6 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make on a Tech Resume

What are common mistakes that applicants make when writing their resumes for tech companies? originally appeared on Quora – the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, consultant (tech hiring/interviewing), author, and coder, on Quora:

In reading the list of the most common mistakes people (and especially software engineers) make on their resume, it’s important to remember how resumes are reviewed. Resumes are not read; they are skimmed for about 15 seconds. Let me say it again: resume screeners do not read your entire resume.

With that said… the most common serious mistakes are:

1) Long Resumes: In either an effort to pad their experience or just an inability to be concise, I routinely see resumes that are 3, 4, 5, … even 11 pages long. Seriously. This is not okay, people!

Now, think about what happens when you have a five page resume. By definition, only 1/5th of that content would have been good enough to make a one page resume. So, now your resume screener is reading bullets at random from your 5 page resume. 80% of what the screener is reading isn’t, well, all that good.

Keep your resume to one page, or a max of two pages if you have 10+ years of experience.

2) Paragraphs / Lengthy Bullets: When you only get 15 seconds to read someone’s resume, you just aren’t going to any paragraphs. You don’t have the time. If you want your resume reviewer to read something you put on your resume, keep it short.

Each bullet should be 1 – 2 lines (and ideally, no more than half of the bullets should be 2 lines).

3) Team / Group Focused: The accomplishments of your team just aren’t that interesting. Sorry. Why not? Because I’m hiring you, not your team.

Tell me what you specifically built, created, implemented, designed, architected, programmed, etc.

4) Messy Resumes: What is it about software engineers and creating their own templates? If you’re not good at design, why are you doing this? I’ve never understood this. Many software engineers just open up Microsoft Word, hit Ctrl-B, and start typing. The result? Resumes that look cluttered, are hard to read, and yet don’t actually fit much on it.

Consider, for example, this resume:
Microsoft Corporation
Software Engineer
2008 – 2011
You just took three lines to list this information. Now, if you use a well designed template with columns, you can do this:
Software Engineer Microsoft Corporation2008 – 2011
Use a good resume template with columns. This will allow you to fit more content on your resume while making it easier to scan for key information like company names and titles.

5) Listing Responsibilities instead of Accomplishments: It turns out that if you were a software engineer, we basically know what you did — you programmed. Bullets like: “Implement features for ________ project” are not particularly helpful. They don’t show off anything that you actually accomplished. Your bullets should tell me what your biggest 3 to 5 accomplishments per role were.

Focus on accomplishments, not responsibilities.

6) Leaving Out Cool Stuff Because It’s Not “Resume Material.” I’m not sure who started this concept of what’s “resume material,” but you should [more or less] forget it. Stop thinking about what does and doesn’t belong on a resume and start thinking about if something makes you look more or less awesome.

An example: I was helping a PM at Microsoft with her resume and — just as we were getting to the final stages — she asks, “Oh, by the way, I started a little gaming company on the side and hired a few people for it. We created a decent product, but never ended up launching because [various personal reasons]. I didn’t think I should include it on my resume.”

Gaa! No no no no no! Of course that belongs on your resume!

This PM was by no means the exception here. I’ve seen countless cases where people decided not to include meaty projects because they were [pick one] for a class / independent projects / unfinished / unsuccessful / etc. Forget about all this. At some point, coding is coding.

If it makes you look good, it’s “resume material.” So before you finish your resume, ask yourself: what did you not include?

I’ve posted an annotated resume at, outlining what resume should look like. It covers some of what I’ve listed above, as well as some new items.

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