Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Resume Writing

Let's start with a summary of Joel's discourse on the craft of writing a resume. Joel urges us to write our resume with a  view not to waste an employer's time. He says an employer wants to judge your aptitude for the job in question, thus you must  make an attempt to cater to his needs and write personalized response as per the job requirements, if they interest you.

In the last one year I've been maintaining a resume of 9 pages. It contains a few sections with a running commentary in each  that I wrote painstakingly. I've got mixed responses from consultants and employers, some of them thinking I am desperate.  Some thought I was insane to write stories in there. However, keeping in line with the idea of _communication_ of the  necessary details, I wrote those sections so that I came out like a person.

I am in the process of rewriting my resume from scratch and would like to start a serious discussion about what'd be  considered important. What would an employer seek in a candidate's resume, and in what order?

Here's my go at a layout that should be of interest to an employer in this order:

-Candidate profile
-Information on current employment
-skill Set
-Summary of Work Experience
-Type of Projects Done
-Personal Details

Candidate Profile:

A summary of my work experience till now. This would read like a paragraph talking about the number of years I have devoted  to the IT industry and in what capacities, and a summary of my education. It would not mention any tools or softwares I've  used or written.

Current working Status and Current Profile held:

A word about the current employer, the business it is into - whether an end-user organization or a consulting house, number  of employees etc. It would also include the date I joined them, what I joined them as, what I've done and been doing for  them. How my work has changed, if at all it has changed.

Skill Set:

Tools I've used - languages, databases. I have a question about this. One may have _learnt_ and _known_ a several languages,  or worked with a handful of databases, but usually one it only good at one or at the most two languages.

Should this section run like a bulleted list of obscure acronyms, or better yet, a paragraph saying something like:

My mainstay has been language X and language Y and I consider myself good in only these languages because my experience is  largely in these languages. Further, even within these languages, these are the thingies I've used:

-Socket Programming with library Foo
-OLE API get the idea

However, I also have an aptitude for the following languages and tools and I practice them on a regular basis out of my work:


Besides these, I've used XML, Web Services, the SOAP Toolkit etc....

These are the areas I do NOT consider myself good at:

I've worked largely with MS SQL Server but I am not a database programmer. Hence, my ability to write cursors or triggers is  fairly limited and my work has revolved around writing SQL queries from the front-end. I wouldn't know much about query  optimization and stuff. Other databases I've worked with are Sybase System 10 using C++ as a front-end and DB Library as the  middle-tier...blah...

Work Experience:
Past employment experience tabulated here.


Types of projects I've done

Here I'd prefer giving a paragraph summary of the _types_ of projects developed rather than a whole list of projects till  now. Right now, my resume carries a 6 page discourse on the project details, which I feel might not really be of much value  to a _sensible_ guy who's evaluating my prospects. Or would it? Would not a brief summary of what was common in all the  projects do? Something along the lines of, "the projects I've done used language Goo, Middle Tier Foo, and backends Flu, Glu  and Blu. Some of them were two-tiered and some three-tiered. I have used MTS, MSMQ in some of the multi-tiered projects. I've  never had the chance of being a part of Web projects and hence have NOT done any Web development so far. However, I have  knowledge of the ASP object model and the DHTML DOM.

Personal Details:
Nationality, marital status, mailing address and contact numbers, willingness to relocate, passport number and stuff goes  here.

My questions to you are:

What aspects of a resume are more important to someone who's reading a resume?

I often find interviewers flipping through the pages of your resume in the middle of the interview, when you're answering  their question, just so they can find the information and tally it with what your answer is. Normally, that information they  are looking for is hard to find. Generally, the HR types are interested in stuff like current employer, total experience,  last salary drawn, what are your psychological traits - any weaknesses you may have, your aptitude, your mannerism and stuff.  The tech guy is interested in what skill set you have, what's your technical strengths, what kind of projects you've done,  how much of the projects did you code, what other roles you played, how do you go about solving a problem etc.

I want to organize my resume such that:

(1) The employer, each set of people - the HR, the techies - get what they are interested in, without having to stare at the  pages and flip through them,

(2) My resume doesn't make them go, "Uh! All acryonyms, no real stuff! What a waste of our time. We've read the whole thing  and we still can't figure out where (technology background) this guy comes from."

(3) They easily understand what background I have, what are my technical areas of interest, my strengths and my weaknesses.

Some corporations and mediators here have wierd idiosyncracies about what must go into a resume. They prefer crisp resumes  without much writing but for a bullets and lots of technology names. They mandate your resume must start with a Career  Objective thingie which has always alluded me. I've never understood what it means. Is it important? Heck, I am not a  corporation with a mission statement. I don't know what my career objective is. May be I have so many objectives but they are  personal and it doesn't make sense in telling the employer. For instance, one part of me has altruistic objectives such as  being of service to mankind at large, especially the poor by rendering to them technology at a reasonable price. Another part  of me has a more selfish objective: to make some serious money, and enjoy the financial freedom of having my honeymoon in  Venice or making a purchase decision the instant I want to, whether it is buying a house or going on a world tour.

