Revisiting the Foundations of Resumes

Welcome to episode 203 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss tips for resume writing, format, structure, and how to get from accomplishment to resume bullet point.

Original Recording Date: 12-17-2022

Topics – Focusing the Discussion on Resumes, Focusing the Discussion on Resumes, Foundations and the Goal of a Resume, No Fancy Formatting, Appropriate Length, Skills Section, Job Experience Section, Keeping Current Accomplishments in Resume Format, Edit Your Resume for Each Job Application

1:56 – Focusing the Discussion on Resumes

  • Should we get content on YouTube in 2023? Let us know what you think!
  • We’re starting a new series of discussions to revisit the fundamentals of career progression. While we did address it in our earlier episodes we want to highlight and present some of the things you need to do regularly for career progression (progressing at your current company in the form of promotion, responsibility shift, leaving your company to pursue an opportunity, etc.).
  • Today’s episode is all about resumes!
    • In the future we plan to have discussions on job searches, preparing for interviews, and possibly lining somoene up for a discussion on job offers and considerations around them.

3:12 – Previous Episodes that Involve Resume Discussions

  • Episode 4 – Resume Writing Tips
  • Episode 53 – Keeping Your Resume Updated
  • Episode 64 – Your Position has been Eliminated with Mike Burkhart (a Part 1 of 2)
  • Episode 114 – Career Insight from the Manager Lens with Brad Christian (a Part 2 of 2)
  • Episode 173 – Collect Your Portfolio with Evan Oldford (a Part 2 of 2)

3:48 – Foundations and the Goal of a Resume

  • Foundations of resumes
    • No fancy formatting
    • Aim for a single page with an optional second page detailing job experience
    • Contact info as header for entire resume
    • Skills section with specialized job section
    • Job experiences in reverse chronological order with quantified accomplishments featuring your job skills
  • We recommend this structure to align with the goal of a resume.
    • A hiring manager is trying to solve a problem by hiring someone (someone who has left a position, team growth that requires a specific set of skills in a new member, etc.).
    • Your goal should be to articulate that you are a very strong possibility for solving that problem and communicating that as quickly a possible in the resume (in the top 1/3 if possible).
    • You want to get to the next step in the process and for someone to look at your resume and pass you through.
    • In order to solve a hiring manager’s problem you need to know what it is. Read the job description carefully, and read it multiple times to ensure you are addressing the problem statement.

6:10 – No Fancy Formatting

  • Usually when working with medium to large size companies, the resume will be going into an applicant tracking system (not read by a human as a first touch).
  • This means we want the resume to be as easily machine readable as possible (i.e. successfully scanned with OCR / optical character recognition, type / font recognition, etc.).
    • If it’s a physical resume you want it scanned as quickly as possible.
    • If you’re filling out an online form with resume information this is less of an issue.
    • Choose an easily readable font that easily distinguishes between characters which may look the same when typed in other fonts (lower case L, capital I, and the number 1 for example). Tahoma and Verdana are usually good, freely available selections to help here.
    • If headed to a job fair maybe you have physical copies of your resume.
    • You want the information on your resume to be located where someone expects it to be, and for this fancy formatting like inserting a photo or using multiple columns does not make sense.
  • When submitting a digital resume to an applicant tracking system, the system often will scan the digital copy and spit out its contents into a form that you can then view, edit, and approve.
    • Bullets may be carried into the new submission form but may not be. Make sure the data is pulled in the way you wrote it before submitting!
    • For example, if you’ve had multiple positions over time with the same company, how is that being imported by the software? Is it pulled in as multiple jobs or jumbled together in a way that does not clearly articulate multiple positions at a company? Make sure this is clear before submitting.

9:18 – Appropriate Length

  • Target a one to two page resume.
  • Generally one page is a great target but may not be possible when trying to articulate complex technical jobs.
    • You might need more detail in the resume to showcase skills through your accomplishments and completed projects. Two pages is acceptable.
    • Needing a 3rd page may indicate your editing skills are questionable. Seek to convey everything needed in a maximum of 2 pages. Likely someone reading your resume would not get to a 3rd page.
  • Think of the full resume as an aggregation of information that is very concentrated like laundry detergent. You will add water to it in the interview.
    • You’ll never be able to add enough information in your resume that will compel someone to hire you on the spot (highly unlikely), which may be the root problem of resumes that are too long.

