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How To Write A Technical Resume For Programmers

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A new year is fast approaching and that means it might be time to do something different. Which might just mean finding a new job. So keeping your resume up to date and polished can become pretty important.

How To Write A Technical Resume For Programmers

If you are a programmer, a resume is a little bit different than your more traditional corporate resume for a few reasons. But mainly that other programmers will be reviewing your resume, and most programmers are not very corporate. So you will have to adjust just a tad bit if you want to stand out a little more. So here are a few guidelines on how to write a more effective resume, particularly if you are a programmer.

Make use of the overview/summary

Most people tend to use a generic overview paragraph that pretty much reiterates the contents of the resume in the summary section. Which is perfectly fine, except that that is kind of a waste of space that you could be making use of. It's the first thing that everyone reads and I've rarely run into one that made me excited to continue. But there have been a few. They weren't overly wordy or technical. They were very concise and to the point.

I have been a professional programmer for 12 years and have worked for fortune 500 companies in the past as well as with smaller consulting firms as both a team lead and a solo developer.

That paragraph can tell me much about someone than if they just wrote that they are looking for a job in programming. Of course, you are looking for a job in programming. That is why your resume is currently in my hands. So be more creative with your introductory paragraph. Be unique, be yourself. Tell a joke.

Are you lacking in work experience?

If you are early in your programming career, then you will have no choice really than to focus on your education, because you have to list something. This is where internships can really come in handy. Even spending 2 months working for a company as an intern can earn you some big points for a potential employer.

Focusing on your education or internships however does not mean just listing your syllabus and calling it a day.

Don't list your classes

The following are not acceptible forms of an eduation section:

  • CES 494 - Programming
  • DB 101 - Databases
  • Geo 210 - Geography
  • Gym

I've seen it many a time, and I've done the same thing many a time as well. When you're doing it, it feels alright and it makes sense. But when you are skipping lunch to go over resumes, there's an entirely different effect to having to read class list after class list. So don't just list your classes in an arbitrary and confusing format.

This doesn't even really have to be that complex or well thought out. A simple list of courses that you took with a slight description will be more than enough to draw a picture as to what you took and what you should know.

Took courses in:

  • Web applications with C#
  • Beginning database design
  • Design patterns

Something like that will tell me much more about your probable skillset then listing class courses with sequential numbers at the end. But don't get too caught up in the conversation about what you learned. More than likely, it isn't really applicable to the job, at least not yet. Focus on how you think those skills will translate over well. Or even which classes you enjoyed the most. Eagerness is cause for big points. This is all a points game, if you are starting to get the picture.

Extracurricular activities

Again, if you are lacking in experience then you have to bring your best game to the table and listing your after school activities can only help. But only, if they are relevant. I'll say this, relevant is subjective. And by that I mean, if you play basketball on the weekends with a team, that might be considered relevant. It shows teamwork and that you are an active person. And you never know, but the person who is interviewing you might really enjoy basketball. Many of the interviews that have gone my way have been caused by random conversations that have nothing to do with the job itself.

I once spent 20 minutes talking about baseball. And I know nothing about baseball. But in the heat of the moment, you know baseball, believe me.

I've gotten job offers in the past on what I'm pretty sure is my knowledge in video games. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. When you are getting hired for a job, you are indeed getting hired for more than just your technical knowledge. Your personality and charisma play big points. Everybody wants to hang out with the cool person that doesn't stress too much.

Are you more career-focused?

You have a few more options if you already have some experience under your belt. For example, with enough experience, the education portion of your resume is not really relevant anymore. Still leave it there, but no one is going to be spending too much time there.

Listing relevant jobs

Again, relevantly is subjective. But once you have some real-world programming experience, you can probably stop listing your high school gas station job on your resume. Perfectly fine. It doesn't really win you too many points and it just clutters up your resume and might make you look like you aren't sure where you are going in life.

If you worked for a company for a month, you might also consider leaving it out really as that might hurt you more than help you, depending on the company that you are applying to. Large corporations tend to want to hire developers that will stick around for a while. Whereas smaller shops usually don't have any preference as their job openings are limited.

Don't list every single programming language in the world

Many programmers will tend to do this. They will list every language that they have encountered in the hopes that this is worth more points. But it really isn't. Deep down we all know that you probably don't know each and every one of these languages that well. You might have passed them by in your past jobs, but you are not so technically skilled in them. And also, you can be assured that the person interviewing you does not know every single language either.

List what you are most comfortable with because that is what you will be asked about. And I assure you, you'd rather ace through a set of questions about your favorite programming language, then "um" your way through keywords that you never heard of.

However if you are highly skilled in that language and you know it, then talk more about that particular language. If you are a web developer for example in .NET, then list the .NET languages that you are familiar with along with the servers and databases that you use. This paints a much better picture of your stack knowledge and again, makes it easier on the person who is reviewing your resume in making their assessments.

And lastly, always keep adjusting

You probably won't get the job at the very first company that you interview for. Probably. You might. But probably not. But that's not a bad thing. Enjoy the process and learn as much as you can. See what they asked and analyze it. Look for patterns in what others are asking you and start to see how you can better tweak your resume to match the market's needs.

You should have 1 small change to make to your resume after each and every interview. Whether it's something you realize that you aren't too familiar with that you should remove. Or whether it's something you realized you did a fantastic job in and you want to highlight more. There are always improvements to be made.

Walter G. is a software engineer, startup co-founder, former CTO of several tech companies and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He has been blogging for the past 5 years and is an avid BMX rider, bio-hacker and performance enthusiast.
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