My Tips For A Good Résumé / Employment Application

I have done a lot of recruiting over the years. It’s never been my main job, but at a smaller company, it’s always been something I’ve had to do. I’ve probably done hundreds and hundreds of interviews at this point and hired dozens of people. Working on recruiting is very rewarding once you find the right person for your company, but unfortunately it’s a long process to find the right person.

This means I come into contact with a lot of bad applications. Sadly, there are a lot of good, talented people hiding behind bad résumés. After seeing the same problems over-and-over, I thought it might be helpful to share my tips on making a résumé better. Most of these are geared towards tech because that’s what I know. So, here we go:

  • Tell me what you’ve done with the services/apps/AWS products you’ve used, don’t simply list them all.
    Anyone can create an AWS account and “use” those services. I’ve interviewed people that listed off tons of AWS services on résumés, but after I interview them, it’s clear that they haven’t been using AWS any differently than a normal VPS or dedicated server provider. Or many of the projects they worked on never made it to production. I want to know what you built, how long you used/maintained it, what problems you ran into, what your responsibility was, what type of things broke on it and why, why you chose those services in the first place, etc.
  • Make it clear what your role in any project was.
    Did you build the platform from scratch on your own? Was it you and one other person? Was it a team of 10? Did you only handle QA or support for the platform? Were you on-call when it broke? Was the platform in maintenance mode when you came on or did you make changes to it? All of these answers change your seniority level and are important to know and they are frequently unclear on resumes. Sometimes (although rare) this is an intentional deception but it will come out eventually and it simply means you’re wasting your time and mine. Other times it seems like people focus too much on summarizing what the company they worked for did instead of what they did at that company (which becomes especially useless information for people coming from larger companies).
  • Skipping a cover letter or writing a generic one that is a few sentences is a wasted opportunity.
    The résumé/CV is the item you send around to a bunch of different companies. The cover letter should be where you customize your message to the company you’re applying for. It’s where you can highlight projects/skills from your past that are applicable to what the company is working on. This is where you should really be heavily selling yourself to the company. The company is looking to solve a problem and you are the solution! At the bare minimum, you can show you actually know what the company does and took an interest. This is a good place to ask questions, too. If the company is unclear about what their pain points are, ask them!

If anyone has any other suggestions or disagree with my feedback, feel free to hit me up on twitter @gmcmillan or email me.