Writing a compelling resume

Your resume will be the first point of contact with the company you’re applying for. It’s absolutely crucial that your resume creates a good first impression. The receiver of your resume can either be a recruiter, or someone directly from the company. Either way, the entire goal of your resume is to get the recruiter or company to advance you to the next step in the hiring process.

Adapt to the position

There’s a lot of stuff that goes into creating a compelling resume, but most importantly: you have to adapt your resume to the job you’re applying for. One of the most common mistakes is to send the same resume to 500 companies and hope to hear back - this doesn’t work. Instead, you need to personalize your resume to match the job spec. If you’re applying for a React job, put your React projects on top of your project list. If you’re applying for a data science job, highlight your strong Python capabilities. Make sure you include the most important keywords from the job spec.

This does not just apply to technical skills either. When you’re researching the company website and reading through the job specification, take note of which values are important to the company. If they talk a lot about the importance of learning and self-improvement among employees, mention how you learned to code by doing tutorials at night. Or if their mission evolves around creating transparent, customer-centric solutions, talk about how you did that while working at X previous job.

There’s several reasons for doing this. Firstly, you show that you’ve done your due diligence. You’ve read the job specification carefully and researched the company. This proves that you’ve spent some time on your application, and definitely more than the people who throw the same resume to every company. It also proves that you understand and care about the company mission, which makes you more relatable to hiring managers and indicates that you will fit in well with the other employees and the company culture as a whole.

Highlight skills learned from other fields

A great resume is especially important early in your career, when you don’t have a lot of relevant experience. This is where you will need to rely entirely on your resume to move on to the next round. Later on, your previous work experience will do a lot of the heavy lifting - but that’s not the case if you’re applying for your first developer job.

However, even if you don’t have a lot of related developer experience, you can still show your previous work places. Use these to highlight skills you learned that are also relevant for this job. If you’ve worked as a cashier, write how that has helped you interacting with customers and showing politeness. Or how being a football coach has taught you the importance of teamwork and leadership. Whatever your previous experience has been, highlight the key learnings from each.

You can also use this to showcase some of your favourite moments from previous jobs, developer related or not. Things like “got promoted to manager after 2 years” or “launched a non-profit website on a super tight deadline” or “learned a new language for a specific project on the job”. If you’ve done awesome things that you’re proud of, don’t be afraid to show it. It feels more human than just listing the responsibilities you had.

Practical quick wins

Keeping all of this in mind, there are also some simple, quick-win tips you can apply to make your resume more compelling:

  • Keep it at 1-2 page maximum. The receiver will simply not have time to read long walls of text. There might be potentially better candidates applying for this job, but by keeping your resume concise, you’ll get an advantage over them by actually having your resume read. Stick to a few (2-4) bullet points for each previous job or project.
  • Put your experience and skills at the top. This is the most important part of the resume, so make sure the receiver doesn’t accidentally miss it, or discard your resume before getting to these sections.
  • Show some personality. You don’t need to go crazy with colors and images, but adding small visual design elements will help your resume to stand out.
  • Use a template. There are tons of good CV template builders on the internet. Using a template will make your resume look more professional at a glance.
  • Proofread. And have a friend proofread as well. You want your resume to be as free of spelling mistakes and poor wording as possible.

Final notes

Your resume might be your only chance at landing a particular job. The receiver of your resume will have to make a very quick judgement call of whether or not there’s a chance of you providing value to the company. If there is, you’ll move to the next round. If not, your application will get discarded.

This may seem very cutthroat - and that’s because it is. But it’s how the world works. When reviewing your resume, try to put yourself in the shoes of the company or recruiter receiving it - would you pass yourself on to the next round? Even if you had as little as 7.4 seconds to decide? If not, your resume could still use some work.

If you're looking for more advice on how to land your dream developer job, check out my book at Mastering the Coding Mindset or sign up using the form below. The book is everything I know about improving your developer skills and landing a job.