Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Resumes: Views from a hiring manager

I’ve been fortunate to grow a team significantly in the last year. To achieve this, I’ve had many screenings and interviews. This process led to the following observations.

Focus your skills list
Just because you programmed in Prolog twenty years ago doesn’t mean it belongs on your resume. I am put off by a resume that list dozens of languages, operating systems, and tools. It leaves the impression you can’t self-assess your strengths. Secondly, it doesn’t allow me to determine the technologies you actually know well.

You might say, “I list my skill level for each technology!”

Strike two.

Can you really say that you are 4 out of top level of 5 in C#, C++, Java, Perl, Ruby, PHP, SQL, OOP, MVVM, MVC, M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, Agile, and Waterfall? Yes, I’ve seen this type of listing repeatedly. No they didn’t get a call.

Anything you put on your resume is fair game. If you haven’t used something for years or you have only dabbled, you won’t discuss it well. That can only hurt you. If you list something in this category, acknowledge it was a while ago. And rehearse why you still mention it.

Highlight strengths
List your strong skills that match the job for which you are applying. Eliminate everything not relevant to the job description. If I’m looking for .NET C# with Visual Studio, then Java with Eclipse isn’t necessarily going to help. There is an exception.

If you have substantial domain experience (e.g., Healthcare), then highlight it. Domain experience is often more valuable than technical skills. In this scenario, drive home the domain experience while acknowledging that you used different technology.

Demonstrate that you understand the external environment and are self-aware regarding your technology skills. Then highlight (through examples) your ability to acquire new skills and obtain a level of excellence with them.

Closing thoughts
Tune your skills list to the job description. It is better to identify a few skills you know well than to dilute precious interview time on average or weak ones. And remember, knowledge of languages and tools isn’t the only deciding factor for hiring someone. Your attitude about learning and passion for software are as much a factor as experience and skills.

Be ruthless with what you put on your resume. If you don’t, I will.