What does your resume really say about you

For this entry, and it has been a while, and I really want to get some sanity in my life so I can do this more regular, I have to discuss the merits of what I look for in hiring someone, and what a resume really does say. Now I will be the first to admit, I am not a career adviser, and I am not a resume expert, and I am not a recruiter looking to siphon out people to different companies. I run my own team, and need to find specific talent for this team so that we can build some of the best apps around for the clients we have. So in this effort, I am needing to hire some good programmers and system administrators at times, and at other times, I am needing to get business analysts and other business side process staffing. The thing that drives me mad so often is the initial contact, or the initial viewing of the resume. If you want to build a great resume, go to a place like The Ladders and pay the money to get professional help in building it. This diatribe will not help you do this. What this may help you understand, is what I look for, and possibly what others look for.

Looking for a job anymore is like posting on a social network. Only, this would be a lot more focused. Think of this in terms of light. Regular social media is like a flashlight blaring out light all around and sometimes it crosses other light paths. Job hunting is like a laser, focused and distinct, aiming for a specific end goal, which may make turns, reflections and bounce off others, but it still remains focused. So when I am hiring for a technical position, I have very specific things I am looking for. Those are (in no particular order):

  • Is this candidate teachable
  • Does this candidate have the experience I am needing
  • Does this candidate know what they are talking about
  • Can this candidate carry themselves properly
  • What training and schooling does this candidate have
  • What projects has this candidate been a part of

So what does your resume say about you?

When we look for candidates, we put out a posting, and then look around at job boards we subscribe to. I also post it out to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+. I try to be proactive as well as reactive. And many times I see resumes on job boards that just make me wonder what are the candidates thinking. When I go resume harvesting, I know this candidate may not be interested in my job posting. It may be they put the resume out there, just to be ready, which is fine. So based on the above list, I will go thru some of the things I encounter, both good and bad.


This may be the one I put the most weight on. I once had no knowledge, and had to learn. Everyone has been there. I cringe when I see resumes that are over-boastful, arrogant or down right cocky. It is perfectly fine to be confident in your work, and explain your history. When it comes off as arrogance, or over-boasting, I immediately start thinking about whether this person is teachable, based on what I am reading. For example, I recently saw a resume that was something like this in the cover letter section:

I do great work, and want a remote job, so recruiters do not bother to call me about any jobs in other states. Dull work is not for me. Imagination and creativity sets the programmer apart. Personality and skill, I have those both. Can your programmer get jobs done quickly and securely? I can, this is what I do. Great communication is something I pride myself on. I’ve worked remote and I have never had a problem. I can personally guarantee you wouldn’t regret hiring me.

While this candidate is busy patting themselves on the back, and bragging about how great he thinks he is, what about the employers? He claims he wants to work remote, but is not interested in out of state jobs. If the job is remote, why does it matter if it is out of state? This led me to not consider this candidate seriously. In fact, I passed him by as soon as I read that. Had this candidate shown less bragging, I would have gone further.

A great way to convey the same message, and appear teachable, is to discuss the challenges of the remote work you have done, how you have learned and grown in previous positions, and why you feel that you are better. Instead of telling people you can code securely, why not explain in a few words what you had to learn, and how you keep those skills up. And never personally guarantee an employer would not regret hiring you, because how are you guaranteeing that anyway? Are you going to repay all the salary plus benefits to that employer should you not fit in before they break even?

Experience Needed

When you respond to an open position, please show that you have the experience we need. This can bite people in the backside from different angles. One is trying to say you have more experience than what you really have, and the other is showing you have experience but are way beyond what we need, over-qualified. The first one is really funny to see. I had a resume that said they had nine years experience, and they were 23 years old. They were responding to an opening I had for a senior programmer. Nine years sounds pretty senior, however, the age is what calls into question the experience. If they have nine years experience, what were they doing at age 14, 15, 16, 17 that would make me see that they had real experience? I would have been better off to see five years of experience, because that is a little more understandable and capable. So do not try to pad your experience years. I do go back in your history and analyze.

The other end is the over experience, or over-qualified. I see resumes applying for positions for a Sr PHP Developer, and on the current or most recent employer it shows Sr Architect/President. Or the job title is something like CIO, or IS Director. This candidate may really want to just be a senior programmer, but I have to think about my needs with experience. I need someone senior, but not someone to run the show. Or it could be this candidate worked at a small company where the CIO title was just that, a title and maybe had a team of 2 people, including the candidate, and the company size was a total of 4 people. Do not oversell your title if that is not what you really did, and if you want to go to a position that is perceived lower than your current position.

Know What You Claim

I come across resumes on occasion where they claim many things, they put things on the resume that will get them past HR screeners. While this may work well, it eventually comes to me. And I do not care for buzz words. I care about substance. What are you putting on your resume that you did not really do? One resume I had claimed the candidate did a lot of PHP security and testing. However, in the work experience, the candidate did not list anything about security projects, or testing. It could be an oversight. However, if the claim is that you are doing a lot of security projects, then I expect to see at least one in your history.

