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October 17, 2019

Technical Resume Hacks: For When Recruiters Don't Know Their SaaS From Their Elbow

What if recruiters could understand the value that you would add to their organization within six seconds of looking at your resume?

I’m going to walk you through how to make sure that recruiters can do just that.

But before we dig in, I’m going to share a little about myself with you, in the hope that if you understand my background you’ll find my advice credible in a little bit when I recommend making an untraditional change to your resume.

About the author

My name is Robin Guidry and I’ve reviewed over 15,000 resumes in the last 7 years. I’m currently the Manager of Talent Acquisition for R&D at Acquia, which really just means that I recruit software engineers, product, and UX people and that I coach others on how to do the same.

I’ve also worked in Talent Acquisition at two other tech companies: EMC and Nasuni, which is an infrastructure as a service start-up in the Seaport.

Outside of my technical recruitment experience, I ran my own business for 4 years as a Certified Professional Resume Writer, where I had the privilege of writing resumes for C-level technology executives, doctors and researchers, and published STEM authors.

Now that you know that my combined experience in resume writing and industry related talent acquisition makes me well suited to advise on this topic, let’s talk about your future!

The roles and missions of a resume

To start, let’s talk about the roles and missions of a resume. Despite popular opinion, the purpose of a resume is not to land a job. It's to:

  • Build a hiring manager’s confidence that you’ll make their organization much more money than it takes to find, recruit, and retain someone else for the role
  • Be a "template" for outstanding interviews by enticing interviewers to ask questions that both parties want to discuss
  • Be a lever to negotiate salary, bonuses, benefits, and perks

In other words, your resume is a way to market yourself to employers. Now, I spent 7 years in marketing before I went back to school for Human Resources, so you’ll notice that I carry a marketing-based approach to resume writing throughout this article.

Understand your audience

You need to understand your audience before you can effectively write a resume for it. So let’s get you thinking like a recruiter by familiarizing ourselves with which aspects of engineering resumes recruiters think are most often neglected by applicants.

Thanks to SurveyMonkey and LinkedIn, I was able to ask this question of 100 Boston area tech recruiters over the last few months. 

In brief, recruiters are saying, "Hi! We want to hire you. In fact, it's our job to hire you. So please, describe the challenge, project, or cool thing you did in layman’s terms and reference which technologies, processes, procedures, or frameworks you used to accomplish that cool thing. Rinse. Wash. Repeat."

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The 80/20 rule

Ok, now that you’re thinking like a recruiter, let’s talk about the 80/20 rule when it comes to resume writing and your job search. When people talk about having a personal brand, the 20% is what they’re talking about.

Regardless of your industry or seniority, 80% of what you do is the same as other qualified applicants. The other 20% is unique to you. It’s your personality, your drive, your essence.

The 80% is what recruiters and hiring managers expect. The 20% is why they hire you.

Résumé writing is not just a task aimed at helping you take the next step in your career. It is a journey on which you get to discover your value and learn how to market and use the one thing nobody can ever duplicate. You.

Being able to communicate your true value will turn recruiters into advocates, hiring managers into fans, and the competition into dust.

Six seconds

Remember when I asked you "what if?"

"What if recruiters could understand the value that you would add to their organization within 6 seconds of looking at your resume?"

Well, I picked six seconds for a very important reason.

An eye tracking study conducted by a job board called The Ladders revealed that recruiters spend an average of only six seconds looking at your resume before they decide whether or not to pass it along to the hiring manager.

Now, in my experience, it’s a little different in the tech industry. Here it’s more like recruiters spend six seconds looking at your resume before they decide whether or not to give it a deeper read.

Regardless, you need to convey your value in six seconds. So, how do you do it? The answer isn’t as complicated as you might think.

Start with a clean and simple header and value proposition

Start with a clean and simple header and value proposition. (This is typically the piece of advice that people struggle with the most because it conflicts with the traditional idea of what a resume should look like).

Most resume headers contain your name, email address, and phone number. That information tells me how to reach you, but it doesn’t tell me who you are. And what I need to know is who you are. Remove your contact information and focus instead on concisely explaining who you are and what value you can provide to the organization. Now I’m hooked. You’re pulling me in to read more.

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Take the example of Florence Ramirez. The job title in the upper right corner? That should not be your current title. It should be the title of the role you’re applying to. That way the reader immediately envisions you in that role.

Then we read Florence’s value proposition: Former Product Manager turned UX Designer. Certified Scrum Product Owner with extensive experience planning, designing, delivering, and managing digital products. I make things people like, and I help teams make things people like. I’m not happy unless I’m problem solving.

Right away, I know who Florence is and what value she’ll add to my company.

Another resume header and value proposition example

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Now let’s take a look at Ruscita Shah, who is a Linux Systems Administrator applying for a Cloud Software Engineer role.

Object-oriented software engineer and open-source contributor with a holistic understanding of the internet and hosting from the network layer up through the application layer. Extensive experience building well designed systems that simplify and automate. I’m happiest debugging tough web service production issues and exploring cloud hosting architectures.

And then she lists her fluencies. Put this list at the beginning of your resume instead of at the end. Recruiters use it like a map key as we read through your resume, which is easier to do if it’s at the beginning.

Describe the organizations you have worked for

Oftentimes, recruiters are looking for people who have experience working in specific types of organizations - big public companies, small private ones, start-ups, non-profits, SaaS companies, cloud companies, you get the point. 

But if you don’t tell recruiters about the organizations you’ve worked for, it can be difficult or time consuming to look them up and find out about them. The good recruiters will do it anyway, but, let’s face it, not everyone is good at their job.

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Recap - 4 steps to turn the competition into dust

Let’s recap the 4 steps to turn the competition into dust by getting recruiters to understand the value you will add to the organization within just 6 seconds of looking at your resume…

  1. Start by using a clean and simple header and value proposition to convey your personal brand
  2. Include an easy to read skills section after the value proposition that recruiters can use like a map key as they read your resume
  3. Then, tell us about the companies you’ve worked for
  4. And lastly, describe what you did and what problem it solved in layman’s terms, referencing the technologies used

If you put all of that together, you might come up with something like this . . .

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Ruschita has already hooked the reader in with her header and value proposition, so they’re happy to spend longer than six seconds reading more about her background. 

It looks like she works for Nameless Company, a leading independent eCommerce payment processor.

She’s worked on a configuration management project using Puppet and a database automation project using Ruby, both of which are requirements for the Cloud Software Engineer role.

And, since Ruscita couldn’t possibly list all the technologies she’s worked with if she’s only highlighting her two most relevant projects, she listed the additional technologies she’s used in this role underneath the projects.

And now the recruiter is excited to send Ruscita’s resume along to the hiring manager. In fact, they may even skip that step and go straight to scheduling a call with her!


Robin Guidry is Leading the talent acquisition efforts for R&D at Acquia. Follow her on Twitter: @RobinGuidry42.