Here, I'd like to invite your opinion on what you'd look for in an ideal resume, if you were an employer.

PS: Sorry for the bad capitalization between sentences that you'd find here and there. Bad keyboard!

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

One thing I can suggest you is keep it short, really short :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

If you sent me a 9-page resume, it would go straight in the garbage.

I want to see 1 page resumes, even if you've been to 10 schools and have been working for 150 years.  If I want more details, I'll ask.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Good! So, how does one keep it short? What sections to have? What sections to chop off? What order? What length is ideal - just 1 page?

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

My plan is that the 1st page should contain all the information needed by the people who will only read one page. For this reason, my first page contains:

- Contact info
- Skills
- Chronological work experience (name of employer, date range, job title/position, *brief* description of duties)
- (Education)

My skill list here is a bulleted list of obscure acronyms (with # years experience in each), because this first page is for the HR people.

Beyond the first page listed above, I wouldn't emphasize "current position" more than "previous positions" unless (as often happens) your current position is more relevent that previous positions to the future position that your applying for.

My second page (I only have 2 pages) is dense text, detailing what I've done in previous projects. This text includes technical jargon, but italso includes some verbs, isn't just a bulleted list). My worry about the "Types of projects I've done" section as you've described it is that it describes the projects, doesn't describe you: I don't really want to know what your previous company/team did ... I especially want to know what *you* did within the project: what role[s] you had technically, and what role[s] within the team.

I'm assuming that anyone who reads the 2nd page isn't easily bored.

I'll add that in some countries it's illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of nationality or marital status, and that in these countries you should not give them this data. I wouldn't put salary on my resume either ... leave that for the interview (I'm assuming that the purpose of the resume is only to avoid being screened out before the interview stage).

> I don't know what my career objective is.

You may develop a clearer objective in the future.

For the moment, it may be wise to guess at what career objective they (the people you're applying to) might want you to have, and put that down as your objective if that's true.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

>> Good! So, how does one keep it short? What sections to have? What sections to chop off? What order? What length is ideal - just 1 page?

Do a google on "Resume" - you'll find so much to read that you won't have time to work, let alone prep a resume.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

> What length is ideal - just 1 page?

Some say yes: just 1 page.

Other (technical) people say that 1 page is too short, and they'd never call someone for an interview based on a 1-page resume ... which was how I arrived at my compromise.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

In the US a 9 page resume would usually get tossed out.

You want to list relevant work experience and education.  You may also list relevant tools and languages that you have used at previous positions.

Anything more than that makes it appear that you are trying to cover up the fact that you either don't have enough experience (by explaining too much) or that you don't have degree.

It should take you no more than a page to explain all of this.  Summary is the key.

In your cover letter you would state I have experience in X technology that the company is looking for I have X number of years of experience that you are looking for and you would perhaps list several recent projects that reinforce that fact that you used technology X.

You have to relate your experience to what the employer wants in the cover letter.  Then they will look at your resume and determine if you have the 'Number of Years and skills' they are looking for.  Even your resume should focus on what the company is looking for.

The Rock
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Nine pages is far too many. A resume is a teaser, to immediately show your skills to a potential employer.

My resume is no stand-out, but I worked hard to keep it brief. Perhaps this will give you ideas.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

First, welcome back.

Second -- the first purpose a resume serves is allowing an HR person, who has been told "I need a person with skill X", to determine that the resume says "I have skill X".

You should have TWO resumes.  One is the one you already have.  It reminds you of your history, what you learned and when you learned it.  It can have contact names and numbers of old supervisors and companies.  NEVER show this to anyone -- you read it before an interview so you can give factual answers regarding what you know, when you learned it, and how long you've used it.  You copy data from it onto work applications, when they want references for the last three places you worked.

The second resume is the one you need, for HR and to send to people.  One page.  MAYBE two.  Expect the person reviewing it to GLANCE at the first page -- so it must be safe for any following page(s) to be ignored.

This resume MUST allow an HR person to glance at it, highlight the 3 keywords they are interested in, and drop it in a pile for the hiring manager.

Most HR people will simply toss a 9-page resume -- clearly (they think) this person does not know how to be short.  This person does not know their audience.  This person does not know how to summarize.  This person does not care about MY time (I'm an HR person.  I review HUNDREDS of resumes a day.  I don't have time to read 9 pages, to TEASE out the few keywords I care about!)

So yes, you need both.  The 9-pager for your own perusal.  And the one pager for HR.  The big piece you can lose is the work history.  Summarize it to the point of "I used C++ for 5 years to build X" -- even if that covers 3 positions.

