Throwing job applications into the gaping maw of the IT recruitment machine is a soul-sucking endeavor. The continuous cycle of emails that start with "We thank you for your application, however …" (or, even worse, no emails at all) feels like a slap in the face.
If you are getting rejected in the first round of the hiring process (when you apply for a job role and never get a call back), chances are, your poorly crafted resume is being a blocker.
Resumes have a much more significant impact on the type of opportunities you are looking for than we may believe. If you're job hunting, your resume can significantly influence the kind of opportunities you land.
Why your resume matters
Regardless of the company or project, the role of a software developer doesn't change significantly. According to Daxx.com, there were 26.4 million software developers in the globe in 2020. And that number is only rising. Out of those, sources such as CNBC, Inc., and Ladders, Inc., have estimated that roughly 1 to 3 million candidates apply to tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and more. And how many of those applicants do you think get hired? According to studies, roughly about 0.2% of those applicants get employed in FAANG companies. This clearly indicates that the recruitment funnel at FAANG companies is bloated. One has a better chance of getting into universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and IIT than getting into FAANG companies as a software developer. In a single week, these companies can see more than 1,000 applicants for a single role! So the question is - With all of these applicants, what's that one thing that's going to help you stand out?
Your brand and the interview process
Think of a resume like the game, Where's Waldo?
The game consists of a series of detailed double-page spread illustrations depicting dozens or more people doing various amusing things at a given location. Everything in this game looks very similar, but the goal is to look for a specific character - Waldo.
Now, consider you're Waldo in a vast pool of applicants. How does a recruiter find you? An effective resume acts as a tool for a recruiter or a hiring manager, which can point out and say, "There's Waldo!." That's the goal of your resume; to help you stand out from the crowd.
An effective resume also helps differentiate your profile to different audiences depending on the interview process's various stages. An effective resume:
- Sells you into the hiring process: As a software engineer, you need to know who's your audience when you're applying for a job role. The first person to look at your resume is a recruiter. Hence, a resume should be compelling enough for a recruiter to shortlist you when applying for a job role.
- Sells you through the hiring process: Once you get through the first step (being shortlisted), your resume is passed on to the hiring manager. At a certain point during the interview, hiring managers will start asking questions about your previous experience. These questions are behavioral questions, such as "Tell me a little bit about your experience." or "Tell me about a project that you have worked on." When they ask such questions, they use your resume as a reference point.
A resume influences the hiring decision and team matching
The hiring committee can only choose a tiny percentage of all the applicants who apply for a job role. Sometimes, several candidates may be a great cultural fit and may have answered all questions correctly. However, if there are several qualified candidates and only a few open positions, the hiring decision is based on trade-offs.
When multiple candidates pass the bar, the hiring manager needs to look for relevant experience, projects, and experiences listed out on resumes. An effective resume that lists out what exactly you're capable of will help you ramp up.
Your resume also makes the team matching easy: This step is when you have already been approved for hire. Your resume should reflect the skills and experience relevant to the teams that are of most interest to you. This is how you influence where you land and can be extremely important for a successful offer negotiation.
"If anybody is familiar with Hip Hop or Rap from the 90s - your resume is your hype man when you are not in the room. When done effectively, it is your biggest tool to increase your audience's excitement. And in doing so, it allows you to separate from the crowd at every single process." - Nick Camilleri, Head Career Coach at Interview Kickstart.
Three primary sections of a resume
There are three primary sections in a resume, viz.,
- Summary/technical skills
- Professional experience
- Closing information
Each of these sections has its objective and a strategy of how you utilize it effectively.
Section 1: Summary/technical skills
- Show your value, not your role
Several resumes that you see state, "Software engineer with x years of experience" or "XYZ was the core responsibility that I had." A good rule of thumb here is to say that if this statement can be copy-pasted to any other resume, it will probably not sell you very effectively. It's not helping you stand out and will make you look like everyone else.
Pro-tip: Avoid stating general responsibilities
If you are going to state your day-to-day responsibilities, talk about them in the context of the job role you're applying for, which means each company that you apply to may have a slightly different summary on your resume. This will get recruiters interested in your profile. For example, if you're applying to a company like Amazon and have experience with e-commerce platforms, payment platforms, and cloud-based solutions, you must highlight them. However, if you also have social networking experience, that skill should be highlighted when you apply to a company like Facebook rather than Amazon.
