation until things look nice and lines don't wrap at awkward locations.

Font size

Keep the default LaTeX font (more about that in a moment) for most of your resume, and never go smaller than 10pt.

Paragraphs

No. Bulleted lists, or lists without bullets. Short, easy-to-read sentences about what you've done.

Line width

If for some reason you've chosen to go with a plain-text resume, wrap the lines at 80 characters. Yes, it's old-fashioned. But 80 characters is about the width of a column of text that it's comfortable to read on the web, and a different width will look subtly wrong to coders accustomed to reading documents of the more standard size.

Margins

1" is good. With smaller margins, be especially cautious to avoid the hazards of tiny font sizes, walls of text, and awkward horizontal spacing.

File Format

Use LaTeX to generate your resume. LaTeX is useful for all writeups, and will prove invaluable when you get to CS311. Most importantly, it more or less guarantees that your resume will end up looking pretty.

LaTeX is easy to keep under version control when you add and remove sections, as well.

Companies should allow you to submit your resume in .pdf format, which is a good choice because it displays pretty consistently across all systems and is harder to inadvertently modify. If they demand a .doc, LaTeX can be rendered to .rtf, which can then be renamed to .doc, and then allegedly it works fine in Word. Test this, though, as your mileage may vary.

Upload your .tex, your Makefile, and probably a .pdf to GitHub. It's not usually a good idea to upload pdfs to GitHub, but resumes are an exception because it's convenient to have a pdf file available online whenever you need to link to it.

Specialized resumes

Keep a single master resume with all of the sections and content you might want. Trim it down to the most applicable page of content for a given position, then render a nice pdf, give it a useful name, and submit.

Be sure to keep a copy of each specialized resume you send out so you can review what the company knows about you when you're called for an interview.

Be aware of the company's mission, vision, and culture, and refer to how you're a good fit for them in your cover letter. Include a cover letter, even if it's just the email message to which you attach your resume, even if it's nominally optional. It's ok to tailor your mission statement to reflect the company's values, but it's generally considered overkill to refer to the company by name in your resume. That's what the cover letter is for.

Proofread

Have several other people look over your resume for typos. Triple-check that your email address and phone number are correct.

Render your .pdf and see how the layout looks.

Go through every single line on the page and ask yourself whether it helps prove that you're the best candidate for the job to which you're applying. Delete any useless information -- remember the part about how you're the 50th resume on the stack and want to show that you respect the recruiter's time?

Once you've pruned all of the unnecesary parts, render the .pdf again and ask yourself whether it's pretty. Since you've been staring at this same document for several hours by now, try looking at your screen in a mirror. You won't be able to read the writing, but it'll show you whether the text is arranged across the page in a balanced and generally nice-looking way.

Remember to commit and push your .tex file after making everything pretty.

Finally, read the entire thing out loud. This might feel silly. I don't care. Read it to your roommate, your cat, your teddy bear... but verbalize the exact words on the page. If a sentence sounds awkard, fix it.

Some Examples

Emily Dunham

  • LaTeX resume, an older version helped get an Intel internship

Spencer Krum

  • A different LaTeX template; got fulltime DevOps position at UTI

Rob McGuire-Dale

  • Plain text, but it looks great. He's worked for Boeing and REI.

Major Hayden

  • Not a LUG or CAT acquaintance, but it's a man page. An actual man page.

  • Not sure how this design theme would work for ladies in tech, though.

Other Resources

If you find good resource for this section, please update the document! Or ping edunham and she'll add the link.

How to focus on accomplishments

Fonts in LaTeX