10:41 – Skills Section

  • We call it a skills section, but it could be skills and software, skills and tools, etc.
  • We are trying to articulate specialized job skills and specialized job experiences.
  • Many times you will find skills listed in the required section of a job posting.
    • You should be looking at multiple job postings for the type of job you want, and we encourage you to stretch a little within reason (i.e. look at slightly more senior positions even if you don’t own that senior title right now).
    • Look at the required skills and experience section in these sample job postings.
      • Some examples of these in a technical job posting could be experience with Unix / Linux systems administration or enterprise architecture design experience.
      • If you have those skills but do not have it in your resume, they need to be in the skills section. The end goal is to pack the skills section in a way that answers the question of whether you as a job applicant have the ability to do the things a hiring manager wants (item x, item y, item z, etc.).
      • Skills on your resume are very brief and showcase you have specific skills. More detail comes in the job experience section.
      • A skills section is a great place to showcase industry certifications that are relevant to the job posting. This section of the resume could be titled skills and certifications as an option.

13:01 – Job Experience Section

  • This is a section to list positions you’ve held in reverse chronological order. Multiple positions at the same company could show up as sub-bullets or separate jobs in this section.
  • Under each position you want quantified accomplishments, and you want accomplishments that address or map to the skills in your skills section. The skills section is almost like a table of contents for what will come in the job experience section.
    • From our example of Unix / Linux systems administration as a skill, one might use the statement below. It’s a quantified accomplishment (how many, what kind, what scope, etc.).
      • Oversaw lifecycle management of 300 production Debian Linux VMs as well as the Dev, Test, and Deployment pipeline.
    • For the enterprise architecture design example, a quantifiable accomplishment might be the following. This quantifies and features use of skills from the skills section, speaks to the scale at which it was done, and gives the reader an idea of how well it was done.
      • 5 years experience applying TOGAF principals in the design of a 250 business-user, 10,000 customer eCommerce environment; Met SLOs for three years in a row.
    • Try using quantifiable business metrics and not just technical metrics. For example…
      • Designed and oversaw deployment of a new DR process, which cut downtime by 6 days, year over year, saving approximately $1M in lost revenue.
      • While the mention of cutting downtime here may be more of a technical metric, the revenue number is definitely a business metric. This example has both.
    • Nick suggests another way to frame and think about this. He has learned about a concept called an impact report with 3 components:
      • An activity something you did (i.e. designed and oversaw deployment of a new DR process)
      • An outcome that was produced as a result of the activity (i.e. cut downtime)
      • The evidence that the outcome was achieved with metrics that show the impact (i.e. cut downtime by 6 days, $1M in lost revenue)
    • Nick mentions he has built PowerPoint presentations that have illustrated impact using the categories above, but this method can easily be used in a bullet point on a resume (separate components by semi-colons or commas to make one entry, for example).
    • The evidence in an impact report can speak to the scale of the environment in which you have worked and help someone understand whether your thinking / skills could scale to the size of a new environment.
    • John likes the idea of scaling up and scaling down and showing evidence of staying in budget in each scenario.
  • We kind of glossed over contact information as a header, but this goes long with avoiding fancy formatting and saves space on the resume for evidence that you can solve a hiring manager’s problem.

17:52 – Keeping Current Accomplishments in Resume Format

  • Doing all this from scratch can be challenging. We recommend constantly keeping things up to date (an iterative approach).
    • Every time you embark on a new project, think about the point you would want to add to your resume upon successful project outcome. Write that down as it can be a project goal.
    • For example, we had some budgetary constraints as well as these challenges. Based on these business objectives we were able to accomplish A, B, and C by doing X, Y, and Z.
    • As the project changes (i.e. budget, scope, change to anticipated outcome, etc.), you can revisit and revise the statement in order to keep it current. Remember to include milestones and awards (i.e. project manager of the year, etc.). You would need to do this for your project regardless.
    • You can save an in progress item to your resume as points to make in the job experience section.
    • As you continue this process, items from your current resume can be transferred to LinkedIn (and obfuscated as needed so you are not exposing business confidential information in your resume or on LinkedIn).
    • It is a good practice to make sure there is not a huge gap between what is on your resume and what is on LinkedIn. Likely people are going to check you out on LinkedIn when you apply for a job.
  • Nick suggests adding links to any publicly available proof of work to your resume (a script on GitHub, a course you authored, a blog series that demonstrates expertise, a video, etc.) so it’s easy for a hiring manager to check out.
  • Make certain words in the resume active links. That way if an applicant tracking system keeps a digital copy of your resume that is passed to a recruiter or hiring manager, they can easily follow the links to learn more.

