Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The CS undergrads' guide to writing your first resume, part 3

Hopefully my first two posts in this series have given you a good idea about how to start your resume, and what to emphasize and downplay. By now you've got a good draft, and you've had it reviewed by a number of friends. What's next? Take a pass over this list and make sure you're not committing any cardinal sins.

Some resume mistakes are so bad that you must never commit them. Please. The ones that always set me off are:
  • Multiple pages. I've have reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes, and in all those examples I have seen only one multi-page resume come with a strong candidate behind it. All the other ones, the ones where people list every class project, or every club they've been in, or the names of all their teachers in high school? Worthless. Take the time to distill your education and experience into the points that can be expressed in a single page of text. If you can't get it down that far, hand a draft to one of your editors and ask them what's least interesting.
  • Spelling mistakes. See my earlier comments about having several other people read your resume before you share it with any companies you're interested in. When I see a really egregious spelling mistake, I will discard the resume completely.
  • Using the Microsoft Word resume template. First off, the template just doesn't look that great, and second, it sends the message "I just put this together in five minutes because that's about how much I care about your company. Please pretend not to notice." I accept that page layout can be hard, but if you can't create something that looks decent, ask a friend for help. The layout for my first resume came from a good friend who actually has a talent for these things, and I used it successfully for the next several years.
  • A non-CS undergraduate degree followed by a CS Master's degree from either (a) a no-name computer science program, of (b) a top-tier school that is known to be a diploma mill for anyone with the money to buy a degree. I'm not naming names here, but you know who you are.
Lastly, I just want to touch on the long-standing debate about whether or not to include an "Objective" at the top of your resume. In the modern era, most resumes are submitted directly for one or a small number of job openings, so I'm going to assume that your objective is to get hired for one of those positions. Including a comment in your resume to tell me you want a career like the one I have to offer you only wastes space that you could be using to tell me more about your background and expertise. I say skip the objective, but you can decide what works best for you.

Thanks for reading this far. If you found this guide useful, please leave a comment.


Sam said...

A good rule of guide for resume length is one page for every 10 years of experience. Since most folks right out of college don't have 10 years of experience, a single page resume is a good idea. It's a different story if someone is asking for a CV of every published paper or software release, but most college students probably won't have an extensive CV either.

JTB said...

I agree with the general rule of 1 page per decade, and yet I've seen very few resumes that successfully span multiple pages. One of my big pet peeves is when someone provides a full CV in place of a resume...