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I'm am about to commence redesigning my resume all over. What I'm stuck with is where should I draw the line between writing everything down and writing too little.

I don't want my resume to be a pack of buzzwords nor do I want to seem to not know any of the things I do know.

Keep these thoughts in mind and wanting to write a meaningful resume, how do I go about it. Someone reading my resume should be able to tell if I'm a hacker culture person or someone who went to computer school just for the heck of it.

Edit: In view of answer majorly focusing on buzzwords I would like to point out I'm also looking for things that make my resume more meaningful - I want the reader to be able to tell the difference between a hacker person and just another guy who went to computer school.

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closed as off-topic by gnat, MichaelT, Kilian Foth, GlenH7, Bart van Ingen Schenau Apr 23 at 14:40

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5  
Since this question focuses on parts of the resume that are uniquely relevant to programmers, I think it is safely on topic here. –  Anna Lear Aug 27 '11 at 16:31
    
Buzzwords are the only thing the recruiters/head hunters/tech scouts really know to look for ... –  IAbstract Aug 29 '11 at 13:46
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9 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think lists of nouns (buzzwords or not) are ineffective. I would NOT write this section:

Web Technologies: Faceted Search, Zend, PHP, jQuery, HTML5, CSS

Weave those nouns into stories to satisfy both human readers and OCR scanners. Compare:

Web Experience

  • Created a faceted search system using the Zend framework (PHP) for a local library
  • Implemented an HTML5 and CSS compliant UI based on wireframes from designers
  • Improved responsiveness and lowered load time via jQuery Ajax calls

Both sections are packed with "buzzwords", so they pass any automated scans, but the second tells the human reader a story of why and how you use the technologies in question. To me, that's meaningful - and technical readers will start to appreciate what you know about the buzzwords in play.

Another class of buzzwords: "creative", "cooperative", "results-oriented"... I wouldn't include any of these. Those add no value to a resume with accomplishments like the Web Experience section above. Obviously you're creative, cooperative, and results-oriented from stories like those!

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Thank you, mmsmatt. I scan resumes for my employer. You are spot on. I assume that resumes that list dozens of buzzwords are just lying about most of them, since nobody's job involves every tool and language in the world. I want to know about the tools and techniques you've used, and how you helped the bottom line with them. Frankly, I'd rather see a resume that says 'I'm an introverted geek who rarely washes and hates most people' than 'I'm a dynamic result-oriented team player who thrives in a high intensity flexible enterprise environment'. At least the geek isn't lying. –  Jim In Texas Aug 29 '11 at 15:24
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As a hiring manager, I do consider buzzwords important, but I always make sure that the buzzwords listed are backed up by job experience. For example, if someone claims to know PostgreSQL but doesn't also list it anywhere in job experience, then my assumption is that they only know of it or at best at a very shallow level.

If there's too many of these holes in the resume, then it's likely that I won't follow up with an interview, as I don't feel I can trust the overall veracity of their resume.

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Be careful with that assumption. A person whose only experience is on the job will only have learned what the job required. A person with a genuine interest may have done a lot on his own time, and may have a far deeper understanding, but may not yet have had the chance to use that knowledge as part of a job. –  Steve314 Aug 27 '11 at 17:14
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That is fair enough and I should have been more specific that the overall resume must reflect the experience, no matter the source (job or otherwise). If you are applying to a job just make sure that you address the requirements for the position as more than listing skills or buzzwords. –  RichardM Aug 27 '11 at 18:36
    
@Steve314: true enough. I am limited by what we do or have available at work. Everyone else is updating to VS 2010 (and .Net 4.0) ...except me. I'm staying at 08 (.Net 3.5) to maintain the old stuff while everyone else moves forward ... >.< ... if I didn't study, research, or develop .Net 4.0 at home on my own, I would be behind. –  IAbstract Aug 29 '11 at 13:48
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With these newfangled things like word processors and laser printers, it's pretty darn easy to customize your résumé for each job that you apply for. So you don't need to include every single buzzword for which you can claim proficiency; include only the right buzzwords for the job in question. Leaving irrelevant buzzwords out will make it easier for readers to spot the ones that they're likely to care about.

An early step in the hiring process, after advertising a position, is to go through the stack of applicants and eliminate the ones that are clearly not qualified. That usually means scanning each résumé for skills and experience that meet the stated job requirements. If you want to avoid being eliminated in the first round, then, make sure that your résumé addresses the job requirements. (And make sure that you actually have the skills that you claim. If you don't, you'll look like a dork in the interview and be eliminated anyway.)

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This is often stated but not often possible. Many times your resume will either be online (like, let's say, on SO careers, or a personal web site, or maybe LinkedIn) or a generic submission to a company with many positions open and only one hiring stream. It's still good advice, just not really complete advice. –  Aaronaught Aug 27 '11 at 17:53
    
@Aaronaught, that's a good point. The OP starts off with "redesigning my resume," so we're at least not talking about SO Careers, where you don't have any control over format. The all-purpose version of the resume that you describe has a different purpose from an application-specific resume: the main job of the all-purpose version is to attract employers looking for people with a given skill set. In that case, I'd put down the skills that you have that are most relevant to the type of jobs you're looking for. –  Caleb Aug 27 '11 at 18:17
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I have read a lot of resumes. I don't care much which technologies a candidate has used previously, but I strongly prefer people with a lot of tools in the drawer. The most important part of the resume is the candidate's work history. Vague statements like "member of team...", "worked on ..." leave me wondering if the candidate contributed anything at all. I am impressed by specific statements, e.g. "Wrote module to optimally ...", "Introduced team to test-driven development, reducing bug rate from ... to ...", "Wrote custom jQuery UI widgets for ..." etc.