- Be brief, be gone
Sometimes, candidates write summaries that are a whole page long. The goal of a summary is to slow a recruiter down enough so that they look at your experience closely. Let's think about YouTube ads. After 5 secs, you have the option of skipping the ad, and the natural inclination is to skip it. Now, there may be times when we do not skip the ad. Why is that? Because the content is relevant and interesting. Similarly, if your summary is brief, to the point, and interesting, recruiters won't skip it.
A software engineer with …………………..(mention number of years) of experience in the …………….. domain. During my time at my (current/last employer), I…………. (overview of contribution/key achievements). In my next role, I would like to contribute to …………. (mention new company) in ………... (add specifics).
Technical skills: (mention relevant technical skills)
Languages: (mention known programming languages)
Section 2: Professional experience
The goal here is similar - show your value, not your role. Recruiters want to hire an effective software engineer. Remember, there are several software engineers out there. Recruiters need to know how impactful you have been in your previous company, which critical projects you have managed, and how effectively you have done your job.
This is what your professional experience on your resume should encompass:
- What did you do?
Mention your core responsibility but only in a word or two (in action verbs, such as led, developed, shipped, etc.)
- How did you do it?
Give recruiters some technical context. For example, "I built XYZ platforms using ABC technologies."
- What was the impact?
Discuss the results. What was the impact on end-user experience from before the project existed to after the project was completed. For example, "I was able to create a new onboarding flow which reduced the number of customer stabs by 50%. This positively impacted the number of sales and resulted in a revenue of XYZ dollars this quarter."
The recruiters and hiring managers want to see on papers why the problem was essential to solve and the reality that you could solve it. From there, recruiters can ask further questions such as "Why did you choose this particular strategy?" or "How were you able to accomplish that goal?" These questions give recruiters data to put on their notes that will allow them to sell you to people in the next stage.
However, writing your professional experience in a concise manner is the most challenging part of drafting a resume. Let's look at an easy template that you can use to write your professional experience.
Professional experience (template)
Position, Employer name (Team Domain)
Start month, year - end month, year
(Action verb, e.g., developed) XYZ (e.g., ML Database) using XYZ (tools/technology) which allowed (result/outcome/Impact).
A few common errors to avoid while writing your professional experience on a resume:
- Overly dense text/generalized statements: Avoid writing overly dense texts (three to four lines). This is too much information for recruiters. You need to include those three core areas - summary/technical skills, professional experience, and closing information. Any questions that recruiters have beyond that information can be talked about during the interview. Also, avoid writing responsibilities that are not relevant to the position you're applying for. If it's a responsibility that is not attributed to a specific project, it's too generic. Again, recruiters are not looking for software engineers but effective software engineers. To do that, recruiters need to see data that substantiates your claim that you're effective.
- Overly technical bullets: Richard Feynman had once said, "If you can't explain something in simple terms, you don't understand it" The same applies to you. Do not overload your resume with heavy technical terms that might be tricky for your non-tech audience. Bringing it to layman's terms is very important.
- Grammatical errors/tense agreement: Make sure you use Grammar check and read your resume over a few times before you apply for a job.
If you avoid these errors and you're able to format your bullets the way we discussed, you're instantly going to jump up to the top. The majority of people do not take enough care to go to this level.
Section3: Closing information
The final section in a resume is closing information. Things you include here are:
- Personal projects
At the end of the day, what you've done in your career is much more important than the rest but stating your education and accomplishments is like cherry on the cake.
Closing information (template)
Start month, year - end month, year
Award name, employer (reason for award)
Start month, year - end month, year
Project/patent/publication (brief explanation)
Start month, year - end month, year
It's only with a well-drafted resume that you can create a great first impression for a role. Resume writing is an essential part of interview preparation, especially if you're considering preparing for interviews at the most prominent firms. As such, an essential part of FAANG interview preparation involves crafting a well-documented and crisp resume that perfectly highlights your experience and career highs.