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Patricio Cano
Patricio Cano

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On résumés and applying to jobs

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, specially after my short stint as a hiring manager for the Service Engineer position at GitLab. What finally notched me was this tweet by Stephanie Hurlburt where she asked her followers if they wanted their résumés reviewed. I realized it made sense to write some advice around this topic, and not just for résumés, but for applying to a job in general. So, let’s begin…

Keep it short

While looking through resumes for the Service Engineer position at GitLab, I came across a high number of résumés that where more than 4 pages long.
It is not necessary to list every single thing you have done in your résumé. List your most proud achievement first (if it’s relevant to the position), and follow up with the most recent positions you have held. Try to keep it single page, 2 pages at most. The people reviewing your résumé have a whole pile of them to go through. It helps if it’s short. I have seen profiles being discarded just because the résumé was too long, and they didn’t even give a glance to it.

Tailor your résumé to each position

It is highly encouraged to tailor your résumé to the company and the position to which you are applying. This way you can showcase the particular skills you already have that match perfectly with the open position. List them first, or close to the top, and add information about projects on which you have worked that are relevant to the requirements.

Personal information should be at the top

Your personal information should be highly visible, preferably at the top of the document, and it should stand out. Use colors to highlight and contrast this information.

Education should be further down

Unless highly relevant to the position, education can go further down. It usually suffices to say the highest degree you have attained, no need to list specific courses and grades, unless, again, it’s highly relevant to the position. In this section you can also list the languages you speak, certificates you have attained, etc.

Add something interesting about yourself

At the very end, add something interesting about yourself. Something that might let the hiring manager relate a bit to you.

Use LaTeX, or InDesign for the layout

Make your résumé shine! There are amazing résumé templates available that you can easily tailor to your needs, so you really outshine the competition. Word has gotten better in later versions, but it still cannot hold a candle to what you can do with LaTeX, or InDesign.

Always submit your résumé as a PDF

PDF, PDF, PDF! It is called Portable Document File for something. It renders pretty much the same way on any machine. A Word, or other word processing document has its own weird way of rendering a document. It will most likely look different in my computer than it does on yours. I might not have the proper fonts, and the layout will get really screwed. This is a no-go. Always submit your résumé as a PDF.

Your GitHub profile is not a résumé

Having a lot of toy projects or tutorial projects on your GitHub profile and submitting that instead of a proper résumé will be detrimental to your application. These types of projects do not showcase your ability to work with other developers, or to grasp complex code, or that you actually have vast knowledge of the framework in which your toy projects are written.

On the other hand, if you contribute to open source projects, in whatever form (documentation, issue triaging, helping people out on the issues or other forums, etc.) now this does showcase your ability to work with other developers, or to communicate complex subjects, or to prioritize. This kind of contributions can be more appealing to potential employers.

Now I know there are great developers that are not able to contribute to open source. If that is the case for you, have some code samples of work that highlights your abilities, so that you can send to the technical interviewers upon request.

Use LinkedIn

A lot of people seem to hate on LinkedIn, but it is a tool that is used by a lot of recruiters. Keep your profile updated, with your latest skills, your latest projects, your education, etc., and you might get job leads just for having a profile. A lot of recruiting software also allows you to pre-fill information on the application form from your LinkedIn profile, so it will save you some time.

Keep it updated!

After you have the perfect résumé, it is time to apply to the job opening, which it’s actually the most important part. No point on having the best résumé ever, if no one will see it.

Write a cover letter

Nowadays most openings require you to write a cover letter, but even if they don’t, you should always submit one. This is your moment to shine! It is a freeform letter in which you get to tell them who you are in your own words. Put some thought into it, and take your time. A great cover letter can be more valuable that a résumé.
Write about what makes you you, what inspires you, what excites you, and tailor it to each specific position. Showcase what you’ve done in a way that is relevant to the open position and makes you stand out.

If possible, have a personal blog

Having a personal blog can only benefit you. It can show your ability explain complex topics in understandable ways, your communication skills, etc. It is also a great indicator that you will most likely be able to write good documentation.

This is feedback that I have gather over the past 4 years of applying to different jobs, from my short stint as a hiring manager, and from watching other hiring managers at companies I’ve worked at. This is just my humble opinion, and should not be construed as professional advice, though. And with that I bid you good luck on the job hunt! 👍

Top comments (11)

jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

A couple of observations...