Name, Skills, Education, BRIEF work history, Awards.  One page.  That's all you need, and that's really all HR wants to look at.  Save the rest for the interview.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Whoosh, just saw the 'Personal' part of your post.  No, never, don't do it.  US employers are not ALLOWED to ask your nationality or marital status (I don't think).  Some people (over 40) don't put in the years they graduated to prevent age-ism.

Green-card status -- does that go in a Resume?  I don't know.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

> Nine pages is far too many.

Rule #1 is that no one resume will please everyone.

Perhaps the people who write and tell you to keep a resume brief are the same people who read many resumes, and who want to be able discard candidates with a minimum of effort?

One statistically irrelevent datum is that an ex-colleague of mine has a 9-page resume and has been given dozens of interviews.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

9 pages is definitely too long... heck, I didn't even make it all the way through your original post.  I've got a 2 page long resume, with contact info, objective & skills list at the top, 2 most recent positions for the rest of the first page, continued onto the second page, with only a 2-line blip about my education to get past the 4-year degree requirement.

I've found that 95% of people that I talk to never get to the end of the second page, as they almost always ask if I've got a 4-year degree.  Most days I wonder if they get past 1/2 a page... I highly doubt they do.

Greg Hurlman
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

But should you put the personnel stuff in if you think it's to your advantage?

Ian H.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Very nice resume.  From it I can tell you graduated in '97, you recently got your PhD, and your area of expertise is optics.  It tells a story that you are valuable to your current employer, and get things done.

You've included stuff which is appropriate for a 5-year work experience and a recent degree.  Thus your education entry is quite large.

For someone with a longer work history, who hadn't just got their PhD, putting a single line (or two, for summa cum laude) for each school, without GPA, would be sufficient.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

> Green-card status -- does that go in a Resume?  I don't know.

If you need the employer's help to get a work visa, then you'll have to tell them that sometime (though perhaps not in a resume); otherwise (if you're already legally allowed to work for them) I wouldn't bother to mention that fact; the only such fact I would mention in a resume is already having security clearance. But putting in marital status etc seems to be commonplace in some countries; no longer in this one, though.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I don't know if I must be telling you this, but I am starting to feel like I haven't done anything except the same kind of VB projects. Some were interesting. Most of them were boring garbage in, garbage out thingies. I've created OCXs beside that. Nothing more interesting than that.

What if you were applying to Microsoft, and you had nothing to brag about? What then? There's no specific position I am applying for, except that it has to be in development at whatever level. I want them to decide what I might be good at and where they'd see me utilizing myself properly.

One thing's come clear of this discussion so far. I was confusing my 9-page resume with a face-to-face interview. With just a page now, it looks like an achievable goal. I've been having this psychological blockage to writing a resume for Microsoft. I don't know what to write.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Getting a job at Microsoft:

I think you need one of the following credentials:

1.  You are a college senior, graduating with a 3.5/4.0 QPA from a college Microsoft recruits from.

2.  You have a 'C' or 'C++' based game that sold a million copies before you were 25.

3.  You have a PhD in something Microsoft wants.

4.  You are a key person working for Borland, like that .NET guy.

5.  You created a company, that has developed something that Microsoft wants to buy, or doesn't want competing with something Microsoft is about to release.

Otherwise, I would forget it.  Philo may be able to add some additional wisdom, as all my points come from reading other people's posts and books.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I was mulling over what I'm good at, and I was completely blank. All I could think of was - cooking? No, I can just boil water. I can sing sort of okay so you know someone's not blubbering.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

"...I haven't done anything except the same kind of VB projects. Some were interesting. Most of them were boring garbage in, garbage out thingies."

Stay away from having a resume like:

- Used VB to code user controls.
- Coded business objects.
- Built data access layer.

and put in stuff like:
- Implemented screen to improve user data entry times.
- Refactored application to scale up to support three times as many users.
- Rolled out application to 1000 users on time and on budget.

i.e. - slant your accomplishments to show how they helped who you were working for

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

>i.e. - slant your accomplishments to show how they helped who you were working for

That worked like a trigger. Man, I am suddenly pot boiling over with achievements and they are all real. Thanks a great deal.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Resume writing is a tricky one, no definite right answers, but I'd say you have to keep it short.

I've been on both sides, sending and receiving, and this is my preference.

Page one

Personal profile - in 200 / 250 words what sort of person are you, what do you excel at, hinting at your experience and the fields you have worked in, what drives you as an employee..

Optional Overview of your skillsets - (management, programming, consulting. No detail required)

Skills Matrix - Programming languages and time spent using each one.

The stats - qualifications, date of birth, marriage status, schools, contact details etc..

Page Two

Employment History - Your last 4/5 jobs.

