Dave's Notebook

Your Programming Resume is Garbage

Over the last several years, I’ve had a chance to read a few Programming Resumes. Or, I should say, TRY to read a few resumes. But frankly, if the Programming Resume I typically see is common, everyone who reads my blog needs this advice. I haven’t seen a barely adequate resume in years.

I’m sick of it. Oh, it’s good for me of course. I know my resume is going to stand out as such a unique work of art compared to the others, that I will get a call back right away. After all, if the competition is so incredibly weak, I don’t even need to try.

On the other hand, as someone who has to read these resumes, I’d like to have something better.

And no, I’m not going to go over the standard “how to make your resume awesome” stuff because evidently most programmers can’t even get the basics down. Seriously!

Photo credit: ollesvensson via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Your Programming Resume is Too Long!

I struggled for years to keep my resume down to two pages until I started seeing resumes from people with MUCH less experience than me that were 8 and 9 pages long. And I thought my 4 pager was too long! Here’s a valuable tip. No one really cares who you worked for 10 years ago. Even if you are a contract programmer like I am and you tend to switch gigs once every year or so. If you haven’t done it in the last year, I really don’t need a lot of detail about it. What have you done recently?! Here’s what happens when I see an 8 pager. I scan it for the buzz words I’m interested in and I see how often they show up. I then try to see if I can discern how much you really know other than how to spell the buzzword.

Your Resume Has NO White Space

You need lots of this. Just like in music, the rest are part of the music. If nothing stands out in your resume, how am I supposed to tell what you are capable of doing?

Did you try to USE a Word Processor?

I’m sure you are thinking, “yeah, I did” But from the resumes I’ve seen it barely looks like you used more than an old fashion type writer. There are two issues here. First, your document is boring. This goes along with the white space issue. Once again, how can I tell what is important if it is all the same font and all jammed together? Print out your resume. Forget for a second that this is your resume. Squint your eyes or otherwise look at it without being able to see the characters. What stands out? Does anything stand out? What do you want people to focus on? The second issue here is this. If you can’t use the basic features of a Word Processor, how good of a Programmer are you really?!

Lack of Organization

This one is a little subtler. I’m sure most people think their resumes are organized. Most of what I see looks like this: The first page has some form of a “summary” of what the person has done. Generally, a lot of bullet points that look no different than the same information they put in the work history.

The next seven or more pages have the work history with bullets under each with what the person did.

But here is my problem. You are making me wade through that first section to see if you did anything I’m interested in. It would be so much easier if you organized those bullets a bit. Again, white space, different fonts.

You Have too many Bullets per Job

Yeah. I did this too. But it was for a place I worked at for 8 years. There was a lot to tell. But then I realized, no one cares.

Here is all I care about with your work history. What technology did you use? Did you do something interesting? And bonus points if you can tell me what value you provided. Who are you beyond what technology you know? My current format has two bullets for each assignment that emphasize my strengths as a programmer generally. This is the value I provided.

The third bullet is the list of technology I used at that assignment. This is because, while I’ve listed all the tech I know at the top, I believe most places want to know where I got the experience. I know I would.

Multiple Short Gigs

A recent programming resume I saw had multiple 3 and 4 month assignments. This is a HUGE warning flag. Anyone looking at your resume is going to take one look at that and all kinds of warning bells are going to go off in their head. Especially if you can’t explain why they were short. Maybe they weren’t your fault. But let me tell you what is going on at the hiring side. We do a tech interview, the person comes in and we find out they have no clue how to do anything we hired them for. If you have multiple short assignments, the first thing we think is, “He has to be lying about what he can do.” Then again, if you are lying about what you can do, why not lie about how long you worked some place? Not that I’m suggesting that. We’ll find out soon enough. But if you are already lying…

Only What You Know

This should be obvious, but I see so many resumes that have exactly what we are looking for and then when we give a simple coding exercise, they can’t do the exercise.

We aren’t trying to trip you up. Just prove you’ve done something with the technology before. Please.

Just as a recent example.

We did a phone screen with a guy and we asked him several very technical questions. No code. Just, “what can you tell me about X” kind of questions. And he answered all of them in very intricate detail. He sounded really good. But after a half hour of this, you start to wonder. “If he is THIS smart, why is he interviewing for THIS job?” It isn’t like we are any of the really big tech companies.

When we finished the phone screen, I told the guy I was doing the interview with, “He’s either wicked smart or he was reading.” Well, there is only one way to find out. Do a face to face where he can’t read. Only we couldn’t do that because he lived too far away. So the next best thing was a skype interview with a shared code screen.

All we asked the guy to do was a simple object oriented abstraction exercise. OOP 101. It became clear that he didn’t have any clue about how to do Object Oriented Programming nor did he know anything about any of the technology we were going to ask him to do.

I guess this must work some of the time because we keep seeing this.

Keep On Generating Garbage

Like I said, the part of me that is competing with you for work wants you to continue producing crap. It makes it SO much easier for me to land my next gig. And now that I know, it has actually shaped what my resume looks like. Two pages. Just the essentials. Links to places where they can get more information about me if they want to go that deep.