21:35 – Edit Your Resume for Each Job Application

  • This presupposes that you have a kitchen sink resume or everything resume from which to pull data / information (contains all possible relevant points).

    • This may or may not match the level of detail on LinkedIn (might be more room to have extra detail on LinkedIn).
  • For each job application you need to rearrange / refine the skills section and choose which accomplishments from your work experience are most beneficial to put on the resume…all based on job requirements.

    • Read the job listing / posting carefully and save a copy. It could disappear after you apply.
    • The job listing will tell you requirements, nice to have items, and daily responsibilities. You want the items from your experience that match what is in the job listing, editing out the projects and accomplishments not relevant to the job in question.
    • Trimming down the skills and job experience sections and customizing to the job to which you’re applying encourage brevity and help you keep the resume 1-2 pages in length. You don’t want a skills section that takes up 75% of the first page of your resume.
      • NOTE: The skills section is probably the only place in your resume where two columns / a multiple column format is something we would encourage to help save space.
    • A job posting is like a cheat sheet that tells you all the questions on a test. Make sure your resume answers all those questions for the specific job (i.e. you have the skills they want and demonstrate them though experiences shared in the resume document).
  • Remember to consider holistic experience when you write your resume. There may be something you are doing outside of work that demonstrates you have the necessary skills (something you do through volunteering efforts, etc.).

    • If a hairstylist wanted to move into a customer service role, would you say they don’t have customer service skills? How about a hairstylist who maintained a 30-person customer base with 5-star reviews over a period of years and positioned and maintained a customized set of hair care products for each customer?
    • The hairstylist probably had a marketing plan they needed to develop and execute and marketing materials they needed to create. If there was a marketing element to the job where this hairstylist was applying, this is something to mention. All you are doing is speaking to things you did that map to skills a company needs.
  • The skills on a resume are not all technical skills! Don’t forget the soft skills.

    • Working with a cross-functional team means you’re working with a group of people reporting to different managers. And you’re doing this with no role power other than influence.
  • Everything you put on your resume needs a story to go with it. That way if someone asks for more detail, you have the story ready.

    • If someone were to ask which pieces of lifecycle management you handled related to those 300 Debian Linux VMs mentioned earlier in our example, what will the story be? Maybe 100 VMs were for project A, 100 for project B, and 100 for project C…with each project having different lifecycle and uptime requirements. Then you can speak to how you handled each case (which is far more detail than you could have put in a single bullet point on your resume).
      • An interviewer may be looking to see if the lifecycle management skills you have either match what they need, are similar to / can be modified to what they need, or not what they need.
    • If you cannot tell a larger story about something on your resume, you need to develop it or perhaps not put it on the resume.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your resume.

    • It’s challenging to be mindful of all the relatable experience you have. Sometimes a friend, peer, or professional resume writer can see a skill you have that you didn’t think to put on the resume.
    • In the resume writing process, a 3rd party may be interviewing you to sniff out specific skills and experiences to help bolster your resume.
      • For example, when you were in this role, did you ever have to market your skills to get retained? Did you ever have to market a product? Did you ever have to market your team? All of these instances would indicate you have done marketing functions in some form or another.
      • John and Nick both have had to have people do this kind of thing for them to tease out the relatable experience.
      • In the moment when you’re doing resume writing, you are so in your head it will usually keep you from seeing the whole picture.
  • To the perfectionists out there, we can sympathize.

    • It will never be perfect. Get to good enough to answer the questions in a job description in a timely manner so you’re in the candidate pool.
    • Do the best you can, and you have to be ok with what you’ve developed to submit.
    • "In the time frame that I have, this was as perfect as I could get it." – John White
  • Whether starting from a blank page or not, there are two different processes to be aware of – writing and editing.

    • Writing is getting something down on paper. You then come back to edit later to reword things, add clarity, etc.
    • Don’t edit as you write. The editing needs to happen later. This is easier said than done.
    • We’ve had guests on the show mention incorrectly interpreting what they actually have written as what they meant to write. You need to let your writing sit long enough to forget the context of what you meant to write so you can evaluate only what was written.
      • This happens to so many people (the brain interpreting what you wrote as what you meant to write), including John. Phil Monk mentioned this happens to him in Episode 185 and spoke to some tools that could be used to reach things back as they are written in Episode 186.
  • This episode is the result of listener feedback. We really appreciate it and welcome feedback on topics to ponder and potential guests.

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

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