For each one, either as bullet points or as a story.
-Position held, job title.
-Description of responsibilities.
-Technologies used.
-Something exciting about you making a difference (factual).
-Significant events in the job that you learned from / contributed to.

Additional info - personal interests
(don't put "going out, seeing my friends")

Page Three - There is no page 3

Don't be afraid to alter the 'information bias' of your CV towards a particular role. Of course keep it honest, but if you think making a bigger deal of an experience that you normally don't mention will help on a particular application, do it.

Once you've finished your resume, give it to a friend, a friends Dad, someone who has some experience in processing resumes, see what they say.

Thing is, you're not going to get a job with a resume, a resume is hopefully going to get an interview. In the interview is where you get the job. And then, if it's relevent, you can mention anything that was left out.

On average each resume has about 30 seconds of attention. You have enable the person reading your resume to "get at" the crucial information, and make it interesting enough that they think, "I want to talk to this guy."

Giles Gregg
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

One page is definitely too short for any developer who has worked more than a couple years.  Send a minimal resume to a recruiter and often they'll send it back saying "you need to add details of what you've done before we can forward to client".

Never put anything personal in resume.  The chance that it will help is a long shot; chance that it will hurt you is very real.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Chris wrote:

Hi Sathyaish,

I suspect that you have a lot of "emotional intelligence" ("EI" is a technical term): what people call "soft skills".

> This beside the fact that I've done almost all the projects in my companies all alone without another programmer on the team.

That's a part of my definition of a "senior programmer": someone who is able to complete projects alone.

So, that fact is very worth mentioning.

It makes the "Projects I've done" more interesting: knowing that all of the technologies that were used in those projects were used by you yourself.

There's more to software development than coding though: so I (if I were reading your resume) would want to know who you *did* relate with ...managers? customers? technical support? sales? who did the testing? who did analysis to define requirements? who turned requirement into high-level and detailed designs? who turned design into code? If I were hiring you I would want to know what kind of interface with me and my team[s] would be appropriate for you.

Thanks, Chris for your tips I got through email. Thanks a great deal, people. I got a lot many pointers to start off and I've now finished writing a two-and-a-half page resume that I'd like someone to review before I shoot an email.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I know this is probably stating the obvious, but I ask.  I also prepare multiple resumes, at least one per position.  I tailor each one.  Yes, it takes time, but I think it makes it more relevant and hits the HR database much more cleanly usually.

If I do get an interview, I try and get a name and e-mail of a person I'll be interviewing with.  I then ask them if they would like to see more relevant details.  Usually they say yes.

Writing resumes is tough.  Maintaining a resume is a good idea, but I never send the resume I maintain.  It's more like a blueprint for the others I make for each position I apply for.  If you're using a recruiter, they are usually accomodating to the above, unless they're just spamming your resume, which is not what you want.

Good luck.

Resume Monger
Wednesday, June 23, 2004

If people read an entire page you are lucky. Usually
they will read it on the way to the interview.

I found a good site on interviews and resumes:

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Before you even start writing your resume or sending out job applications, read What color is your parachute.

Oh yeah, and leave out all the stuff about age, passport details, marital status etc. Totally useless at best. At worst, you will be excluded from an interview because of preconceptions...

"What, married with two kids ... this guy will not want to travel, and the job is a travelling job."

Thursday, June 24, 2004

> Implemented screen to improve user data entry times.

When I'm reading a resume, I know that I am hiring the individual, not hiring the entire company that they used to work for. I'm therefore looking for data on what the *person* did, more than I am looking for what their whole company did.

In the quoted example, "to improve user data entry times", I'd say 'Well: kudos to the person who designed the improved screen ... and, to the analyst who realised that the screen was worth improving ... and, to the managers who sponsored that improvement project ... but, unless the resume says that it was the candidate himself who did these tasks (analysis, design, and initiative/sponsorship), I parse that quote quote as only "I implemented a screen (that my company decided I should implement)". So choose your verbs carefully, as well as your nouns.

  When they were telling over the
  day's list of visitors, Lurgan Sahib
  asked Kim who he thought the man
  might be.
  'God knows!' said Kim cheerily. The
  tone might almost have deceived
  Mahbub Ali, but it failed entirely with
  the healer of sick pearls.
  'That is true. God, He knows; but I
  wish to know what you think.'
  Kim glanced sideways at his companion,
  whose eye had a way of compelling truth.
  - Kim

Christopher Wells
Thursday, June 24, 2004


"For someone with a longer work history, who hadn't just got their PhD, putting a single line (or two, for summa cum laude) for each school, without GPA, would be sufficient"

Thanks for the feedback :) Yes, a few years down the road, I'll reduce the emphasis on education and increase the space given to corporate experience.

The key is to emphasize what prospective employers will be interested in. For me, that was major education and recent job experience.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home