Another resume I saw made the claim about test driven development. I immediately had a bad feeling that the candidate was not going to be able to show this. However, to my surprise, they had a resume that showed test-driven development projects, and it was written in a way that made me see that the candidate knew what he was talking about. This makes such a great impression on me. If one makes a claim on the resume, and then backs it up, I am very willing to bring them in for an interview.

Carry Yourself Properly

A lot of debate has gone on in the web about whether or not a person should be found online when doing screenings. I read an article once that said they would never hire a PHP candidate if that candidate could never be found on the web doing a simple Google search. They wanted to see contributions to projects, articles, etc. While this is a pleasant bonus if I find this, I do not care about that part. I work a ton, so does my team. They have lives outside of work, and I do not expect them to be contributing to frameworks, platforms, etc if they do not want to. What I do care about is what I can find about you on the web. This world has become so inter-dependent on the internet, that now almost anything you do can be found, especially if you are not careful.

When looking at resumes, I find ones I really like, then go on a scavenger hunt. I check LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google groups, everything. It is amazing how many people do not think about things before they post it. When I find something, I am seeing what happens, how does this candidate carry them-self outside of work. It may sound creepy, and it may sound over-zealous, but it is important in this day and age, for a company to know they are hiring the right person. I do not care if I see pictures of the candidate at a party with alcohol, skydiving, kids events, etc. Those are not bad. This is life. What worries me is when all I see are pictures of the candidate passed out drunk, puking over everything, multiple pictures of the candidate fighting others, etc. One designer we were setting up for an interview sent over a resume with a Facebook URL. I looked at it. All it had were pictures of the candidate over-partying, drunk, stumbling around women trying to “grope” them. All the posts were similar, about going out drinking/partying, where was the next big event, who he sex with, etc. I called and canceled the interview. He may have been a brilliant designer, but based on what I saw, I was not sure I could have that dynamic in my team.

It is not bad to share. But share what you feel would be a good representation of you. Remember, you are trying to convince a company they should pay you money for work you will do. You are not trying to get a prize for the Darwin Award. You are looking for a job, not a social club.

Training and Schooling

I always look for training and schooling. I do not expect a four year degree always. Especially in PHP, so few colleges teach it. I went to college too, I know the nonsense they teach. I also know the nonsense you learn in class. Usually the classes are taught by professors or adjunct faculty that may not be in the technology world anymore. And technology moves fast. Already the New iPad is here, and before you know it, it will be outdated. So I do not always care to see a college or degree, but what I do care to see is an actual path of training and schooling you have done. Where did you learn? What did you learn? If you have no college, but an extensive career, show me how you cut your teeth, and how the projects increased. I had one resume for a Sr Admin position where the college experience was only a community college, and the experience started at Sr Unix Admin. No junior, or regular experience, just immediately at the Sr level. I know they did not go to community college and get a SR job right out the door. And I am sure they had more experience, but I could not see it. I could not see how they were taught, or where, or what they did. Always show a path of training of schooling, even if it is not at a traditional college.

And if you do have college experience and/or a four year degree, what did you study? What did you do while at college? Did you have a project that you really enjoyed, and helped you grow? This is more important for those coming right out of college with little experience. College projects are always in a controlled environment, so they are viewed differently. But I am looking for what you studied and what you learned. And if you get an interview, I just may ask you about that too. Which leads us into the next area.


This is the crux of your experience. This is what will separate the resumes. And these projects do not need to be intensive items like an online banking portal, they can be simple ones. I reviewed a resume that listed a local area sports league where the candidate worked on a project to get a portal up so the parents of the kids could post pictures, teams had their own areas, schedules, announcements, etc. It was not anything major, and basically consisted of a few pages. But this project description on the resume explained about the security features instituted, the need for the proper UI experience, the DB interaction, the framework, the business rules and requirements. It showed me that this candidate not only was a part of the project, but that he had a sense of ownership to the project.

The project descriptions I would personally stay away from mentioning:
– you were part of a team; that should be a given, if you are building an app for a company, no matter what the size is, you would have had to interact with someone besides yourself
– the project was interesting; this should go without saying, yet I see this so often
– you were responsible for some part of it; I know you are assigned a specific part, but you forget to mention what that was usually, and again, I see this so often that someone was responsible for the “X” of the project, and never goes into any detail
– dealing with issues that come up; I have yet to encounter a project that runs exactly like it was projected, tell me how you overcame conflicts, not that you dealt with them

Make sure you also go into numbers, achievements, and success stories. How did your work help the overall organization (if you know), what successes did you have. If we get to the point of an interview, I will ask more detailed questions about this project. It is on you to help get me to the point where I am excited to hear about the project.


Above all else, what I look for is common sense and critical thinking. I look for people who want to grow and learn and expand their career. Some of the jobs we do are tedious and sometimes boring and dull. I am looking for people who are smart enough to realize that and make these more interesting for everyone. If you want something specific, make sure you tailor your resume for that. Be yourself and be honest. Be confident, but not cocky. Be realistic, but visionary. Do this, and the resume may just pass you to the next stage.