It’s hiring season again, which means it’s time to update your resume.
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Writing an effective resume is a challenge. It isn’t taught well in school and in all my research I only found one useful resource (check it out here).
In the last two years I’ve looked at hundreds of resumes online, reviewed resumes when I hired co-ops at Teknically, and read resume feedback posts on reddit. I’ve greatly appreciated feedback on mine from peers, recruiters, investment bank managing directors, and startup founders.
My current resume is at version 21. I still don’t have the all answers, but I’m more confident about the basics.
Over the next couple posts, I’m going to share the biggest mistakes I’ve made and see too often in resumes, interviewing, and negotiating job terms for tech jobs/startups. And, I’ll give you the strategies I use so you can be more confident getting your next job.
Welcome to Hired.
Today we start with the most important, yet poorly done bulk of a resume: job and side project descriptions.
Too often, they become forgettable lists of tasks you did, with common tasks or technologies explained unnecessarily. Hiring managers need to be able to quickly grasp the impact you had. Most descriptions annoy them so much they never finish reading the resume.
Your resume needs to spark enough curiosity that managers can’t help but book an interview to learn more.
In this post, I’ll give you the technique that will focus the bulk of your resume on impact.
Note: though most of the examples are from a software developer perspective, the mistakes and technique are useful for resumes of other fields. Though there may be less numbers you can use to quantify your personal impact, focus on concisely explaining the impact and your contribution as part of a team. Try and refrain from simply describing what you did.
Don’t mistake your resume for the interview
“Everyone asks for your resume, so if I write a great one won’t that get me the job?”
I initially thought so.
My early resumes were jam packed with everything that could prove I was the right candidate for the job. As I got feedback from those I respect, I realized I was trying to make a resume do far more than it could.
A resume isn’t a history of past jobs. A resume isn’t a portfolio of accomplishments. So what is the purpose of a resume?
A resume’s only purpose is to spark enough curiosity that a manager can’t help but book an interview.
Impact statements spark curiosity, Descriptions put recruiters to sleep
After realizing that my resume didn’t need to answer every possible question (if they’re that curious, they can book an interview), I cut down text by almost 60%.
More importantly, I changed my descriptions to focus solely on impact.
Here are two examples of text that could describe my internship last summer at Videostream.
Growth Intern at Videostream
- Solely responsible for all customer support emails in Freshdesk. Supported troubleshooting issues, feature requests, and premium upgrade questions.
Growth Intern at Videostream
- Developed new site that boosted app downloads by 32%, weekly active users 12%
- Resolved 2,148 email tickets as support lead for Videostream’s 1.2 million users
Case B is on my resume. But why?
Case B is concise and focused on quantified impact.
Numbers are proof of your positive contribution to the team. They tell a story of what you accomplished, which is far more interesting than what tasks you did. Plus, hiring managers can’t resist the allure of their team achieving similar results if they hired you.
Aspects of my job that didn’t have numbers, instead include a strategic list of technologies and skills that would be applicable in the next job I’m applying for.
So, how do you turn forgettable job descriptions (Case A) into memorable, quantified impact statements (Case B)?
For each statement in your descriptions, ask yourself the following:
1. Is this statement as concise as possible?
- Are you explaining company processes or technologies unnecessarily?
- Designed and wrote the two-way communication method between product and server. “So you implemented RESTful or SOAP. What did you do here?” – r/uwaterloo resume feedback
- Used online cloud email support desk to answer customer support emails. (a bit repetitive and boring don’t you think?)
- Long winded, unnecessary, verbose descriptions spark no additional interest in you as a candidate and reduce the chances any hiring manager will finish reading your resume.
- If no numbers can be shared, skip to Q5.
2. Is there a percentage change you could use to quantify your impact?
- Percentage changes best describe the impact of
- growth (improved conversions, growth in user base, onboarding completion…)
- reduction of undesirable events (support wait time, employee/customer turnover, avg QA batch test time…)
- Percentages have baseline context built in. This can better reflect the importance of a change within a small data set
- Increasing downloads by 25/week would be impressive with a baseline of 50/week (50% improvement) but insignificant if the baseline was 5,000/week (0.5% improvement)
- Percentages with directly stated or implied context are most memorable.
- If the job was at a big recognizable company, then it’s implied that any percentage is on a large number
- For jobs at smaller companies and side projects, somewhere in the description provide a static number for context (size of user base, number of monthly deals…)
- Caution: Don’t try to use percentages to hide insignificant changes behind a large percentage, hiring managers can see through this.
- “Look ma, I have 50% growth week over week!” “Jimmy, you only had 1 person before, now you have 2… “
- New website boosted app downloads by 32%
- Improved design increased weekly active users by 12%
- Reduced support ticket response time by 43%
3. Is there a static number that could be used?
- Static numbers can be useful to
- provide context (size of user base, sales team size…)
- make your impact undeniable – not vague like a percentage can be (lines of code, number of new closed deals, number of customers helped)
- talk about money given how accustomed people are to understanding importance in dollars ($85,000 in new sales resonates more than 12 closed deals)
- Smaller static numbers require context to seem impressive.
- Closing 3 new deals is only impressive within the context of few deals/time frame or in total.
- Completing 1 code audit in 1 work term is only impressive if it’s specified that this was a full audit on a million line code base.
- Caution: raw numbers can be confidential data (user acquisition, web visitors, revenue growth…) so check with your employer before using them.
- Resolved 2,148 support tickets for user base of 1.2 million
- Wrote 68 new canned responses to improve support team efficiency
4. Do I have a choice between a static number and a percentage change?
- Refer to Q2 and Q3 above, but keep in mind why you should be cautious.
- Generally, choose the one that sounds, first, most believable, and second, most impressive.
- Remember: numbers are useful to quantify your impact and spark curiosity. Used incorrectly your resume turns into click bait.
5. If no number can be shared, am I still focused on impact?
- Is the statement necessary? Are you falling back into regurgitating a verbose job description?
- Is this fundamental to understanding, through your resume, your overall experience as a job candidate?
- If it is a necessary statement
- focus on your impact to key company metrics even if you can’t personally quantify or share them.
- describe with a laser focus your specific contributions to a team that lead to their success.
6. Are these the technologies or skills I should strategically highlight given my next desired job?
- If there are no numbers but the statement is necessary, highlight technologies or skills you used that are most relevant to your next job.
- More about this coming next week…
Given most of you already have a resume, don’t be surprised if these questions end up eliminating a lot of what you already have written.
Getting rid of forgettable descriptions frees up space for you to write focused impact statements
If you’re stuck trying to determine your impact, try the following prompts:
- What metrics were part of my job? (# lines of code, tests passed, # commits, sales/month…)
- What metrics would my boss have been worrying about? (bug fix time per sprint, errors/user, downtime…)
- What metrics on another team might I have impacted? (conversion rates, download rates, user growth, user acquisition rates, on-boarding completion, daily/weekly/monthly active users…)
- What metrics related to business performance could my work have impacted? (revenue growth, lifetime value per user, shopping cart abandonment rate, transaction completion rate…)
- How did I impact customers? (# tickets resolved, time/resolved ticket, # customer demos…)
Not every job will have numbers that you can use, so focus on writing most concisely what you did. Consider the hiring manager for your next job who will read your resume and what technologies & skills they want to see.
Next in Blog :: Hired
Some internal hiring software now scores your resumes based on keyword analysis before any person ever reads it. Strategically choosing what technologies or skills to feature is becoming necessary to landing interviews at big companies.
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