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What I'm stuck with is where should I draw the line between writing everything down and writing too little.

Sounds familiar. What works best for me is a three-point combination:

With the emphasize on 1-pager. First, it typically saves me time: whenever I am asked to just send a CV I go with 1-pager - and whenever it happened, I never seen a recruiter being unhappy with that. Some of them ask for something else, but not many mind you - this is likely because my 1-pager includes link to my detailed online CV which they typically seem to be happy to check for details when needed.

Second, and probably most important, I am using 1-pager to drive the quality of detailed CV. You know I always find it tough to rank the importance of details and to compose them the right way. Making 1-pager gives me invaluable opportunity to learn, practice and further use that skill to improve my detailed CV. (Did I mention it gives quite some pain? well it does - study is rather hard.)

It goes about as follows.

  1. I start with just a heap of everything I would want to put there. This heap takes 6 or maybe 8 or 10 pages doesn't matter and in the beginning it looks awful. Anyway I put it into detailed CV draft and start tossing and squeezing it, learning what I can do to make it a bit smaller while keeping most of the important details.
  2. After "drying out", say 2 pages of 10, I return back to "backup copy" of my detailed version and improve it based on stuff I learned.
  3. Then goes the next round, and next and next until I am done and have a real 1-pager. At this stage, my detailed CV somehow magically got good enough (given the number of revisions and pain I've got while doing 1-pager this maybe is not that magic after all)

After that, I put detailed CV online so that it's easy to improve it and to refer to it. The URL goes to 1-pager. Of about a dozen various sites and services I tried for online CVs my favorites are SO careers and LinkedIn.

Of these two, SO careers seems noticeably easier to design, maintain, backup and it's more er programmer friendly so to speak. The power of LinkedIn (CV-wise) is that one can learn how this stuff is done in others profiles. I learned a lot that way. Hint by the way: one doesn't need many connections to learn that way - just joining a group (eg stackoverflow group) allows to view and study profiles of group members.

  • As for the buzzwords, well figuring when and how to use was tricky to me. But 1-pager exercises and learning from others profiles at LinkedIn helped here too.
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Having had the experience of reading many resumes to find the candidates we wanted to interview, and then finding myself on the other side trying to get my resume read, here are a few pointers:

  • You have 20 seconds to catch your audience!
    • Resumes are first skimmed.
    • After ~20 seconds, the reader will either put your resume aside or continue reading.
    • Catch the reader's attention in that time and convince them to read further.
  • Keep things short, concise and easy to skim.
  • Buzz Words work, but they do become overused. (How many people are "creative"?)
  • Use action words and an active voice
  • Don't lie in your resume, but be aggressive
    • "I was part of a team that architected the XYZZY" vs. "XYZZY system architect."

With the plethora of digital resume scanning tools, you may want to consider adding a list of buzz words / technologies at the end of your resume. I was getting no hits on my resume until I added another page just listing the technologies I had used, even if I had only done them in passing. As other replies have said, you also need to be prepared to defend what you wrote.

Last, but not least, consider writing a "Marketing Plan" for yourself. Your resume says where you have been. A Marketing Plan says where you are heading.

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Include briefly the projects that you have worked on and the role you played in them too. This will help demonstrate your experience.

And as Kevin also states, include the things you introduced into the team/environment. This shows that you've got initiative and can not only code but also contribute to the evolution of a team.

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A resume is something similar to an autobiography. No autobiography can be found without buzzwords. In fact, a resume without buzzword is simply a paper containing some lists. I think the art is not to reduce the buzzword. The art is to provide a coherent, meaningful, appealing and well-organized content.

Another thing that usually people forget when creating their resumes is the concept of Form & Content. No matter how much the content of your resume is of high quality, low representation (low graphical layout, typography, colors for titles and text, etc.) can ruin the whole point.

Content is what you provide and write, and form is how you represent it. For some good examples of representation, see this article.

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"The art is to provide a coherent, meaningful, appealing and well-organized content." That's exactly the part the OP is apparently struggling with. Please show how this can be tackled. –  blubb Aug 27 '11 at 21:38
    
No, @Simon, the OP wants to create content, without writing much. That's what he wants. I can't make somebody a great writer. That's not in the scope of this site. :) –  Saeed Neamati Aug 28 '11 at 4:56
    
@Saeed: It's not a question about "how to be a great writer" but where to draw the line between too much detail and buzzwords and too little. –  Jungle Hunter Aug 28 '11 at 9:53
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If you are a hacker person, I am sure you have some personal projects that are worth mentioning. If you haven't contributed to opensource or have personal projects, then your resume will more or less converge to "3 years experience in J2EE,2 years experience in Oracle..." etc. This is going to put you in the league of "just another guy".

What you would ideally want to do is clearly state the following

  1. Personal projects/open source projects (indicates passion/learning)
  2. If you have work experience, state significant improvements you made that directly resulted in profits or eased other developers work.

Lastly, do not put everything you have touched in your resume. For example, if you have read python some years back and it's in your resume, you will be asked a couple of questions on that. You don't want to answer "I forgot". Remove things which you do not know clearly.

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I'm fresh out of college and I have a lot of personal projects. To make sure I don't over limit on the size I have included only some. One project I decided to include was a robot which I made for Google Wave to showcase my interest in latest things. But then how do I go about writing the "Summary" section. (Or should I even have it?) –  Jungle Hunter Aug 27 '11 at 16:39
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