Between the Great Resignation and the recent spate of layoffs, you may be thinking about your resume a bit more than usual in the last few months. Even if it’s been spruced up and you’re following the best advice out there, you might get more out of your resume by treating it as a marketing document instead of just an information dump.
We recently hosted a webinar about searching for jobs with several experts from Indeed. A big part of this discussion (and of the questions asked afterwards) was about resumes. That’s no surprise—resumes are the first contact you have with any prospective employer. Just sending the same resume to every job opening may eventually land you a job, but it’s not going to be the fastest and most productive method.
When a company is looking for someone to fill an open role, they want to shop around and find the best fit. It’s similar to a person looking to make a big purchase. They want to see a quick overview of the specs when evaluating the field, then hop on a sales call with the best options. This article will talk about how you can make that resume you apply with more likely to lead to a sales call—that is, an interview.
Think like a marketer
I know plenty of you cringed when you saw the word “marketing.” A lot of engineers are allergic to marketing, especially when it comes to dev tools. But marketing is all about communicating an idea in a way that's easy to understand and compelling to a person. It's about putting yourself in another person's shoes and talking about your products and services in a way that matches their interests and pain points. Obviously, the end result is sales, but hopefully you are selling something that the buyer actually needs and appreciates.
When we’re planning a campaign to increase sales, we start with trying to understand who our potential buyers are. To this end, we sketch out general personas: what they like, what they do, what their pain points are. It doesn’t have to be completely detailed, but the exercise helps understand who we think will buy our products or services.
From there, we can create a one-pager that covers the basic features and benefits that would appeal to a specific persona. Sometimes detailed feature specs can interest someone in a product or service. But you’re asking them to do a little work to connect the dots between what you’re offering and what they need. In marketing, we try to connect as many of those dots as possible in our one pager. The end goal is to get them interested so we can discuss their particular needs and explore how our solutions solve them. This process is known as the buyer’s journey.
When applying for jobs, you can map your application process to the buyer’s journey, placing the hiring organization as the buyer. For jobs with a posting somewhere, creating the persona is pretty easy—they tell you exactly what they need—but if you’re applying to lots of jobs, you may want to group some applications together. The one pager is your resume, full of the features and benefits of you as an employee. If you can get their attention and spark their interest, you’ll proceed to the next step.
Let’s take a look at what we can do to make our resume convert our leads into sales calls—I mean, interviews.
First, start with the fundamentals
Your resume is made from the raw material of your everyday work performance, so it’s important to collect that raw material. Save performance reviews, evaluations, positive comments and emails, quantifiable data, and anything else that speaks to your performance in a role. You can use these materials to produce a base resume that has everything about your jobs. Because we tend to have a better memory of more recent events, update your resume every six months or so. You might not be looking for a job now, but it’ll be worth it once you are.
There are some basic things that work across resumes. The first filter for applications comes from an applicant tracking system (ATS), software that weeds out applicant resumes that don’t have the keywords they are looking for. 99% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS, so ensuring that your resume can easily be read by an ATS is key. That means clean formatting, no charts, no pictures, no vital information in headers or footers as all of these may not be parsed by the ATS system.
At this stage, you’ll want to build a base resume that contains all of the material that will be used to create targeted resumes. Add all of your education, experience, and skills to this document, regardless of how small. You may find they are useful for specific applications or application types. While you won’t likely send this base resume out in applications, it can form the basis of your LinkedIn profile, which serves as the homepage of your professional brand, plus additional context that won’t be on your resume. Most recruiters and hiring managers look at LinkedIn profiles as part of their hiring process. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile yet, set one up so they can find you.
When putting together this base resume, note a couple of things. First, technical roles rely heavily on your technical skills, so lead with those. Include proficiency levels with these. It can be tempting to only list skills in which you are proficient, but low proficiency skills can highlight your ambition to learn new languages or technology outside of your current role. If you’ve been working in roles that use C#, Java, and Python but list a low proficiency in Rust, a prospective employer may see that as a way to onboard a passionate advocate of a language they are migrating to.
Second, use the experiences sections to focus on the impact of your work and the soft skills that you used to achieve them. What did you do, how did you do it, but most importantly what was the outcome. Try and use hard numbers—migrated X user records, handled X logins per day, generated X dollars in revenue—if the hiring manager can understand your impact, they can more easily apply that impact to their own business.
Additionally, if you have side projects or certifications, find a place to include those. The programming hobbies that you have can showcase your skills as well as jobs. Even better, you can include links to code repositories so that potential employers can actually see the work you’ve done.
Create resumes that tell your stories
Ok, you’ve put together good base material to build some targeted resumes from. Remember, marketing tells a story about the product, which in this case is your services as an employee in a specific role. A resume here needs to quickly tell the hiring manager why you’re a good fit for this role. You may think that your general purpose resume is doing that, but unless it tells a story understandable to the reader, you might be missing the “quickly” part of that directive.
While creating a completely different resume for every job is a pretty good recipe for job hunting burnout, grouping those jobs into broader types and creating resumes for those types will help get your resume in front of the right people. For example, if you are applying to a full-stack developer position at a small tech start-up and a cloud infrastructure engineer position at a global manufacturing company, your story will be a bit different. It might even be different if you’re applying to two different cloud engineer positions, one at a large company and one at a startup, as they may require different skill sets.
Exactly what to write on each resume is up to you—you are the “content writer” here, so you make the editorial decisions based on what you think the job posting is asking for. However, if they’re asking for a specific skill, make sure that it’s listed somewhere on the resume. I’ve known recruiters who ask candidates that they’re representing to include specific skill keywords on their resume just so they can get past that first round of ATS processing.
As for the rest of it, as the cohost of our podcast said, “It depends.” How you structure your resume and describe your experiences, skills, and projects will depend on the material on your master resume and the requirements of the role. For each resume, you can add a tl;dr—a professional summary of your career targeted towards the role you’re applying to. This serves as the “hook” to your resume, a little teaser to get them to read to the end.
You may think that professional writing means fancy writing, but that’s not true. You want to get your story across as clearly and effectively as possible, which means using plain language and simple sentence construction. You’re not writing a resume to impress them with your verbiage or buffalo them with word counts. You want them to understand what you’re writing, first and foremost.
While cover letters are not as important for technical roles, they can add a little extra context to a resume. You can use a cover letter to describe the impact you’ve made in previous roles and the impact that you can make for the potential employer. While a good resume can do the persuasive work of a cover letter, some applications require them. Use your judgment as to when to write one, but don’t burn yourself out on them.
In marketing, we want to make sure we have materials that inform potential customers of how our software and services can help them. To make sure we’re telling the right story to the right people, we create multiple stories for each type of potential customer.
When you’re looking for a job, your potential customer is the hiring manager. Your resume is often your first opportunity to impress a hiring manager, so the more thought you can put into it, the better. By creating multiple resumes tailored for the various positions, industries, and company sizes that you’re applying for, you’ll have a better chance to get a call back and an interview. Drop your resume writing questions or tips that have worked for you in the comments.
For more tips on getting your next dream job, check out Indeed's Career Guide, an online resource designed to help connect people with the information they need to get a job and develop a successful career.
The Stack Overflow blog aims to serve developers by providing articles that help our readers learn new skills, level up at their jobs, and explore changing technologies. Indeed is a strategic partner of Stack Overflow and this article was created in collaboration with them to assist developers looking to grow in their careers and explore new opportunities.