Resume Woes

So, I am now working at SiriusXM, and I currently have an open position, which you can view: here

As always, I’m stunned by the abysmal state of technical resumes. I know. It’s our own damn fault due to the way that we as an industry screen applicants (Maybe I’ll bitch about that in a future post). If you’re a software developer looking for work, here are a few of my pet peeves:

Summary: A summary at the top is great, but make it brief–a few sentences. I’m trying to figure out why I should hire you–that is, what are you going to do for me–and that is what you should convey in your summary. Show your passion for what you do! One more thing–don’t list all of the technologies you’ve worked with in your summary; put those in a skills section.

Skills: This is where you list the stuff you really know. You don’t need to categorize them for me, nor do you need to list every last tool that you’ve ever opened. But make sure you list the things that you know best, and the things that you WANT to do. You can have a more exhaustive list associated with each project (below).

Experience: For each major project, I want a very brief description of the project. Give me accomplishments, not responsibilities, both for the project and you. That is, the intro should focus on how the project helps its users, and you then list what you did that was significant. Keep in mind that you are telling me your story. Make me care.

For example, here is a useless entry: “Java Servlets used for server side development.”
It tells me nothing other than that you used java servlets for their intended purpose. Awesome.

This is better, although it could be written more clearly: “Improved the Performance of the application process by a 10 times order of magnitude, by using global views and stored procedures for the persistence layer.”

Here is a good one: “Championed the use of Java and JavaScript web applications as a viable solution for production applications.” Why is this good? Because it shows initiative and passion. Now, it would have been nice if this person actually succeeded in their attempt, eg: “Championed and pioneered” or something like that, but just trying tells me a lot.

I also want to know the employer, City and State (country if non-US), and the dates (month and year). If you’ve only been in the US for a year, I will figure it out, so don’t try to hide it (but see below for some notes specific to non-native applicants)

Environment: If you want to add a list of technologies used on each project, by all means put them together in a list underneath your accomplishments section. That way, you won’t feel compelled to try to fit every technology you used into the narrative, and end up like the example I listed above.

Random stuff:
Excessive precision: I do not need to know your GPA to 3 significant digits. Ever. Nor do I need to know which Tomcat point release you used.

Lack of white space: It’s a document, not a bar code. I have to read it, and my eyes glaze over pretty fast when I see a resume that resembles a text book.

Random bold. Pick up a great book. How often are words in bold? Exactly. I know. This is often done by headhunters looking to place a candidate, and it might be effective in getting a resume past an automated resume filter and even an in-house recruiter, but once a resume gets to me, I have to be able to read it for content.

Third person: Mr. Mershon summarily rejects resumes written in the third person. He believes that such resumes reveal a severe personality disorder, colossal arrogance, or something else equally unappealing.

Mixed tense: Either make everything past OR present tense.

Periods: Put periods at the end of your sentences.

Industry Jargon: Yes, of course you need to use software jargon. But be very careful about how much experience and knowledge I have about your specific industry. If you focus on what I said above, you can generally avoid getting too industry-specific in your description.

Spelling and grammar mistakes. If you can’t bother to proofread your resume, why should I expect your work to be any better? Spell check is not enough! Here is an example from a resume that is generally quite good: “Taught best practices/standards/technologies/tools to the team in creative and effected ways.” I’m assuming the author meant effective. I’d also like to point out that commas would be easier for the reader.

Excessive length: This is just another sign of laziness, frankly. I am not going to read through 6 pages. It just means you didn’t bother to put real effort into making your resume stand out.

Lies: I am not as dumb as I appear, and I will find out. This will not end well for you.

Find someone that you trust to edit your resume. They need to be utterly ruthless. Your resume is more important than any term paper or thesis, and yes, you have to put the effort into getting it right.

Notes for applicants born abroad:
America is no different from any other country in that newcomers have a harder time than those who are part of the dominant culture, and it may be tempting to minimize or hide some aspects of your background in order to appear more American. I can’t help you overcome the prejudices other people have. I will say that, if someone can’t accept you for who you are, it’s probably best to steer clear of them, but I also know the desperate feeling of being unemployed with bills coming in.

You are not the first applicant whose name is unpronounceable to most Americans, and I’ve seen lots of resumes that include an Americanized name. No problem. But do include your actual name, and put your American nickname in parentheses. Yes, I will look for you on social media, and need to find you. If your name is particularly difficult to pronounce, I’d like to see a pronunciation guide at the very bottom of your resume, because your name is a special part of who you are and I don’t want to minimize that.

Language is a skill. If you speak or read multiple languages, put that on your resume, along with your proficiency in each. It also clues me in if English isn’t your first language, and I can then take that into consideration while reading your resume.

Even if American English isn’t your first language, your resume must follow the spelling and grammar conventions used here. In particular, watch your use of articles (a, an, the) before nouns. This may seem picky, but since it’s not always possible for me to know whether a resume is poorly written or the author lacks sufficient command of American English, I’m certain that I’ve skipped over qualified candidates because their resume was too difficult to read; help me to not make that mistake with your resume. This is your job search, not mine, and it’s up to you to find resources to help you put your resume in order. Yes, the time will eventually come when your lack of English fluency will become apparent, but, if you listed your proficiency level on your resume, then it won’t come as a surprise.


About jeffmershon

Director of Program Management at SiriusXM.
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