Matt Jones Technology

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How to Get Past the Software Engineer Resume Screen

By Matt Jones | February 20, 2016 | 4 Comment

Hiring average engineers is easy. Hiring excellent software engineers is hard. So far this year, the hiring managers that I work with and I have seen 50+ resumes for 4 positions and made 2 job offers. The math here is not really in the favor of the candidates or our hiring managers. Every stage of the process is meant to weed some candidates out, and we’ve gotten pretty good at that. But, I need good people to make it through the process, so here’s a candid guide on the various steps in the process and what candidates can do to improve their chances.

This will be a several part series, with the first section on applying for the right job, and some resume tips.

Before Applying

To be honest, this is where most of the wasted time occurs.  The biggest tip here is to apply for jobs that you genuinely think you’d be successful at.  Applying for the wrong job, or submitting your resume for every job opening on our site just confuses things, and frankly, makes a candidate look like they don’t understand what the role is.  Read the job description.  A good job description will list the technologies you’d be working with and your role within the team.  Of course there will be follow-up questions, but at least make sure there is some synergy with what the company is trying to do.

Recruiters

If you are working with a recruiter, they will typically earn around 20% of your first year’s salary if you accept an offer.  Companies pay them well to get your questions answered promptly and to represent you in the process.  In my previous job searches, I’ve tried the “go it alone” approach submitting myself blindly to companies, and the experience when you partner with an excellent recruiter is much more streamlined.  They typically know details that aren’t on the job description and the areas where a hiring manager has listed a requirement, but is willing to budge a bit.

Resumes

Now that you’ve figured out which job to apply for, it’s time to take a close look at your resume.  Ask yourself if your resume demonstrates your abilities to do the job.  I understand that before the resume gets to me, it is typically read by a computer to determine a potential match, but by the time it gets to a hiring manager who has a million other things to do, you really have about six seconds to make an impression.  I have a very short amount of time to evaluate whether I think you’d be a good fit.  Here are some red flags for me:

  • The twelve page resume cannot be evaluated quickly.  And in the long resume, it’s probably easier to find reasons to reject a candidate than to recommend the next step.
  • A half a page of accomplishments on a 3-month contract demonstrates that you aren’t really sure what the most important points were or that you are overstating your role on the team.
  • Excessive use of bold text and highlighted text is distracting when reviewing a resume.  Use clear sentences to describe what you want me to understand.
  • Having a language or technology listed in your “Technology Highlights” section, but not listed in relation to any particular position raises red flags that this resume may have been written for a computer to read, but not to explain to a hiring manager what you contributed.
  • Incorrect spelling or grammar raises a concern about attention to detail.  In the field of Software Engineering, attention to detail is critical, and demonstrating a lack of attention to detail on the paper that embodies you makes me concerned about how much detail you will provide to our code.

Assuming you’ve made it past the red flags above, here are some extras that will give you more time on the review:

  • Include your github.com account link.  Most recruiters will remove this, but submit them a PDF and it makes it harder for them to edit.  Seeing what open source projects interest you, what you’ve contributed to, and how you write code for yourself helps hiring managers know how you’d write code for them.
  • Do you have a website where you blog about things that are interesting to you?  Include that on your resume.  I almost don’t care how mundane the posts are.  But if you can write clearly about something technical, even for your own benefit, that’s a huge asset.
  • I know it’s hard to customize your resume for every position, and that is honestly not expected, but if there is some technology or process that is emphasized in the job description, it would behoove you to mention that in the top portion of your resume.  If your objective statement matches the qualities of the person I’m looking for, you’ll get extra time.
  • If I’m not finding certain keywords, I’ll hit Ctrl+F and look for a few.

Finally, on resumes, it’s important to know the not-so-buzzword-things that hiring managers are looking for.  Your resume has to answer these questions:

  • Is there a decent probability that this person can do the job.
  • Can this person communicate well.  I can’t underestimate the value of this.  This is as important as the first bullet.  If I hire you, I’m going to be having conversations with you and reading your e-mails  for years.  You are going to be listening and sharing technical ideas with other members of the team.  Your resume is your chance to demonstrate that you understand what you’ve done and why it’s important.

I hope this was helpful.  Please comment with feedback.  In the next installment, I’ll share some candid thoughts on phone screens.

4 Comments

23 February, 2016 Reply

Great post, Matt. Lots of fantastic tips for Software Engineers on the market. Do you mind if I share with my LinkedIn connections?

    Matt Jones

    20 March, 2016 Reply

    Please do! I hope this will be the first in a series of articles!

Matt Jones

20 March, 2016 Reply

Paul -- I've just added social sharing links and social logins! Feel free to use those!

07 September, 2018 Reply

Great resume tips. i agree with all the information you described here. It gives the relevant information about that. this tips are very helpful for me and other students who are preparing for interview. Important factors are completely explained here, so this blog is very important for all of us. Thank you so much for sharing!

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