I don't agree with adding something interesting about yourself unless you know for certain that it is something that is going to catch the hiring manager's attention in a positive way. It is easy for this kind of thing to backfire, especially if your interesting fact might have something that has a political, religious or similar slant to it. That's why I almost never mention my military experience until after I'm hired and I know that it won't get a negative reaction.

From what I understand PDF format is a bad idea because resume parsing software usually won't work with it. This could get your resume rejected before a human even looks at it.

dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

Another point that bears mentioning is that tailoring your resume to individual job openings takes a fairly substantial amount of time. It might be worth doing if you're being extremely selective and want to maximize your chances at a position you really, really want. But I feel like "you should always tailor your resume for each job you're applying to!" is a recruiter's ideal, not an applicant's. There's no shortage of tech jobs in general and for most people, quantity is a quality all its own. The same resume landing on thirty desks has at least as much a chance of getting you somewhere as five painstakingly tuned resumes landing on five desks. Addressing the specific job is why we haven't ditched cover letters.

suprnova32 profile image
Patricio Cano

That’s a good point, but I still think it depends on the situation. It’s true that having a generic resume will save you time, but trying to stand out can only improve your chances, e.g. if you are applying to a Rails job, move your Rails experience to the top, reorganize your projects so these kinds are more prominently displayed. That shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes.

It’s also true that there is an abundance of job opportunities in tech, which gives us the luxury to be more picky. Aim for the job you’d love to have, don’t settle for the first one that will take you. (Of course this depends on your particular financial situation)

Also, like I mention in the post, cover letters are another way for you to stand out. A good cover letter gets you in the door, and probably into the short pile, but that pile will most likely only contain your resume (specially if they don't use any recruiting software to keep all documents in a single place). By then only your resume will get you further.

suprnova32 profile image
Patricio Cano

Common sense should always apply, of course you should avoid controversial topics.

Re: PDF, it depends on how it’s written. A PDF resume is for a human to see not a machine to read, in my opinion.

Also I used to work at a company that develops recruiting software, resume parsing was done only as a way to perfil fields in a form, kind of like importing from LinkedIn, you still have to review and submit the form yourself. That is pretty common on most recruiting software I’ve come across.

jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

Most of the places I submitted my resume to in my recent job search only wanted resumes in Word (.DOC or DOCX) or ASCII Text (.TXT) formats and many specifically said no PDF.

I also found that I had to adjust my resume to make it more simple so that it could be read properly by recruiting software. Many couldn't properly handle fancier formatting such as you described. It felt a bit like doing a web design that would still work in an older version of IE.

Thread Thread
suprnova32 profile image
Patricio Cano

I've come across others that say specifically no Word Documents, so it goes both ways. It will vary wildly across our entire industry, specially given that almost all types of companies now have an IT department, and might be looking for developers. Each of these companies will most likely have a very particular HR process, which is why I mentioned to tailor your resume based on where you apply.

If you have a very good PDF resume, and the place where you want to apply only accepts Word, or .txt, then convert it, and submit it. If they ask for these filetypes, it is very likely they do not care how the resume looks, just what info is on it. Which is a valid way of doing things, just not how I would do it.

javiurbistondo profile image
Javier Urbistondo

Thank you for the helpful info Patricio!

As for moving the education section further down, would you say this still holds true if you're a new grad? Thanks

suprnova32 profile image
Patricio Cano

Hi Javier!

Well, if you are a recent grad, then there is probably not much that can go above education, right? 😛

If you did an internship while at University (something very common in a lot of places, specially Germany) you could put this experience above your education. If you didn't, it's fine. Put your degree first and list the things that most caught your interest while studying. If you did a group software project, put it here as well.

brandonelance profile image

I was wondering the same thing.

A new grad whose work experience, if existent, is not directly relevant seems to be better off having education at the top, followed by relevant projects or skills.

scotthannen profile image
Scott Hannen

I divided the skills on my resume into three categories: primary, secondary, and limited. If I list everything I've ever worked with it sounds like I'm overselling myself, but I don't want to leave things off that I've got experience with. That was an easy way to say, 'Here's what I'm good at, here's what I work with sometimes, and here's what I'm acquainted with.'

jackharner profile image
Jack Harner 🚀

Love to get some feedback on mine if anyone has a second. I have it hosted at It displays as a webpage, but then prints like a paper resume, fits on 8.5x11 paper, and prioritizes the content.

If the listing just says send over your resume, I just send them the link but if it's a form with an upload field I just go, "Print to PDF" a new version, and then upload it.