How do engineers look at resumes?

Resumes offer a view into an engineer’s professional and educational life, but can only skim the surface. Condensing all of your hard work into a page or two can’t explain everything. How will you handle a roadmap that suddenly upends half way through the quarter? Can you be a valuable asset in a crisis to help mitigate an ongoing outage? How do you offer tough but critical constructive feedback in a code review? A resume won’t tell you any of this but will be, in the best of interviews, an origin point to start from. “Here’s what we know. How do we uncover the awesome work this engineer can do for us given this knowledge and what other amazing stories can we find out?”

Each tech listed is a point in space, but it won’t give magnitude or direction – that part’s for the interview. Say Golang is your primary language. What design principles do you employ when using it to build an API from scratch? You have experience with MySQL, but what kind of monitoring do you set up around it to let you know it’s healthy? Can you explain how you might incorporate React into an existing javascript codebase? The information you’ve synthesized into a resume should be a starting off point for the conversations you’ll have later just like these. If your first job when crafting a resume is to pass the sniff test for a recruiter, the next is inspiring a conversation from folks who may potentially be your future coworkers.

When I read a resume, I’m building my own mental model of an engineer. It’s a skeletal framework, though, so I need our conversation to fill in the details. Sometimes that means reworking these assumptions or being completely blown away when pleasantly surprised by a candidate’s talents. With that in mind, the needle you need to thread is highlighting for recruiters the keywords that will make you appealing to sell and then give engineers information to construct a model to fit expected needs.

Here are a few notable highlights engineers and hiring managers will scan for when reviewing your resume:

  • Listing any and every skill you’ve come across. Do they have interest and experience in these areas, or are they trying to pad out their resume?
  • Disparate skill sets that don’t necessarily relate to one another. Are they eager to explore new areas for their personal growth or are they scatterbrained when approaching directions to take?
  • Shared tech used internally. Will they need a handful of days to ramp up or do they possess only a passing knowledge, requiring a much more hands on learning process?
  • Alternatives to tech used internally. Can they offer differing ideas that will be a positive impact or will they stubbornly demand the org switch to their favorite?
  • Gaps in work history. There are good reasons to have periods of unemployment (difficulty finding a job, parental leave, disability, burn out, etc.). A good interviewer will seek to understand the story and in doing so understand the person.
  • Job history at competing or analogous products. Can they bring some ideas successfully used in comparable business models to be applied here?
  • Success at similarly sized or larger companies. Experiencing the hurdles of growth at other companies gives hope that you can learn and avoid the same mistakes elsewhere.
  • Leadership in their work. What patterns for success have they implemented elsewhere in leading projects, teams, and mentoring others?
  • Passion for exceeding expectations. Difficult to sniff out, but good descriptions detailing your hard work can illustrate how you go above and beyond your prescribed duties.
  • Projects available for review. If you have a github profile, a portfolio to display, a blog where you write down ideas, recorded conference talks, or any accessible form of insight into your work, this can be another area to explore. Note that none of these should be considered mandatory. If you’re fortunate enough to have a showcase for your talents, include them!

These are just a few places to focus on as the initiation for your discussions. Adopt the mindset of a resume as guideposts for talking shop to encourage deep, meaningful discussions for the interview stage later on!


Header photo courtesy of